NFL Combine 2023 winners & losers: C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson among those who impressed ahead of draft

The 2023 NFL Combine produced four days of freakish performances from every skill position group, which will create even more debate leading up to the 2023 NFL Draft. 

Who is the No. 1 pick? Alabama’s Will Anderson and Georgia’s Nolan Smith were among the defensive standouts who made their case if the Bears hold onto the pick.

Who is the top quarterback worth moving up for? Alabama’s Bryce Young might have company now from Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud or even Florida’s Anthony Richardson, who created a buzz at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis with a spectacular workout.

MORE: NFL Combine workout highlights

And there were other players who moved up and down the board as a result of their performances. 

The Sporting News looks at the winners and losers from this weekend’s NFL Combine:

NFL Combine winners 

C.J. Stroud 

Will Stroud push Young to be the first quarterback drafted? Stroud showed confidence in the interview portion when he said, “I think I’ve been the best player in college football two years in a row.”

Stroud backed that up with a strong throwing session that displayed the accuracy of a franchise quarterback. Stroud had a 69.3 completion percentage the past two seasons with the Buckeyes, and his remarkable performance against Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinals remains fresh in people’s mind. He even connected with former OSU teammate Jaxon Smith-Njigba at the combine. 

Young opted not to throw, which makes the debate even more compelling heading into each quarterback’s pro day, and especially if Chicago trades out of the No. 1 pick. 

MORE: C.J. Stroud urges Bears to stick with Justin Fields: ‘That’s his team’

Anthony Richardson and Will Levis

These two SEC quarterbacks put on a show at the combine. 

Richardson lived up to the hype with a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash, a 10-9 broad jump and a 40.5-inch vertical. Richardson also showcased a big arm. He will stay in the first-round conversation as a result.

Levis has prototype size (6-4, 229), and he stayed in control during the throwing portion of his workout. His arm strength was expected (he posted a top ball speed of 59 mph), but his accuracy on intermediate throws popped even more. Levis firmed up his status as a top-10 pick. 

MORE: Player measurements at the 2023 NFL Combine

That means Young, Stroud, Levis and Richardson all could go in the first round. That’s one year after Pitt’s Kenny Pickett was the only quarterback taken in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. 

Stetson Bennett

Bennett, a two-time national champion at Georgia, was another SEC quarterback who performed well. Bennett showed a strong arm on deep balls, too. 

Bennett is considered a Day 2 or Day 3 pick, but the 25-year-old might surprise at the next level. 

MORE: Why 40 time could help make up for Stetson Bennett’s height, weight, age concerns

Chase Brown 

Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs performed well among the running backs group, which was expected. Gibbs was one of three running backs to break 4.4 in the 40-yard dash; he clocked in at 4.36. Robinson ran a 4.46 and confirmed his all-around skills. 

Brown, a TSN second-team All-American, ran a 4.43 40 and put together a huge day in the other drills. Brown had a 40-inch vertical and a 10-7 broad jump. His 1.53 in the 10-yard split was just behind Robinson’s 1.52. 

Trust the production with Brown, too. He had 2,648 yards and 15 touchdowns with Illinois the past two seasons. He’s a five-year college player, but there is Day 2 value and immediate production with him.

Blake Freeland and Cody Mauch

Freeland, a 6-8, 302-pound tackle from BYU, displayed first-round athleticism with the first group of offensive linemen on Day 4. 

He ran a 4.98 in the 40 with a 1.68 10-yard split, and he added a 37-inch vertical jump and 10-0 broad jump. It was an all-around performance that matched the tape. 

Mauch, a 6-5, 302-pound tackle from North Dakota State, answered questions about his missing front teeth. There should be no questions about his on-field workout, as he showed the versatility to play tackle or guard at the next level. Both linemen could vault into the first round based on the results. 

MORE: Viral photos show Cody Mauch’s transformation from walk-on tight end to grizzled tackle

Zay Flowers and Josh Downs

These two ACC receivers backed up the idea that they could be value picks in this year’s draft. 

Flowers, a Boston College product, measured 5-9 and 182 pounds. He ran a 4.42 in the 40-yard dash and posted a 35.5-inch vertical, which is in the range of Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Flowers also showed route-running skill in the on-field drills. Flowers had 200 catches at Boston College over four seasons. 

Downs, a North Carolina product, is also 5-9 but lighter at 171 pounds. He ran a 4.48 in the 40-yard dash, which is in the range of USC’s Jordan Addison’s 4.49. Downs was among the best receivers in the gauntlet drill on the field. He had 202 catches at North Carolina over the past three seasons. 

