2023 NFL Scouting Combine Takeaways: Nolan Smith, Calijah Kancey Clock Impressive 40s | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats, and Rumors

2023 NFL Scouting Combine Takeaways: Nolan Smith, Calijah Kancey Clock Impressive 40s

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    Pittsburgh DT Calijah KanceyStacy Revere/Getty Images

    The 2023 NFL Scouting Combine is underway in Indianapolis, and Thursday marked the start of measurements and on-field workouts.

    Linebackers and defensive linemen went first, and it quickly became clear that both positions will feature a lot of top-end talent and depth this year. This year’s crop of defensive linemen appears to be particularly strong, with more than a few certain to go on the draft’s opening night.

    Several top prospects helped cement their draft statuses, while a few under-the-radar prospects significantly improved their draft stock. We also saw a couple of players produce historical workout performances.

    Let’s dive into the top buzz and our biggest takeaways from Thursday’s combine activity.

Calijah Kancey Could Be a Prospect on the Rise

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    Pittsburgh DL Calijah Kancey

    Pittsburgh DL Calijah KanceyZach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The 2023 draft class is headlined by defensive linemen like Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr., Georgia’s Jalen Carter and Clemson’s Myles Murphy, the top three prospects on the Bleacher Report Scouting Department’s draft board.

    One early takeaway from the combine is that this year’s draft class is also deep along the defensive line.

    Pittsburgh defensive lineman Calijah Kancey, for example, is the 72nd-ranked prospect on the B/R board. However, he could be a rising prospect, especially after running a 4.67-second 40-yard dash on Thursday.

    Kancey is viewed as an undersized defensive line prospect, though at 6’0″ and 280 pounds, he is by no means small. He believes that his quickness and technique will allow him to thrive in the pros.

    “It’s my speed and my quickness. Playing with good leverage, getting underneath the thigh pads of bigger offensive linemen, that’s my advantage I have against bigger offensive linemen,” Kancey said, per Christopher Carter of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

    Size certainly wasn’t an issue in college, as Kancey finished his 2022 campaign with 31 tackles and 7.5 sacks.

    Kancey’s performance in the 40-yard dash should leave no questions about his speed. For reference, he ran faster than Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who is likely a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It was the fastest 40 time recorded by a defensive tackle at the combine since 2000.

    The question surrounding Kancey heading into the draft will be about his health, as he was hampered by a shoulder injury near the end of the season. However, he appears to be recovering well, according to Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski, who is on-site at the combine:

    “A shoulder injury prevented the 2022 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Calijah Kancey, from playing in Pittsburgh’s final regular season contest and bowl game. But Kancey revealed doctors officially cleared him three weeks ago.”

    Per Sobleski, Kancey chose not to participate in positional drills because of the shoulder injury. Teams will likely be interested in seeing Kancey at Pittsburgh’s pro day on March 29.

    If Kancey fares well at his pro day, he should cement his status as a prospect picked within the first three rounds.

Jalen Carter May Still Be One of the First Defenders Drafted

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    Georgia DL Jalen Carter

    Georgia DL Jalen CarterStacy Revere/Getty Images

    Carter has long been expected to be one of the first defenders off the board, and he could be a candidate for the first overall pick if the Chicago Bears stay put at No. 1. As of Thursday, Carter is still trending as a high first-round selection.

    On Wednesday, Carter was arrested on charges of reckless driving and racing in relation to the January car crash that killed Georgia offensive lineman Devin Willock and recruiting analyst Chandler LeCroy.

    According to ESPN, Carter was booked on two misdemeanors charges, released on $4,000 bond and returned to the combine on Thursday for measurements and interviews—per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Carter wasn’t expected to participate in workouts even before his arrest.

    According to Yahoo Sports’ Charles McDonald, Carter “may not fall at all if the two misdemeanors are the extent of what happens legally.”

    “Carter’s situation is firmly in the ‘wait and see’ portion of the draft proceedings as teams receive more information on Carter’s involvement in the crash,” McDonald also noted.

    Expect teams to do their homework on Carter during interviews and throughout the predraft process. From an on-field standpoint, the former Bulldogs star is worthy of an early first-round pick.

    Carter, who logged an impressive 69 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and six sacks over the past two seasons, possesses all of the tools needed to be a difference-making defender at the pro level.

