The 2023 NFL Combine is done and dusted.
Although often used as a manner of confirming predetermined scouting, the pre-draft event presents significant value to players and organizations. The ability for a front office to separate tiers of similar players, based on their athletic profile, provides the scouting departments the differentiations to begin finalizing draft boards.
In juxtaposition, players that have not been able to display the full capability of their physical tools on game tape have the opportunity to impress. Under-the-radar prospects skyrocket every year, and unfortunately, some plummet.
We are discussing three prospects in this piece, that are rising up the board at least in some part due to their combine performance.
K.J. Henry – 6’4″, 251 lbs – EDGE – Clemson
K.J. Henry has been overshadowed.
On a defensive line brimming with talent, the Clemson edge defender has been lost in the shuffle. In the shadow of Myles Murphy and Bryan Bresee, Henry flashes some high upside potential as a prototypical edge defender.
Henry had nine tackles for loss, a forced fumble, 3.5 sacks and a phenomenal six passes defended in the 2022 season. PFF credited him an outstanding 90.3 true pass set pass rush grade. They also attributed 34 hurries, 14 quarterback hits, and a 15.9 pass rush win rate to the 6’4″, 251 lbs edge.
The Clemson product also displayed some really promising tools at the 2023 NFL Draft Combine. His 1.65-second ten-yard split was fantastic, galvanizing the perception of his explosive first step to scouts. His length, size, and terrific burst are evident in his occupation of the backfield in both rushing sets and stuffing the ground attack. He seems to be scheme versatile, as his size can allow him to rotate between putting his hand in the dirt and rushing from a two-point stance.
Henry has room for development. He tends to wait for engagement from opposing blockers, giving them the opportunity to punch into his chest. His hand usage must develop further to enable him to shed that faster. While Henry displays solid counter moves, he could begin his primary move sooner to ensure that tackles are unable to anchor.
All in all, Henry has the potential to be a contributing edge defender in the NFL immediately. With some development, he has all the tools to be a starting edge that can have multiple explosive plays per game.
Eventual Draft Projection – Day Two Prospect.
Nolan Smith – 6’2″, 238 lbs – EDGE – Georgia
The NFL Combine is not as crucial to draft stock as people can often think.
Most scouting departments use the workouts to galvanize their views on certain prospects that they have circled on their board. Thus, it is often used as a tool for confirmation and picking nits between similarly tiered players.
Well not for Nolan Smith it wasn’t.
The Georgia edge defender has likely shot up draft boards on the back of an absolutely dominant performance at the 2023 NFL Draft Combine. Smith had a ridiculous 4.39 40-yard dash, as well as a blistering 1.52 ten-yard split. He also had an absolutely absurd 41.5″ vertical and 10′ 8″ broad jump.
While Smith may be undersized, his tape looks fabulous. He has profoundly elite lateral quickness, which assists in him creating advantageous angles to be able to get into blockers and shed. Furthermore, Smith displaces blockers so quickly that they whiff on their initial punch, leading him to be able to move inside or outside rapidly and blow up a play.
Smith also has the natural ability to bend and flatten, along with terrific hand usage at critical points in the engagement. He also can set the edge really well for a player of his size, and extend his arms out to enable him to shed blocks. He does the dirty work in the run game and is the absolute epitome of a team player and leader.
Although Nolan Smith is certainly undersized for an NFL edge defender, he has the physical tools and attitude to be a dominant pass rusher at the next level. At the professional level, teams can use him as a hybrid LB/EDGE weapon, similar to the role that Micah Parsons occupies for the Dallas Cowboys.
Eventual Draft Projection – Top 15 Selection.
Calijah Kancey – 6’1″, 281 lbs – IDL – Pittsburgh
Calijah Kancey is the fastest DT since 2000.
His 4.67 second 40-yard dash time barely beat out fellow Pitt alumni Aaron Donald as the fastest time in the last 23 years. He has drawn comparisons to the future Hall Of Fame Rams defender, which has drawn outcry from the football community.
Don’t worry, I am not going to compare them.
Kacey is undersized but explosive. He is an elite pass rusher, boasting blistering burst off the snap. He achieved an absurd 92.4 PFF pass-rushing grade in 2022, as well as a dominant 22.7% pass-rush win rate. The stud defensive tackle managed 14.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks as well as 30 quarterback hurries.
The Pittsburgh prospect has the physical tools to dominate in the passing game at the next level. His aforementioned burst is accompanied by advanced hand usage, which maintains technique through counter moves and makes his onslaughts so difficult for offensive linemen to contain. His use of leverage is consistent and disciplined, allowing him to anchor solidly against double teams in the run game, despite his size disadvantage. Not only does he hold his own, but he can seemingly stand linemen up and disengage with them at will.
Kancey’s 1.64-second ten-yard split translates directly to his tape. He often has his hands begin a move before offensive linemen even lift their hands for their initial punch. His ability to ensure that he is not properly engaged is a huge reason that he is so effective at disrupting offenses.
The knock on Kancey’s draft stock is going to be the size. At 281 pounds, the interior defender will likely be scheme specific on the team’s big boards. While scouts may be wary of how his weight will translate, there is no doubt that he has something special. The team that takes a chance on that, may find an absolute superstar.
Eventual Draft Projection – Top Ten Selection
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