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NFL Draft Notebook: Michael Penix Jr.'s IQ, Pats’ decision at No. 3, depth of OL class among Combine buzz

Bowers a lifelong competitor in family of athletes
Brock Bowers shares what it was like to play under Todd Monken at Georgia, how his competitive household manifested growing up, which NFL players he likes watching and which quarterbacks he'd want to catch passes from.

Covering the NFL Draft year-round, there is no event like the Scouting Combine. The athletic testing, because it’s what everyone can see on television, understandably garners much of the attention.

Yet, having every organization together in Indy, the facetime with the prospects and the medical evaluations behind the scenes are just as important. I was fortunate enough to sit down with over 30 prospects in this draft, caught up with sources around the league and much more throughout the week. Here’s everything I learned from this year’s NFL Combine.

  • I’ve heard rave reviews on this offensive line class in team interviews. One player that didn’t play a ton of college games but is easy to get on board with is Georgia’s Amarius Mims. He started at right tackle for the Bulldogs in 2023, but told me he spent about 40% of his practice reps on the left side. Scouts and coaches are believing in him developing into a long-term starter. I think he has a shot to go in the top 15-20 picks after an all around great week in Indy.
  • Penn State’s Olu Fashanu is in a similar situation, but with the sides flipped. He was a left tackle in college for two years, but said he is preparing for a move to the right side if necessary. Fashanu is an all-around impressive person. When he was in high school, he would spend some of his lunch periods and free time volunteering at a homeless shelter.

RELATED: Olu Fashanu eager to live out his NFL dream

  • Speaking of impressive people, let’s talk about Houston offensive tackle Patrick Paul. Away from the field, he’s trained in boxing and explained how it’s helped him on the field, specifically with his length. That was evident not only this season but during Senior Bowl practices against top competition. Paul lived in Nigeria for 2.5 years as a kid and hopes to “rebuild the entire infrastructure” one day. He hopes to get into politics during life after football.
  • Ja’Lynn Polk and Ladd McConkey are two receivers I’m buying into as having long NFL careers. I talked with each about their inside/outside versatility, something NFL teams crave to vary their personnel looks. Polk has a lot of pride in being a player taking on the dirty work over the middle of the field, while McConkey simply creates separation with speed (4.39 in 40) and agility at multiple levels.

RELATED: Ladd McConkey looks to bring versatility to NFL

  • Wide receiver Keon Coleman from Florida State will be one of the most polarizing players in this draft. His 4.61 forty was disappointing, but his actual GPS play speed at his weight is excellent. Coleman’s tape is a mix of the best catches you will see in this class and inconsistent separation. He was one of the biggest personalities I talked to this week and explained his decision of ultimately playing college football instead of basketball.
  • Three wide receivers that everyone is trying to figure out how early they go in Round 1: Texas’ Adonai Mitchell, LSU’s Brian Thomas Jr. and the 40-yard dash record setter Xavier Worthy from Texas. We’ve seen both Kansas City and Buffalo get aggressive in the first round before, could history repeat itself?

RELATED: Eric Froton compares draft profiles of Adonai Mitchell, Xavier Worthy

  • Washington offensive lineman Troy Fautanu’s arm length coming in at 34 ½” gives him a legit shot to stick at tackle in the NFL. He was very confident when I asked him about playing there long-term, but also said he will play wherever asked. He’s a top 15 player for me that has been underappreciated all season and looked phenomenal in the workouts.
  • JC Latham was listed at 360 pounds for Alabama, but he came in at a much better 342 pounds this week. I’ve heard teams are split right down the middle on if he plays guard or tackle at the next level.
  • I am a big believer in Michael Penix Jr. in this quarterback class and the arrow continues to point upwards for the lefty with a howitzer of an arm. The biggest checkpoint were his medicals, which came back clean. On top of that, teams that met with Penix are realizing not just his arm, but his football IQ maximized Washington’s offense. When you speak to his teammates, they light up when asked about their quarterback. His former offensive coordinator, Ryan Grubb, now holds that same position for the Seattle Seahawks, which is something interesting to keep in mind.

RELATED: Michael Penix Jr. using adversity to reach the next level

  • Speaking of the quarterbacks, the second overall pick could create a big trickle effect on the entire draft. If Washington takes LSU QB Jayden Daniels, that might increase the odds New England is more open to trading the No. 3 pick. There are a handful of teams outside the top 10 that would give the Patriots a call. It would be a fascinating decision if the Jerod Mayo era starts with a top three pick under center or a massive haul of draft picks instead.
  • We often talk about basketball backgrounds translating well at wide receiver and tight end. The same could be said for interior offensive lineman and wrestling. West Virginia’s Zach Frazier is a four-time state champion wrestler, who dominated on the Mountaineers offensive line, logging over 3,200 snaps. Him, Jackson Powers-Johnson and Graham Barton could all be selected in the top 40 and go on to play center in the NFL.
  • Let’s talk about Oregon’s Jackson Powers-Johnson, often regarded as the top center in this draft. Not a lot of interior offensive lineman that weigh around 330 pounds move like he does. He even logged 30 snaps on the defensive line in the Alamo Bowl a few years ago as the team dealt with opt outs.

RELATED: Jackson Powers-Johnson ready for NFL thanks to excellence at Oregon

  • Florida State’s Trey Benson stole the show out of the running back group. He was extremely honest when we talked about the passing game, explaining how he looks forward to getting better in pass protection. That is often the biggest learning curve for rookie running backs. Benson’s tape and testing have positioned him to be the first running back taken in April.
  • Former Iowa wide receiver and Purdue running back Tyrone Tracy Jr. has been one of my favorite sleepers this year, but it appears the secret is out. Even before a 4.48 forty, 6.81 three-cone and tremendous 4.06 short shuttle, teams were really excited about him in Indianapolis. He and his family are avid bowlers.

RELATED: Stock Up, Stock Down: WRs Legette, Pearsall flying high after Combine

  • There most likely won’t be a first round off-ball linebacker taken in this year’s draft, but NC State’s Payton Wilson, Michigan’s Junior Colson and Texas A&M’s Edgerrin Cooper could all be starters to come off the board on Day 2. Colson has been the most overlooked in my opinion, creating a lot of chaos in the middle of Michigan’s championship defense. He came over to the United States from Haiti when he was 9, originally not speaking any English. He was honored with the prestigious Lott IMPACT (Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community, and Tenacity) Trophy this year.

RELATED: How Payton Wilson has battled through adversity during NFL journey

  • The first defensive player to come off the board is a rare, wide open race. Alabama pass rusher Dallas Turner’s testing numbers were absurd and Florida State’s Jared Verse is highly regarded for the power he plays with. The wildcard is Illinois defensive tackle Johnny Newton. He couldn’t test as he recovers from injury, but teams loved his pre-snap intelligence when meeting with him. I’d argue his film is as good as any defender in this draft.
  • It has been some kind of 2024 for cornerback Quinyon Mitchell between the Senior Bowl (where he was the best player on the field) and the NFL Combine. With his play strength and 4.33 speed, he’s in line to be the first cornerback taken in what is a very deep group.

Just like that, we’re on to Pro Day season. At the same time, NFL free agency will shape team needs before the draft. The combine always feels like the start of a new league year, despite that officially taking place on March 13. Stay here as my rankings will expand to a top 100 in early March, culminating with a top 300 a week or two before the NFL Draft.