Live from the NFL combine: SI.com’s Chris Burke is bringing you the latest updates, rumors and news from Indianapolis.
It’s officially the third day of the NFL combine, but we’re still a day away from the first set of on-field workouts. Today’s agenda features more coaches and executives, along with the first group of players (offensive linemen, running backs, place kickers and special teams), facing the media at the podium, and we’re here to analyze every bit of news that comes out of those interviews.
Highlights from Thursday: Quarterback, wide receiver and tight end measurements were released (Hand size! Wing span!); new 49ers GM John Lynch admits he was incredibly impressed with DeShone Kizer; and Hue Jackson emphasizes the importance of signing Terrelle Pryor.
Be sure to check back throughout the day as we update with more quotes, measurements and more.
INDIANAPOLIS — The running backs enduring the NFL draft process now are finding that Ezekiel Elliott’s immediate success has created both pros and cons for this class.
On one hand, Elliott in particular showed the value of drafting a running back in the top five (if the fit makes sense, of course)—the Cowboys’ rookie pushed for MVP and Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, while helping Dallas claim the NFC’s top playoff seed. But on the other hand, the 2017 class now will be viewed under the Elliott lens. Unless a player can make that type of impact out of the gate, what’s the point of taking him in the top 10?
Dalvin Cook is focused on the positives.
“What Zeke did paved the way for us,” Cook said Thursday, during his combine press conference. “Zeke did a great job catching the ball out of the backfield, protecting Dak [Prescott] at QB, running very well behind a good offensive line.”
His challenge in the next seven weeks or so is convincing at least one NFL team of that argument. Both Cook and Leonard Fournette are being viewed as obvious Round 1 selection, with top-10 upside.
Elliott is fresh in everyone’s minds, but the NFL decision makers surely have not forgotten about Trent Richardson or even about the second season of Todd Gurley’s young career—while Rams GM Les Snead on Thursday called Gurley’s 2016 performance a “sophomore slump,” there are no guarantees Gurley rediscovers his rookie form.
Do any of those cases matter when teams pick through Cook or Fournette or the rest of the 2017 backs? Not necessarily, but they’re also hard to ignore.
What works to Cook’s advantage is the remarkable production he delivered at Florida State (2,253 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns this season). He is a home-run hitting back capable of turning small creases into huge gains, and he can step out of the backfield and catch passes.
Better yet, he found that success in a pro-style offense. For the past few combines, NFL coaches and GMs have been grilled about the challenges of scouting spread-offense prospects. Cook doesn’t come with that roadblock.
“Coach [Jimbo] Fisher’s system definitely helps me transfer to the NFL level,” Cook said. ”Because when I’m in certain meeting rooms and coaches are asking me questions, I can relate very well. His offense is very intense, it’s a big playbook, and the NFL is the same way.”
Pros and cons, though. Cook has undergone multiple shoulder surgeries, he fumbled 13 times during his Florida State career and he has off-field incidents over which NFL teams will grill him (he was found not guilty on a misdemeanor battery charge in 2015).
“I checked out, every team. I passed my medical exams,” Cook said. “My shoulders, they’re stable, they’re solid.”
And as for any potential character red flags: “I’m open and willing to answer every question, I ain’t hiding nothing. If they ask it, I’m willing to answer. Willing to move forward and be a better person.”
It’s all part of the puzzle. The main piece, at this point, being his on-field performance. Cook would argue his Florida State tape shows a game-changing back, and that Elliott’s breakthrough proved what that type of performer can do for an offense.
“At the next level, ain’t too many spread teams, so everybody’s asking running backs to do the same thing—get out there and split wide, catch the ball,” Cook said. “It’s becoming a passing league, but us running backs are trying to bring it back. Get the ball, pound the ball again so we can open up the pass.”
Exactly how much of a running-back draft revolution is underway in the NFL will be revealed come April 27, based on where Cook, Fournette and the rest of the top talents start coming off the board.
But there’s no doubt that Cook will tell teams he’s worth it, and that he can a standout rookie running back, just like Elliott in 2016.
“It goes to show that if a running back gets put in the right system, put in the right place, he can do a great amount of things for the team,” Cook said. “I feel if I get put in the right system, I can do the same things Zeke did.”
INDIANAPOLIS — D’Onta Foreman is willing to do just about whatever it takes to play at a lighter weight in the NFL than he did in college.
Just do not ask him to eat quinoa.
The Texas running back who was the nation’s second-leading rusher last fall weighed in at 233 pounds during the NFL scouting combine, down 16 pounds from his listed weight in college. To be fair, he revealed that his school media guide measurables were a bit misleading.
