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Combine Breakdown

Early Combine Headlines

by Mark Lindquist
Updated On: February 26, 2020, 2:38 pm ET

While athletic testing in Indianapolis doesn’t get underway until Thursday night -- quite the primetime flex for the NFL -- we’ve already received plenty of fodder to chew on. Below we’ll dive into the good, the bad and the weird from the first two days of NFL Scouting Combine measurements and interviews. 


Tua Tagovailoa is on track in his recovery from hip surgery

Now, opening with a caveat we don’t have the medicals on Tua. What we do know is that the star Alabama signal-caller is expected to be cleared for football work on March 9 and will hold a personal pro day one month after that. Even without the specific outcome of Tagovailoa’s medical checks, things certainly seem to be moving in the right direction, here. Should everything check out you can lock Tua in for a top-five selection. What we’re curious to see -- should Tua indeed check out and should Joe Burrow play a little too coy with the Bengals (or outright force a trade ala Eli Manning), could we see a late whispering run of Tagovailoa to the pole position? With another two months to go until the draft, a lot of time is left to just talk and think and consider. And build smoke screens. More on Burrow below!


Joe Burrow is cool with the Bengals

After joking on Monday that he should just retire after measuring in with little baby paws of nine inches, Burrow came out with a more impactful comment on Tuesday. “I'm a ballplayer,” the Heisman winner said. “Whoever takes me, I'm going to go show up.” This comes just days after Burrow spoke of having “leverage” with the Bengals at No. 1. He somewhat shaded his approach in Indianapolis, claiming that his vague hints toward being up in the air were due to the fact that he did not know whether Cincinnati would take him. “They might fall in love with someone else,” Burrow said. The Ohio native also admitted that it would be pretty cool to be able to go home for dinner from time to time if the Bengals did draft him. While we fancifully entertained the possibility of Tagovailoa somehow ending up at No. 1 above, realistically, anybody but Burrow would be a shocker.

The Cardinals are talking with all humans who can catch a football

Arizona HC Kliff Kingsbury told reporters on Tuesday that his club had already met with Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs. Picking at No. 8 they should have their choice of that trio if they want to add a new gadget to the mix for Kyler Murray. To which we would say, walk before you try to run. Or in the Cardinals’ case, build your lines before you go looking for flashy new toys. Jerry Jeudy wouldn’t do Kyler much good if Kyler is scrambling for his life. And Jerry Jeudy can only do so much if Russell Wilson, Jared Goff and Jimmy G. have all day to throw on the other side. Offensive line and defensive line first with this crew. Then you can have a little desert.


Henry Ruggs eyeing 40-yard dash record

As it should be. The draft universe has been waiting for Ruggs to challenge Ross’ 4.22-second dash for a while, now. He was reportedly clocked in the 4.20-second range last year, during Alabama’s spring combine. And we imagine he’s been training for it pretty hardcore of late. Ruggs will try to make good on his confidence -- and our anticipation -- under a Thursday night spotlight. If you’re looking beyond Ruggs -- it’s difficult to look beyond him given the expectations, here -- we’ll highlight three names to keep in mind for sub-4.30-second 40’s -- Jalen Reagor, LeVante Bellamy and Tony Pride. All three have been timed at least as fast as 4.30 seconds, though you inevitably have to take school marks with a slight grain of salt. 

If we were to offer up a prediction as to whether or not Ruggs steals the island from Ross, we will be the party pooper sitting in the corner swaying ever-so-slightly to old ballads by The Cure and predict that the record will still be standing come Friday morning. It would take a blisteringly perfect run for Ruggs to reign supreme, here. Running 40 yards in 4.22 seconds is a feat. But, we’ll allow a pause in our ever-pessimistic world view, it would be pretty awesome if Ruggs not only beat Ross’ record, but ran the dash in under 4.20 seconds. That would be kind of magical.


Javon Kinlaw joins the ranks of defensive prospects who will not test

Chase Young and LSU standouts K’Lavon Chaisson and Grant Delpit were already known non-testers for the weekend on the defensive side, but another one came out on Tuesday in South Carolina DL Javon Kinlaw. Kinlaw, who saw his Senior Bowl experience truncated due to knee tendinitis, is healthy, per Ian Rapoport, but Rap Sheet passes along that because Kinlaw has been focusing on his rehab, rather than training, he’ll wait until South Carolina’s pro day to show out for scouts. That players feel the need to train for tests of mostly dubious actual value is one of the core issues of the combine in general, but we’ll refrain from going off on the flaws of the evaluating process. 

Young honestly doesn’t need to test, while both Kinlaw and Delpit (dealing with an ankle injury) have health concerns. That leaves us with Chaisson, who is simply waiting until pro day. There are no athletic concerns for us with Chaisson. Bottomline, while it saps a little starpower from the back half of combine testing -- defenders will go on Saturday and Sunday -- we will have a chance to see all of these gentlemen at their pro days. 


AJ Dillon is a boulder and JJ Taylor an ant

One of our favorite draft memes from last year’s combine was DK Metcalf’s rippling being juxtaposed with Hunter Renfrow’s everyman bod. This year around, we would like to compare and contrast AJ Dillon and JJ Taylor. The former back out of Boston College measured in at 247 pounds -- exact same mark as Derrick Henry -- while the latter back out of Arizona required an actual tape measurer and a sharpie at 5-foot-5. As Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson pointed out on social media, Taylor’s measurement process carried whiffs of Darren Sproles’ measurement process. Except Sproles was one inch taller than Taylor. 


Somebody call up Brandon Allen’s hand masseuse for Joe Burrow

Allen, in one of our favorite draft process anecdotes ever, infamously worked with a hand therapist to try to stretch out his mitts (8 7/8 inches) back in 2016. With nine-inch hands Burrow could use a little hand therapy himself. The difference between Allen and Burrow, of course, is that the former was a Day 3 mixer ultimately selected in the sixth-round, while the latter is expected to be the first overall selection. We wouldn’t read into Burrow’s hand size too much. It isn’t a deal-breaker given everything else in his toolbox in terms of poise, accuracy, anticipation and leadership. It is just a little less than ideal. Burrow did not have a tendency toward fumbles at LSU. We don’t expect him to with the Bengals. Our only slight note of caution (and we mean slight, here), is that Burrow played behind arguably the best offensive line in the country in 2019. Those boys kept him cool and dry. The Bengals allowed 48 sacks last season, ninth-worst in the NFL. If his hands do haunt him, it’s going to be because Burrow’s under a little more duress in the pros than he was with the Tigers.


Jordan Love, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert have the hands of giants

While Burrow came in with hands fit for baby gloves, Tagovailoa and Herbert measured more robustly at 10 inches, while Utah State’s Jordan Love took the QB Hand Size Crown with a measurement of 10 4/8 inches. Of that trio, though, Tua’s measurement is the most impressive. Because Love stands at 6-foot-3, 224 pounds and Herbert 6-foot-6, 234 pounds. Tua? Just 6-foot, 217 pounds. He has meat on the bones, but Love and Herbert are just naturally bigger dudes, who you would expect naturally to have bigger hands. Tagovailoa, while well built for his height, is giving up his fair amount. Love, by the by, not only had the biggest hands of any quarterback in Indianapolis, but also the longest wingspan at a full 80 inches. WSU’s Anthony Gordon came in with the shortest wingspan at the position, spreading out to 73 inches. 

Mark Lindquist
Mark Lindquist holds a master's degree from the University of Iowa and writes baseball and college football for Rotoworld.com. He's currently working on a memoir about life, death, rock 'n' roll and his year teaching at a Chinese university. You can reach him on Twitter @markrlindquist.