INDIANAPOLIS – Each year a handful of players leave the NFL combine at Lucas Oil Stadium having significantly improved their draft stock.
Former Notre Dame wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown is one of the off-the-chart players of 2018.
St. Brown is tall (6-foot-5), fast (4.48 40-yard dash), strong (20 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press) and one of the best route runners on the board. Alabama's Calvin Ridley is the top wide receiver available in this year's draft, but it's possible St. Brown could work his way into being the second receiver selected.
“I play football to play in the NFL,” he said. “I started this journey to take over the NFL and to play long in the NFL. I feel like I'm ready to go and take this next step.”
The stats aren't going to wow general managers – St. Brown had 33 receptions for 515 yards and four touchdowns in 2017. But the Irish's passing game with quarterback Brandon Wimbush never materialized. In 2016, St. Brown had 58 catches for 961 yards and nine touchdowns in a breakout campaign that drew scouts' attention.
“He creates consistent separation, but the ball placement is deplorable,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said, alluding to Wimbush's accuracy issues. “He's got quickness at the top of his route and his ability to adjust is outstanding. I put a big grade on him.”
What gives St. Brown added value over other wide receivers is his penchant for being a downfield threat, while being just as lethal over the middle. When it comes to body control, balance, and catching the football, few do it better than St. Brown.
“We're all here to show what we can do,” St. Brown said. “It's up to the scouts to determine what they think.”
After a brief dip in the value of NFL running backs, franchises are again realizing their importance.
Notre Dame's Josh Adams is projected to go in the third-fifth round range, but he could end up being a steal. The 6-2, 213-pounder can run over or around defenders. His blend of size, toughness and speed makes for a coveted combination.
“It's important to be a versatile player in general in this sport today,” said Adams, who shaved 12 pounds since the end of the season.
Adams rushed for 1,430 yards and nine touchdowns in 2017, averaging nearly seven yards per carry. He also caught 13 passes for 101 yards en route to being named the Irish's offensive player of the year. As a freshman and sophomore, Adams had a combined 1,768 rushing yards.
It didn't hurt that Adams ran behind two of the best offensive line prospects, Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey. But as Luke Easterling of USA Today said, Adams proved “to be one of the most dangerous big-play threats in any backfield across the nation.”
He didn't run the 40, but Pro Football Focus ranks Adams as the second-most elusive running back in the draft. His 18 reps on the bench press were tied for ninth among running backs.
“It's just exciting to be around competition like this, exciting to be here and have this moment,” Adams said.
Smythe's 2nd shot
The tight end position has been revolutionized in recent years. In many cases, they're the top option for quarterbacks. Large athletic targets are what general managers, coaches and quarterbacks want to see. Durham Smythe can do all of the above, and some.
At 6-5, 253 pounds, Smythe is an exceptional blocker. A lack of breakaway speed is the biggest knock against him. His numbers also won't turn heads either. Smythe caught only 28 passes in his career – and 15 came last season when he recorded 244 yards and a touchdown. Smythe caught nine passes for four touchdowns in 2016.
He's projected to be taken in the third, fourth or fifth round.
The combine is Smythe's second taste of the whirlwind pre-draft process. He was in Mobile, Alabama, in January for the Senior Bowl, where he caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen and finished with three catches for 48 yards.
Smythe's goal was to prove he can be a downfield receiving threat, which was accomplished over three practices and one game. He's worked out alongside Nelson and McGlinchey at EXOS in San Diego.
In Indianapolis, Smythe ran a 4.81 40, did 18 reps on the bench press, and had a broad jump of 9-2.
“I like to think of myself as more of a versatile guy who can do a little bit of everything,” Smythe said at the Senior Bowl, “and I think that's kind of the role that I try to rely on.”