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Every year, there are a handful of NFL prospects that take the combine by storm. Stocks will rise and fall in Indianapolis this week.
Arkansas LB Drew Sanders
Drew Sanders may well leap past Will Anderson Jr. of Alabama to be the #1 linebacker taken off the board. Having declared for the 2023 Draft early after a standout season, Sanders is an explosive talent with an NFL-ready game from the edge. The knock on Sanders is that he’s a bit light at 233 pounds, but I’m not buying the argument. This guy is the epitome of where NFL defenses are going.
Sanders is tall (6’5”), he bends well, and he rushed against top OL talent for six ranked opponents and still got to the QB routinely. He has the athleticism to drop into coverage and the instincts to play in space. In limited action at the Mike, Sanders also showed the aggression and knifing ability to play the middle of the field, though that’s probably too much of an ask in his first year of the NFL.
With Anderson Jr. on the fence about how much work he’ll do at the combine and Sanders slated to go full participation, I think Drew Sanders is in a good position to move up with a solid on-field workout. If that happens, I like Arizona or Chicago as a landing spot.
Kentucky QB Will Levis
With Bryce Young not throwing at the ‘23 combine, Will Levis is in a prime position to put on a show. While a Josh Allen-like physical specimen, Levis lacks the same mobility, and his passing has been sporadic, with a lack of accuracy the root cause of his woes.
In games against ranked opponents in 2022, Levis threw 7 TDs vs 6 INTs while rushing 35 times for -33 yards. To me, that sounds a lot more like later-day Matt Ryan than primetime Josh Allen, so other than the size/weight figures, I don’t get where that comparison comes from. Wishful thinking, perhaps.
Regardless of his mediocre production in 2022, Levis is rocketing up the pre-combine draft boards. That’s a factor of two things: other QBs not working out at the combine, and a large number of starter jobs still available in the NFL. GMs aren’t sure what’s happening, Levis is an intriguing prospect, so up he goes. Of course, that could all change depending on how the veteran QB sweepstakes shakeout.
Penn State WR Parker Washington
A bit further off the radar is Penn State WR, Parker Washington — the kind of guy I classify more as a weapon than a wide receiver. Think Deebo Samuel’s versatility with a running back’s body. As Drew Sanders is to the future of the edge, Parker Washington is to the future that teams are eyeballing at the WR position.
At 5’10” and 212 pounds, Washington isn’t a big target, but he’s very strong, rarely gets tackled by the first guy, and he is an active blocker. Stacking up against defenders at the line of scrimmage, Washington is twitchy and sudden — not elite speed but good quickness and great hands. Just get the young man the ball in space and let him work.
I have seen some draft projections that call for Parker Washington to go late in round two but I’m moving the kid into late round one contention and a spot on a quality team. How much fun would it be to watch this playmaker lineup with Trevor Lawrence in Jacksonville, or Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City?
Michigan OL Olusegun Oluwatimi
This is one big man that can make some extra money with a good showing at the combine. Currently projected to go in the fourth round, Oluwatimi transferred to Michigan at the beginning of the season from Virginia, after originally enrolling with Air Force. That transfer history may have something to do with the lower draft grade, but I suspect the ranking has more to do with the position Oluwatimi plays.
OTs are the golden children of the O-line because they protect the QB. Most interior linemen are less highly valued. This is especially true of center, where Oluwatimi plays, as the transition to the NFL is considered to require a veteran’s knowledge of the offense in order to make the required checks and calls. As a result, though Oluwatimi is a strong player at his position, he’s never played anywhere else on the line, so NFL math kicks in and he slides down the overall draft board.
With a strong showing at the combine, particularly in the bench, the 3-cone, and the broad jump, the Outland Award-winning Oluwatimi can move up the board for a team looking for a gap-smasher with the motor to move and block on the run. That said, I could see him making it to the top of round 3 or even higher, perhaps going to a team such as the Bears or Texans.
Hunter Luepke FB, North Dakota State
If you don’t like Hunter Luepke, you don’t like football. At 6’1’, 240 lbs, this young man is a throwback to the days before specialists ruled every position. He can easily flex between fullback, H-back (aka move TE), and the Y. His blocking is roughneck and his hands are above average. He has the ability to be a true three-down back in an age where few exist, and he can protect your QB.
Luepke is currently projected to go in perhaps the fifth round. I think that undervalues him. The knock on him is that he’s really not that athletic and certainly lacks NFL speed, limiting him to special team roles and spot-work on the O. I think that’s some old-head NFL think. What Luepke is, is a football player, capable of contributing anywhere you put him on the field. In an age where teams take huge risks in the first round, don’t tell me that’s not worth better than a five.
I like Luepke to get picked up by a team looking to reload that can leverage the utility of the NDSU fullback/H-back to the best of his ability. I could see Arizona, Washington, and the Giants drafting this kid in the late third round and being very happy for a couple of contracts. I’d also love to see Luepke in the same backfield as Christian McCaffrey in San Francisco.