Flowers and Downs will not be first-round picks like Njigba and Addison, but they are great Day 2 options.

Darnell Washington and Luke Musgrave 

Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer and Utah’s Dalton Kincaid are assumed to be first-round tight ends, but they will have company. 

Washington, a physical marvel at 6-7 and 264 pounds who worked in tandem with Brock Bowers at Georgia, ran a 4.64 in the 40 with a 1.57 in the 10-yard split, and crushed the blocking and pass-catching drills. Washington is the perfect mix of “in line” and “move” tight end with that physical ability. Washington also can do this:

Musgrave, a 6-6, 253-pounder from Oregon State, ran a 4.61 40 with a group-best 1.54 split. His stock will shoot up given how he performed in a loaded tight end class. 

Will Anderson and Nolan Smith

Anderson made a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. He ran a 4.60 in the 40-yard dash and had a 1.61 in the 10-yard split. The Alabama linebacker also impressed in the field drills.

The two-time Sportng News All-American has measurements that compare to elite pass rushers such as DeMarcus Ware and Khalil Mack, and it’s not an accident the NFL Network broadcast compared his 40-yard dash to Von Miller. Anderson confirmed once again he is an elite prospect who comes with few, if any, risks. 

Smith, whose final season at Georgia was cut short by a pectoral injury, flashed a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash and wowed in the vertical jump with a leap of 41.5 inches. 

Smith is projected as a second-round pick in SN’s NFL Mock Draft, but that’s going to change. Keep in mind the Bulldogs edge rusher had 7.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss — modest numbers on a loaded defense that can be hard to gauge. Travon Walker, last year’s No. 1 pick, had 9.5 sacks in three seasons at Georgia. 

Calijah Kancey and Adetomiwa Adebawore

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi spoke to The Sporting News on March 1 and offered a brief assessment of Kancey. 

“He’s trying to break the combine record for the fastest D-tackle 40, so there’s that,” Narduzzi said. “He’s quick and fast, and that shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody.” 

Cue those Aaron Donald comparisons, even if they are premature. The 6-0, 280-pound Kancey made them happen when he ran a 4.67 in the 40-yard dash. 

Kancey would be the fourth Pitt defensive lineman to be selected in the NFL Draft in the last three seasons.

Adebawore, a 282-pound Northwestern defensive end, put up an all-around performance that Next Gen Stats recognized. He ran a 4.49 in the 40-yard dash and posted a 37.5-inch vertical jump. He added 27 reps on the bench press. 

Adebawore, a three-star recruit,  was a consistent producer for the Wildcats with 23.5 sacks the last three seasons. 

Iowa’s defense

Iowa, which ranked second in the FBS in scoring defense in 2022, showcased a difference-maker at every level. Edge rusher Lukas Van Ness showcased elite athleticism with a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash and a 1.64 10-yard split. Butkus Award winner Jack Campbell led all linebackers with a 6.74 in the three-cone drill and tested so well that he drew comparisons to Pittsburgh linebacker T.J. Watt: 

Cornerback Riley Moss ran a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash and a 1.48 in the 10-yard split. Safety Kaevon Merriweather did not flash as much, but he will still be part of what should be a strong showing at the 2023 NFL Draft for the Hawkeyes.

Fast cornerbacks 

Seven cornerbacks ran under 4.40 in the 40-yard dash, which was one fewer than the total at the 2022 NFL Combine. Those seven cornerbacks, however, all delivered. 

Cornerbacks who ran sub-4.4 at NFL Combine

Player School Time (secs)
D.J. Turner Michigan 4.26
Jakorian Bennett Maryland 4.30
Deonte Banks Maryland 4.30
Emmanuel Forbes  Mississippi State 4.35
Kelee Ringo Georgia 4.36
Darius Rush South Carolina 4.36
Christian Gonzalez Oregon 4.38

Ringo and Forbes were All-American caliber players in the SEC, and Gonzalez was expected to have a fast time. Turner, Bennett and Banks were among the Big Ten cornerbacks who improved their stock with their times.

Banks put together an all-around performance that included a 1.49 10-yard split and a 42-inch vertical jump. Gonzalez also was an all-around winner. 

NFL Combine losers 

The Bryce Young height debate

Young measured 5-10, which opened the narrative about whether height will be a concern in the NFL. Last year, the debate was about Pickett’s hand size. This feels similar. 