“I played in between 240 and 245,” Foreman said, “kind of went up and down, never got higher than 245.”
However heavy he actually was, it worked. As a junior this past season, Foreman carried the ball 323 times for 2,028 yards and seven touchdowns. His lowest output of the season was a 24-carry, 124-yard effort in a loss at Kansas State, one of just three games in which he failed to score a touchdown. Foreman had a pair of 250-yard games (Baylor and Kansas) and a ridiculous 341 yards at Texas Tech.
His size profiles him as a bell-cow back at the next level, even if his game often relies as much on his lateral agility as it does plowing through defenders.
“I would say I’m a big back, but I’ve definitely got some wiggle to me,” Foreman said. “I definitely can make people miss. I can run by people when I get past them. I feel like I’ve got a lot in me and I’m ready to show that in the next level.”
Foreman is different in that regard than, say, Le’Veon Bell, who recut his figure prior to his NFL arrival and in the process transformed from a power back to an agile superstar. Foreman is more of a side-to-side back by nature than Bell was entering the league, and Foreman should top Bell’s 40 time of 4.6 seconds, too.
Dropping weight was more about making sure he was at his peak for this critical set of tests in Indianapolis.
“I knew coming in that was going to be a big concern about my weight, where I was going to come in at,” Foreman said, “so I definitely focused on eating better and making sure that my weight was down. And I feel good now.”
O.K., so the quinoa. It falls under that “eating better” umbrella—part of Foreman’s post-college, pre-combine training at EXOS, where many of the draft hopefuls train. “I just had to learn how to eat,” Foreman said. “I found a way to eat some stuff I never ate before. Some of it I didn’t like, some of it was good.”
Foreman would prefer to keep his weight in the mid-230s, right around where two of Texas’s most famous NFL products, Ricky Williams and Earl Campbell, were during their NFL careers.
“I’ve been blessed to be able to talk with both of those guys,” Foreman said. “I talked to Ricky last night, I was texting with him last night. Earl Campbell, I’m waiting to get back to Austin so I can go over and talk to him a little bit more. I learned a lot from Ricky this past season, I would text him after almost every game, just see what he saw. He always gave me feedback.”
Williams rushed for 10,000 yards during his career. Campbell is a Hall of Famer. Can Foreman follow in those footsteps? Time will tell, but he saw a better opportunity to do so a little slimmed down from his Texas form.
“I was comfortable at 240, 245—I rushed for 2,000 [yards] at that weight. I [thought], what could I be if I was smaller than that?”
INDIANAPOLIS — Say this for John Lynch, general manager: He knows how to dance the dance.
The 49ers’ GM holds the No. 2 pick in the draft, and once Colin Kaepernick opts of his current contract to become a free agent, he won’t have a quarterback on his roster. So, it would make sense for Lynch to set his sights on a QB for that second-overall selection.
But there’s also no point in Lynch tipping his hand as to which way the 49ers may be leaning on March 2, hence Lynch singing the praises of all the top options—Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, DeShone Kizer and Mitch Trubisky—during his press conference Thursday.
Of Kizer, Lynch revealed that the 49ers already had interviewed the Notre Dame product this week and that Kizer “blew the doors off” that process. He’s “a very impressive young man,” Lynch said.
How does that compare to the “aura” Lynch said Watson carries? Or to, as Lynch put it, the “special tape” Mahomes has, or to that Trubisky “grows on you” the more tape you watch? Hard to score any of those comments officially, because the 49ers probably don’t have their board pinned down yet.
They also don’t want to give anything away in case the Browns are considering dealing the No. 1 pick. The odds on that might be low given Myles Garrett’s presence and Cleveland’s own QB needs. The nightmare scenario for Lynch right now, though, is that the 49ers’ front office falls in love with one of those quarterbacks, only to see him snatched up before they’re on the clock.
“As we’re planning, there’s a number of different scenarios we’re looking at,” Lynch said. “... A lot of people look at it like, ’Oh, my gosh, you don’t have any quarterbacks.’ But that’s also somewhat liberating, in that you can create this thing, at that position that is so critical, in the way you want it. ... We have the No. 2 pick and a lot of options because of it.”
March 2 marked the first day that Kaepernick could opt out of his remaining deal, which would pay him $14.5 million in base salary for 2017. The NFL’s opt-out period runs March 2–7, preceding the legal tampering period and free agency.
“We had a real nice meeting,” said Lynch of a recent discussion with Kaepernick, “and one thing in that meeting we talked to Colin about, having been a player, one thing I always wanted from coaches—I think any player—is just transparency. You want honesty. That’s what we were with Colin, and he was back to us.
