If you have read some of my previous pieces (which you probably haven’t), you might have heard my opinion on the 40-yard dash. I think it is overhyped and is not as important as some people treat it. Despite that, I still think the NFL combine is a valuable tool in evaluating future pros. Obviously, as simply viewers, we don’t get to see what happens off of the practice field between the players and the teams, but we can gauge a little bit from what goes down between the white lines at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
As an NFL fan, you don’t know who your team is going to take yet so you can try to pay attention to some of the future rookies that you want your team to draft. But as a college football fan, you know exactly who to pay attention to: your favorite team’s players that were invited. For me as a Washington State fan, I only had a few guys to follow at the combine. Three Cougars were invited to the combine: running back Max Borghi, offensive tackle Abraham Lucas, and cornerback Jaylen Watson. Each guy partook in the events to a different degree so it is hard to get a full understanding of their performances, but I will do my best to dissect how each of those three Cougs did in Indianapolis.
The most notable of the three guys invited was Max Borghi. Although he doesn’t have the best draft stock of the bunch, he was a fan favorite in Pullman and plays a very exciting position. Unfortunately, he did not bring that excitement to the combine because he only participated in one drill. Borghi only did the bench press, declining to do any of the running or jumping drills. In my opinion, the bench press is probably the least important of all the combine drills. Some players have put up pretty poor numbers in it and gone on to have successful careers because their game relies less on strength and more on other attributes. But for running backs it is a fairly important measurement of how strong a guy might be as a blocker or a runner. Anyone who watched Borghi play at WSU knows that the guy is a very strong runner and his bench press result backed it up. He hit 20 reps of 225 pounds, which placed him fifth out of the six backs who benched in Indy. Not participating in any other drills is probably not a good sign for Borghi. He could have used a bump up some draft boards by impressing scouts at the combine. He did deal with a few injuries in his time as a Coug so hopefully, he wasn’t held off the field for a medical reason. Had still had his chance to meet with teams in interviews and do enough in those moments to get his name called on draft night.
Watson was an intriguing player at Washington State. He transferred before the COVID-shortened season, so he really only played a year and a half for the Cougs. He is also an interesting draft prospect because he played really well but is still really unproven. Watson one-upped Borghi, literally, by participating in two drills, the bench press, and the 40-yard dash. I think the bench press is a bit important for corners, especially the bigger ones that play a more physical brand of football. Watson is on the larger side for corners, standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing 197 pounds. He performed well in the bench press, putting up 18 reps. That number was the highest of the five corners that participated in the drill and is tied for fourth when you include the nine safeties that participated. Watson’s 40-time also fits with his physical profile. He was never going to go out there and run a blazing 40-time like some of the other corners, but he slotted nicely into the middle of the pack. He ran a 4.51-second 40, which tied for the 21st-fastest of all the corners that ran. Despite doing just the two drills, Watson proved that he is a big, strong, physical corner that can keep up with some quicker receivers if needed. He is not the fastest corner option in the draft, but he also is far from being considered slow. I don’t know exactly how scouts and general managers reacted to Watson’s performance, but I think he could have moved himself up some draft boards over the weekend.
The biggest winner of the Cougs at the combine was Lucas, and not just because he participated in all the drills. He performed really well in a handful of the workouts, making his case as one of the most athletic linemen in the class. When Lucas came to Pullman, he was small for a lineman but was able to bulk up to 315 pounds while still maintaining absurd athleticism for his 6-foot-6 frame. Lucas showed off his speed and agility with his outstanding running times. His 4.92-second 40 was tied for fifth-fastest and just 0.04 seconds slower than the fastest time. He also posted the fast time for offensive linemen in both the 3-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle with a 7.25 and 4.40, respectively. Now the actual times aren’t that important, but those times represent that Lucas has the type of speed and agility that is unmatched in this class. The 40 is less important for linemen because it is very rare that they will have to run 40 yards in a straight line. But the other drills are more relevant for linemen, showing off the ability to change direction quickly and turn the corner while maintaining speed are talents that matter on the line. Lucas’s performance in the other three drills, the bench press, vertical jump, and broad jump, were not as impressive but were still admirable. He didn’t finish near the top of the leaderboard in those drills, but he also was far from the bottom of the list. He put up 24 reps on the bench press and was about the middle of the pack. It is a big enough number to not raise any red flags for his draft stock so in that regard it is a win. His jumping numbers led him to about the same finish. He jumped 27 inches in the vertical jump and 8-feet-11-inches in the broad jump. He finished almost exactly in the middle of the best and worst results for each of those drills. That is a decent spot to be in for Lucas. He didn’t perform well enough to turn heads with his jumps, but he also didn’t do poorly enough to make scouts have serious questions. All in all, I think Lucas had an overall impressive showing in Indianapolis. He showed off his athleticism and speed in a way that might have swayed a few teams’ minds. I still don’t think Lucas has a chance to go in the first round, but he may have moved up into the second round on some teams’ boards.