Young comes in with a different style of play; one that is being compared to Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson. Keep in mind, Wilson weighed 204 pounds at the combine, the same as Young. 

Young opted not to throw this weekend, which opened the door for Stroud, Levis and Richardson to make their case to be the first quarterback selected. Was this a mistake on Young’s part? Not really.

MORE: Bryce Young says his size doesn’t matter in NFL: ‘I know what I can do’ 

Young is a unique quarterback. He produced 80 passing touchdowns to 12 interceptions in two spectacular seasons with Alabama. An AC joint injury last season impacted that production.

Does the height matter? We don’t think so, but there will be questions leading up to Alabama’s pro day on March 23. 

Max Duggan 

Duggan ran a 4.52 in the 40-yard dash, but his throwing session got lost in the shuffle with the show the SEC quarterbacks put on. The Heisman finalist, who led TCU to the College Football Playoff championship game last season, did impress in the interview session and made known his feelings about the possibility of playing in Dallas. 

Duggan still profiles as a Day 3 pick, but he could be a high-end backup in time. 

Kenny McIntosh

McIntosh averaged 5.7 yards per carry for his career as part of Georgia’s running back committee, and there was some hype around him leading up to the combine. 

He ran a 4.62 in the 40-yard dash, a number similar to the 4.65 Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams ran last season. Williams fell to the fifth round as a result. This number will spark debate about whether McIntosh is “football fast” despite the 40 time. 

McIntosh did bounce back in the field drills, and the 204-pounder is a viable pass-catcher. He will need to bounce back at Georgia’s pro day. 

Jordan Addison 

Addison entered the NFL Combine as the top receiver in this year’s draft; now, there will be questions after Smith-Njigba looked great in the field drills. Smith-Njigba did not run the 40-yard dash. 

Addison ran a 4.49, which was outside the top 10 at the position. He also cut his workout short after tweaking his back. There is no questioning his production on the field. Addison had 160 catches for 2,259 yards and 23 TDs the last two seasons at Pitt and USC. In a deep receiver class, however, some of the value picks closed the gap. The Trojans will have their pro day on March 23. 

MORE: Jordan Addison looking to reunite with former teammate Kenny Pickett in NFL

Kayshon Boutte 

Boutte had an up-and-down junior season at LSU, and he had a chance to improve his stock with a strong combine showing. That didn’t happen. Boutte ran a 4.50 and a 4.67 in the 40-yard dash. The 5-11, 195-pound receiver finished last among the group with a 29-inch vertical and had a 1.58 in the 10-yard split. He could fall one or two rounds as a result. 

Trey Dean III and Rashad Torrence II

The Florida safeties struggled on Day 2, especially in the 40-yard dash and 10-yard split. Dean (4.75) and Torrence (4.72) had the two slowest times in the 40 and tested near the bottom in the 10-yard split. Florida has had at least one defensive back drafted every since 2016, so it was a bit of a surprise Dean and Torrence did not perform better.

Jalen Carter 

Carter was the lead story Wednesday. He was arrested on misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing in connection with a crash that killed a Georgia teammate on Jan. 15. Carter returned to the combine Thursday, where he conducted interviews with teams. 

Georgia offensive lineman Devin Wilcox and recruiting staffer Chandler LeCroy were killed in the accident. Carter was at the scene. He tweeted that he expected to be “fully exonerated of any criminal wrongdoing.” 

How much will this developing story impact Carter? The projected first-round pick expected to work out at the combine, but he was present only for the on-field drills portion of the defensive linemen workouts. Carter did not speak to the media Wednesday. The Sporting News projects the Cardinals to take Carter with the No. 3 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Carter’s next chance to prove his ability will be at Georgia’s pro day on March 15. 

Mike Morris and Andre Carter II

Morris ran a 4.95 in the 40-yard dash, which was the second-slowest time at the edge rusher position. He also finished with a 9-2 broad jump. Morris had 7.5 sacks for Michigan in a breakout 2022 season, but he will have to fight off the notion that he’s a one-year wonder. 

Carter, a 6-6, 256-pound edge from Army, did not run the 40-yard dash. He saw his sack total drop from 14.5 in 2021 to 3.5 in 2022. Carter had a 9-1 broad jump and put up 11 reps in the bench press, the lowest marks among his position group. On a day when several edge rushers flashed, Carter might have slipped down the board.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *