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10 prospects who dominated Day 1 of the 2020 NFL Combine

There were so many positive performances at the Combine, it feels a shame to limit it to 10.

NFL Combine - Day 3 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The first day of the Combine is complete and we saw each of the quarterback, tight end, and wide receiver prospects taking the field to showcase their talents in front of all 32 NFL teams—and then some. It was also one of the cleanest events in memory, there weren’t any significant injuries of note (more on that in a bit), nobody tanked their draft stock with terrible interviews, and aside from finishing way too late for people like me who keep track of these things, it went off without a hitch. So let’s dive in and take a look at some of the notable developments from the day!

Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

Tagovailoa didn’t measure and didn’t throw as he rehabs from a devastating hip injury that cut short his 2019 college season and threatened his career. Medically, he won’t be cleared until some time in March, but the news he received at the Combine appeared to be all good. As the Lions hold the key draft pick for his future prospects, he’s a player to keep an eye on. (No RAS yet, and we’re not likely to get one)

Steven Montez, QB, Colorado

Not the most well known prospect coming into the Combine, Montez was easily one of the most impressive passers on the field. He posted excellent numbers in the events, culminating in a 9.31 RAS, third highest at the Combine for quarterbacks with a H/W/S (height/weight/speed) combo that will make coaches excited about how they can use him on the field. More importantly, he did very well in the passing drills, leading his receivers on deep routes and hitting his breaking routes accurately. It’s going to be interesting to see where his stock ends up once all is said and done.

Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

It’s rare that a QB once thought of as a potential number one overall pick sort of disappears into the draft framework of an offseason, but it felt that way for Herbert. He catapulted his name back into the spotlight with an amazing performance in the events, leading all QB with a 9.61 RAS and only one drill below 75th percentile. He showcased a live arm during drills as well and could be a lock in the top five. There have even been some saying teams may favor him over both Tua Tagovailoa AND Joe Burrow, so we’ll see!

Cole Kmet, TE, Notre Dame

In a weaker tight end class with no sure-fire top pick headed for the first round, it can be difficult to stand out from the pack. That wasn’t the case with the Irish’s Cole Kmet, who was one of only three tight ends to score an elite RAS at the Combine, highlighted by excellent speed and explosiveness at prototypical tight end size. Kmet has been gaining steam as the TE1 in this draft class, and after a strong Combine showing, likely cemented his place there.

Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri

After a disappointing 2019 season, Okwuegbunam has been sliding down draft boards for quite some time. Questions about his speed on a football field were part of those concerns, but he answered those questions in spades by posting the only elite speed of the entire position group on Thursday, running 4.49 in the 40-yard dash. (Note, he did not qualify for RAS as he did not participate in any other drills)

Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama

Expected to run the best 40-yard dash of the entire Combine, Ruggs disappointed only himself when he posted an official 4.27. He also posted some of the best explosion drills at the Combine, as most predicted. Interestingly, his RAS only finished fifth at the Combine, but at a 9.66, that is more due to the incredible athleticism displayed in others than his own shortcomings. Ruggs did pull up after his run, opting not to finish the agility drills later, so it’s something to monitor moving forward—although it hasn’t been reported as being serious, either.

James Proche, WR, Southern Methodist

You may recall that I am the engineer of the James Proche hype train, so I apologize if you’re getting tired of it. As I expected, Proche didn’t do well in the events that he participated in (4.01 RAS) aside from putting up a ridiculous 20 reps in the bench. His vertical was better than I expected, a 34.5 is just about average, but his agility drills were very poor and he didn’t participate in the 40-yard dash. Still, it was during the drills where he shined, and it wouldn’t be a football field if James Proche didn’t catch at least one football that he had no business catching. On an overthrown pass while running a deep route, Proche accelerated at the top of the route to catch the errant pass with his fingertips, hauling in what many receivers would have just given up on. Telling you guys, he won’t measure well, but he’s going to play in the NFL forever.

Justin Jefferson, WR, Louisiana State

Jefferson has been getting plenty of hype from a select few, but he was mostly the ‘beneficiary of a good situation’ poster boy in this class. With Joe Burrow throwing to him in a receiver-friendly offense, some were predicting he’d run in the 4.7 range and questioned if he had the athleticism to compete at the next level. Instead, Jefferson crushed expectations, posting a 4.43 40-yard dash and great explosion drills on his way to a 9.83 RAS, third at the Combine.

Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Michigan

Once one of the top prospects in the country, DPJ under-delivered for the Wolverines in his time in Ann Arbor. Still, he has always been a ridiculous athlete and showcased that with one of the best combine showings in NFL history for any position, notching a stupid 44.5 inch vertical and 11’7” broad jump. He was disappointed in his 40-yard dash where he ‘only’ put up a 4.48, but teams want someone they can mold in an offense, and he’s an incredible athlete.

Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame

Few players can boast that they came into the Combine and put up numbers similar to Calvin Johnson. I mean, plenty have claimed it, but few can back it up. At 6’3 1/4” tall and 238 pounds, Claypool more than looks the part and some have considered him a possible tight end convert. After putting up a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash to go with a 40.5 inch vertical, 10’06” broad, and 19 reps on the bench, Claypool is currently threatening Calvin Johnson’s spot as the top overall RAS receiver.

So many more, you guys

It has been a while since I’ve been as excited about a Combine as this one, and it has not disappointed. We’ve seen highly touted players come in and light things up like CeeDee Lamb, who made an insane catch during drills that will be replayed incessantly. We’ve seen players who came in with low expectations and shock the draft community with fantastic drills like the aforementioned Chase Claypool and DPJ, USC’s Michael Pittman Jr., and Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk. We’ve had mostly good news from players dealing with injury and players nursing minor ailments largely just to avoid risking further damage by testing.

And it was only day one.

Were there guys who disappointed? Yes. I may cover them at the tail end of the Combine, but with as many players shining as we’ve seen, it just felt right to highlight the positives rather than dwell on the few, generally minor negatives. I can’t wait to see the rest of this week play out!

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