INDIANAPOLIS — On Saturday morning, a little after 11 a.m., a gasp went around Lucas Oil Stadium. Josh Allen, the big-armed quarterback from Wyoming, had just launched a ball 66 yards in the air on a go route to Texas A&M receiver Christian Kirk. And he didn’t make it look like it was anything out of the ordinary.
“Bet he enjoyed that one,” one general manager said.
The on-field throwing session is the quarterbacks’ final part of the combine, before they head to the airport to take flights out of town. Split into two groups according to last name, they cycled through the route tree as coaches and talent evaluators sat scattered around Lucas Oil Stadium. Not everyone participated; USC’s Sam Darnold, the top quarterback in the eyes of some evaluators, ran the 40-yard dash on Saturday but will wait until his pro day to throw in front of NFL clubs. While only so much can be gained from watching players throw routes on air, with no defenders on the field, it’s a live look at their arm strength and arm talent in a high-pressure environment.
Allen stood out on Saturday; in the words of NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, who broadcast the entire workout live, Allen “put on a show.” One of his first throws came out high—notable because he completed just 56.3 percent of his passes last season—but he seemed to settle down as the session went on. The other player who fared particularly well in the eyes of NFL evaluators was Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, who threw the ball accurately and with zip. Evaluators talk about the ball “coming out of the [quarterback’s] hand well,” and that was what Mayfield did. The Heisman Trophy winner also seemed to be very comfortable in the spotlight.
UCLA’s Josh Rosen didn’t seem to wow evaluators with his performance. He had some nicely placed deep throws; on the other hand, he bounced an easy slant pass. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, who has been adamant that he is a quarterback and does not need to change positions at the NFL level, did the opposite of Darnold: He did not run the 40-yard dash, but he did the throwing workout. Jackson told NFL Network that he had been planning to run, but the talk of teams being interested in him as a receiver convinced him to just do the passing workout, putting the focus on that part of his game instead of his blazing speed. As a passer, Jackson was inconsistent on Saturday, making catchable throws on some patterns but struggling with others, including a wobbly and underthrown deep ball.
This year’s quarterback class presents an interesting conundrum for teams that need one, because each of the top prospects has concerns that weren’t alleviated during their senior seasons: Rosen’s personality, Darnold’s long delivery, Mayfield’s antics, Allen’s accuracy. Saturday’s workout didn’t take away any of those concerns. Here’s something to keep in mind: If the Browns aren’t sold on any one quarterback in particular heading into the draft, they could take Penn State running back Saquon Barkley No. 1 overall, and come back to the quarterback position at pick No. 4.
• Barkley turned heads on Friday when he put up 29 reps on the 225-pound bench press, but the most impressive performance in the event came on Saturday. Shaquem Griffin, the UCF linebacker whose left hand was amputated at age 4 after being born with amniotic band syndrome, did 20 reps in the event while using a prosthetic hand. Griffin said it was the most he’d ever done at that weight; when he started training for the combine, he could only complete 11 reps. His performance was met with a rousing cheer from the crowd.
“So many people are going to have doubts [as to] what I can do,” said Griffin. “It started at the bench press. Some people think I could do three; some people think I could do five; some people didn’t think I could do the bench press. I went and did the bench press and competed with everyone else and did 20. That’s just one step closer to everything I need to accomplish. There’s going to be a lot more doubters saying what I can’t do, and I think I’m ready to prove them wrong.”
Griffin’s twin brother, Shaquill, who was drafted by Seattle in the third round last year, did 17 reps in the bench press during his combine.
• North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb answered exactly how you’d expect when asked if he was the best player or the best non-quarterback in the draft: Yes. “My confidence level is going to say I’m the best player,” Chubb said. “I feel like I put it on tape in four years. Just putting on tape good film, and I feel like I’m the best player. I’m not going to say one person is better than me.”
• Maurice Hurst, the Michigan defensive tackle, was sent home from Indianapolis for more testing after being diagnosed with a heart condition during his combine medical exams, ESPN reported. Players get what in many cases is the most comprehensive physical they’ve ever had during the combine, including an echocardiogram. In 2013, Star Lotulelei had an abnormality that was later revealed to be nothing permanent and potentially caused by a virus. On the other end of the spectrum regarding heart issues, veteran DT Nick Fairley was placed on the Saints’ non-football injury list last June and later released due to a reported heart condition.
• New for the 2018 season, the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine committee voted this week to add a third unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant, or UNC, at each NFL game this season. Previously, a UNC had been assigned to each sideline on game day to work with each team’s medical staff to implement the concussion protocol. In December, after the review of the handling of Texans quarterback Tom Savage’s concussion, the NFL began a pilot program using a centralized UNC based at the league office in New York to monitor broadcast feeds for any signs or symptoms of concussion that may have been missed on site. Next season that will be expanded to an extra UNC at every game. The third UNC will sit in the booth with the two “eye in the sky” ATC spotters, and can assist them in making the decision to stop the game for a medical timeout if they see something missed on the field.
“The feedback was it’s very difficult for one person to see nine games at one time,” said Allen Sills, the Vanderbilt neurosurgeon who serves as the NFL’s chief medical officer. “We feel like there is much more focused attention, that a specialist who knows what to look for in neutrotrauma circles, will be assigned to that task at each stadium as opposed to try to oversee multiple games at once.”
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