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Tuesday open thread: Who improved their draft stock the most at the NFL Combine?

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NFL: Scouting Combine Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For the most part, the NFL Combine is for checking boxes. In other words, it’s about confirming what we already know about a draft prospect from their tape. After all, if someone’s physical attributes don’t transfer to the playing field, they aren’t very relevant to the conversation of what makes this person a good football player.

In these cases, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for a player to drastically move up and down your draft board after the NFL Combine. They either confirm what you already know about them, or alter your expectations a bit and make you go back to the tape to see if you missed something. In either case, dramatic shifts are rare.

But sometimes there are players that do something on the field in Indianapolis that is either completely unexpected or brings to light a prospect you had overlooked completely. Today let’s talk about that small group of players.

Today’s Question of the Day is:

Which NFL Draft prospect improved their stock the most at the Combine?

My answer: There are a few answers here that I’d like to discuss.

Most relevant to the Detroit Lions is Georgia edge defender Travon Walker. The 6-foot-5 defender entered the Combine as a consensus mid-to-late first-round prospect. His tape was obviously pretty good, but his production numbers were modest, given his supporting cast. He certainly took a jump in his senior year with 7.5 tackles for loss and 6.0 sacks, but he was still overlooked by many, including yours truly. Then this happened:

Walker put up an elite score in all measurables but one. Athletically, it just doesn’t get any better than Walker, and defensive end happens to be a position where athletic score correlates to on-field success strongly.

It doesn’t take much research to figure out why his productions numbers at Georgia weren’t very high. He was consistently used as an interior defender and often dropped into coverage. To cut to the chase: Georgia simply did not give him the pass rushing opportunities that many of his cohorts were given.

He’s still raw as a pass rusher, but if he lands in a spot with a good coaching staff—and the Lions have a pretty well-renowned one—he could have the highest ceiling of any edge player in this draft.

There’s also North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Watson. Already trending up after putting on a show at the Senior Bowl a month ago, Watson has skyrocketed from a mid-round prospect to some debating whether he’ll make it out of the first round. Again, his athletic profile, which was expected to be good, turned out to be even better than believed:

If the Lions strike out in getting their big, outside x-receiver in free agency, Watson fits that athletic prototype to a T. He’s big, physical, and doesn’t let that take away from his blazing speed and explosion.

Like Walker, his lack of production is easily explainable. His college ran the ball a ton. That could actually be a positive for the Lions, as it allowed him to work on his blocking skills, something we know the Lions are going to value.

But it’s not like the kid can’t catch, either. PFF gave him the third-highest catching grade among FCS receivers last season, despite only hauling in 43 catches for 800 yards. It’s a deep class at wide receiver, and Watson remains more of a projection than a proven talent, but he would be a mighty nice fit at 32 or 34 if the Lions find themselves still in the wide receiver market by then.

Your turn.