“We both agreed that under the current construct, it wasn’t going to work out, but we said, ’Let’s not close the door.’ ... As he hits free agency, we’ll keep our eyes open and we want him to keep us in mind as well. We kept that door open in a very real and positive way.”
Strike Kaepernick from the roster, and the 49ers will have zero quarterbacks under contract—Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Thaddeus Lewis all are set to be free agents, too. Even if the 49ers pass on a quarterback at No. 2 (which would be a mild upset), they’re almost certain to draft that position somewhere.
Which one, and when, could be under wraps for until April 27. Lynch certainly didn’t tip his hand at all Thursday.
INDIANAPOLIS — Big day for weigh-ins at the 2017 combine, because the quarterbacks hit the scales. In a nice moment of synergy, those numbers were revealed right as Cleveland coach Hue Jackson was saying during his press conference that he has a 6' 2" cutoff for his ideal QB.
“When you talk about profiles, you want a guy to be a certain height and a certain weight,” Jackson said. “It’s just a piece of it, but I think it’s important.”
All of Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer and Patrick Mahomes checked in at that height, or above, so there was no help to be found there in narrowing down the Browns’ options. A little more of what we learned from weigh-ins:
Mitch Trubisky (6' 2 1/8", 222 lbs., 9 1/2" hand size): This was the QB folks were most interested in tracking Thursday morning, because of some concern that he was closer to 6' 1" than 6' 3".
For what it’s worth, Cleveland GM Sashi Brown contradicted Jackson yesterday, brushing off the notion that a QB needs to be a certain height. His exact response to a question about that topic was, “Just ask Drew Brees. Just ask Russell Wilson.”
The height conversation is now more or less irrelevant for Trubisky. His official hand size actually will be 9 4/8", because of National Football Scouting standards (and also because lol math), but we’ll simplify it down to 9 1/2" here.
DeShone Kizer (6' 4 1/4", 233 lbs., 9 7/8" hand size): True to his “big QB” reputation, Kizer checked in with a significant height edge on Trubisky, Mahomes and Watson. (Miami’s Brad Kaaya, for the record, landed at 6' 3 7/8"). For comparison’s sake, Carson Wentz measured 6' 5", 237 and Jared Goff 6' 4", 215 at last year’s event.
Kizer is expected to run pretty well, too, when the QBs take to the field Saturday, so he’s on track to exit Indianapolis in good shape.
Deshaun Watson (6' 2 1/2", 221 lbs., 9 3/4" hand size): Again, with the hand size thing—Watson’s official was 9 6/8". No big surprises in Watson’s numbers, though. We knew he was smaller than Kizer and he came in right in line with Trubisky and Mahomes.
Patrick Mahomes (6' 2", 225 lbs., 9 1/4" hand size): Mahomes’s hands are right on the cutoff point for where NFL teams can start to panic—at nine inches or below, ball security becomes a concern. Jackson spoke about this element at last year’s combine, mentioning how he preferred QBs with bigger hands given Cleveland’s cold-weather environment.
Given how Mahomes plays, and how he holds the ball when he’s escaping trouble behind the line, that 9 1/4" mark (9 2/8" officially) was a minor surprise. If you were taking bets ahead of time, most would have wagered on a bigger number.
Otherwise, keep it movin’. We’ll see how Mahomes times in the 40.
Corey Davis (6' 2 7/8", 209 lbs.): These are great numbers for Davis, who will not work out here due to a lingering ankle injury. The height especially jumps out, right at the 6' 3" level. That’ll be good enough for teams to solidify their projections of Davis as a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver at the next level.
Mike Williams (6' 3 5/8", 218 lbs.): The size was no secret here—Williams looks like, and plays like, a big wide receiver on the outside. He also just missed the 80-inch mark in wingspan (79 7/8"). All just serves as confirmation of Williams’s game.
Curtis Samuel (5' 10 5/8", 196 lbs.): For a player who could be making a full-time move to slot receiver at the next level, this counts as a solid height/weight combo. Corey Coleman (5' 11", 194) and Sterling Shepard (5' 10", 194) are comparable receivers from last year’s class. Samuel will not be seen by any teams as an every-down back, so there should be very few durability concerns about him as a movable slot piece.
Oh, and just wait until he challenges the 4.3s in the 40.
David Njoku (6' 4", 246 lbs.): An excellent height/weight for the rising tight end. But here's the real eye-opener: 82 1/2" wingspan. Eighty-two! He's a propeller plane that also can catch passes.
Only slightly outdone was Alabama TE O.J. Howard, a likely early-Round 1 pick. He measured with an 80 5/8" wingspan, on a 6' 5 3/4", 251-lb. frame.