Shaquem Griffin's record breaking 40-yard dash and other surprising new developments from this year's NFL Combine (Image via nfl.com)
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Who set themselves apart in the NFL Combine this year?

Every March, the NFL Combine takes place, and the future stars of the National Football League get to put their talents on display for prospective employers. By this point, many of the prospects have solidified their draft position and ranking, but an exceptional performance can still alter teams’ draft boards.

The NFL Combine drills focus almost exclusively on the physical abilities of the prospects. However, NFL teams also get the opportunity to have one-on-one interviews with the prospects when they aren’t in drills.

For those of you who don’t follow football, the drills included in the NFL Combine are the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical and broad jumps, 3-cone drills and  shuttle run. The 40-yard dash tests a player’s explosion and straight-line speed.

The bench press tests a player’s strength and endurance. The vertical and broad jumps put an athlete’s lower body power and explosion on display. The 3-cone drill and the shuttle run test a player’s ability to change directions at full speed.

Then, there are are other position-specific drills to test a player’s ability to play that particular position. For example, receivers and defensive backs go through drills that test their catching ability, and quarterbacks go through throwing drills.

Every year, a few prospects in the Combine stun the NFL scouts through their outstanding performance drills. On the opposite side of the coin, there are always players who don’t perform up to par and thus hurt their overall draft stock. This year was no exception.

The Risers

Experts considered Saquon Barkley, former Penn State running back, to be among the best players in this year’s draft. His Combine performance served only to solidify that notion. In fact, his results may have pushed him from a Top 5 player to the top player in the entire draft.

He blazed through the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds, making him the second fastest running back at the Combine. In addition, he surpassed all running backs in the bench press, with 29 reps of 225 pounds, and in the vertical jump, with a jump of 41.0 inches.

Already believed to be a physical anomaly and a human highlight reel from his college performances, Barkley made it clear in this year’s NFL Combine that he is a force to be reckoned with in the NFL.

Josh Allen is one of the top quarterback prospects for this NFL Draft. Since quarterbacks are a very deep class for this NFL draft, it was crucial for him to perform well in the NFL Combine, particularly the quarterback-specific drills. Allen did that and more.

He led all quarterbacks in the vertical and broad jumps; what’s more, he made it into the top three in the 40-yard dash and the 3-cone drill. Most experts agreed that Allen displayed the best passing ability of any quarterback that participated in the throwing drills, which is significant in a year with so many quarterbacks of similar talent.

Furthermore, he showed exceptional arm strength and touch on throws down the field. His mechanics and footwork showed improvement from last year as well, which likely contributed to his improved accuracy on the intermediate and shorter routes.

Allen has proven time and again that he possesses all the physical tools necessary for success in the NFL; his NFL Combine performance only supports that assessment.

Shaquem Griffin was the University of Central Florida football team’s emotional leader throughout their undefeated, self-proclaimed championship season. Born without a left hand, he defied all odds by becoming a successful football player; still, many felt his success would stop short of the NFL.

Griffin made it his goal to prove the haters wrong once again at the NFL Combine, and prove them wrong he did. Using a prosthetic hand, he benched 20 reps of 225 pounds, tying for 11th-best amongst linebackers this year.

His greatest success by far, however, came in the 40-yard dash. Griffin ran the dash in 4.38 seconds — the fastest time ever recorded by a linebacker at the NFL Combine. That time was the fastest ever recorded by a linebacker at the NFL Combine, solidifying Griffin’s potential to contribute at the next level.

Griffin’s story awed many throughout last year’s college football season, but his performance at the Combine makes it clear that he won’t stop there.

The Fallers

Josh Rosen was expected to put on a show for the scouts at the NFL Combine, but that show never arrived. After displaying a vast amount of talent in his last college season at UCLA, many viewers touted him as the best quarterback in the NFL Draft this year. His NFL Combine performance, however, leads one to think otherwise.

Rosen struggled with accuracy throughout the quarterback drills, particularly on the intermediate routes. His struggles surprised NFL scouts, especially since Rosen showed brilliant accuracy, placement and polish on the game tape. Since his overall body of work is strong, he may not have slipped far down the draft boards.

Still, NFL Combine struggles made his personal pro day more important than ever.

Jordan Lasley, a wide receiver out of UCLA, struggled mightily in almost every facet of the NFL Combine. For all his struggles, however, his physical measurables were below par; he completed the 40-yard dash in an unimpressive 4.50 seconds. To make matters worse, he failed to make a top-15 finish in any measurable drill.

Nevertheless, his poor performance in the physical drills wasn’t even the worst part of Lasley’s NFL Combine. His catching drills were filled with drops and bobbles, something no NFL scout wants to see out of a wide receiver. Those catching troubles, combined with his inconsistent game tape, could serve to make Lasley’s road to the NFL much more difficult.

Orlando Brown, an offensive tackle out of Oklahoma University, put up an All-American caliber year last season. He played like a top-10 talent for almost the entire season, but may have derailed much of his hard work with his NFL Combine performance. Throughout the drills, he showed a clear lack of focus and motivation which threw off his performance.

He ran an almost six-second 40-yard dash and jumped just six feet, ten inches in the broad jump. In addition, he registered just 14 reps on the bench press. All those results rank among the worst recorded for offensive tackles at the NFL Combine. Brown had arguably one of the worst NFL Combine performances of any player in recent history.

As a result, he went from being a top-10 pick to struggling to be drafted in the first two rounds.

The 2018 NFL Combine was one for historic successes like Shaquem Griffin, as well as monumental disappointments like Orlando Brown. Many questions remain about the true ability of players to make it at the next level, but some have put themselves a leg up on their peers with strong NFL Combine numbers.

Others set themselves back significantly. However, with almost two months before the NFL Draft takes place on April 26 – 28, there’s still plenty of time for players to improve their draft stock.

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