    “Any team picking toward the top of the draft that’s looking for an interior defender who can make an impact against the run and as a pass-rusher should be more than happy to select Carter,” Matt Holder of the Bleacher Report Scouting Department wrote.

    Teams looking to evaluate Carter in individual drills should get their chance at Georgia’s pro day, which is scheduled for March 15.

Nolan Smith Is an Athletic Marvel

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    Georgia edge-rusher Nolan Smith

    Georgia edge-rusher Nolan SmithZach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Carter’s former Bulldogs teammate, edge-rusher Nolan Smith, is also likely to hear his name called on opening night.

    Smith logged seven tackles for loss and three sacks in eight games this past season before suffering a torn pectoral that ended his season. The injury has likely limited Smith’s ability to add mass in the offseason, and he measured in at just 238 pounds.

    Size could limit how Smith is used in the pros.

    “Smith’s weight might be an issue for an even-front team that’s looking for a more traditional, hand-in-the-ground defensive end. But if a team thinks they’ll be able to add size to his frame in their weight program, he’s strong and physical enough as it is to get the job done,” Holder wrote.

    While it remains to be seen just how much more bulk Smith can add, he has left no questions about this athletic prowess. He produced a 41.5-inch vertical and 128-inch broad jump on Thursday, which shows just how explosive Smith can be.

    Smith is the heaviest player to record a vertical jump of over 40 inches and a sub-4.4 40-yard dash since 2003.

    Kyle Crabbs of the Draft Network compared Smith’s performance with that of Cameron Wake, who went on to be a three-time Pro Bowler and one-time first-team All-Pro in the NFL.

    Kyle Crabbs @GrindingTheTape

    Not too many guys with testing in the stratosphere of Nolan Smith as an EDGE in the jumps. One with some overlap is Cameron Wake, who jumped 45.5″ and 130″ in the vert and broad at 236 in 2005.

    Smith at 41.5″ and 128″ at 238.

    Smith also ran a blazing 4.39-second 40-yard dash, officially. What’s noteworthy is that Smith was very unhappy with his unofficial 4.44-second time.

    “I thought I didn’t run my best race,” Smith told Stacey Dales on NFL Network.

    Smith also said that he’s not yet at 100 percent, and it certainly seems like he expects to perform better at Georgia’s pro day—though he would seemingly have little to lose by resting on his combine numbers.

Zacch Pickens and Adetomiwa Adebawore Continue to Rise

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    Northwestern DL Adetomiwa Adebawore

    Northwestern DL Adetomiwa AdebaworeStacy Revere/Getty Images

    Like Kancey, South Carolina defensive lineman Zacch Pickens is a likely Day 2 prospect. He could be a steal for whichever team takes a chance on him, and he had a fantastic showing on Thursday.

    The 291-pound Pickens was among Holder’s “standouts” of on-field defensive-tackle workouts. He also posted a very fast 4.89-second 40-yard dash. While that’s not as stunning as Kancey’s time, it’s still spectacular for a player his size:

    Matt Holder @MHolder95

    South Carolina DT Zacch Pickens running an official 4.89 40 is not something I was expecting. He’s having a good workout and has been a riser since the Senior Bowl

    It’s entirely possible that Pickens’ combine outing changes the perception of him heading into the draft. Though he had a solid 42 tackles, four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in 2022, he has largely been viewed as a limited athlete with little upside as a pass-rusher.

    “He’s not athletic and nimble enough to execute finesse moves, and his bull rush is held back by a slow get-off and subpar pad level. The only way he’ll impact the passing game in the NFL is by getting his hands up to bat passes at the line of scrimmage,” Holder wrote.

    At the very least, Pickens should have scouts digging further into his tape to see if his straight-line speed can translate to on-field performance.

    Adetomiwa Adebawore of Northwestern is another defensive lineman who has been rising since the Senior Bowl.

    “While his tape is king in his evaluation, he is proving more nuanced than what we saw through his four years with the Wildcats,” Cory Kinnan of Browns Wire wrote during Senior Bowl week.

    On Thursday, the 282-pound Adebawore bested even Kancey with a ridiculous 4.49-second 40-yard dash. Adebawore also landed on Holder’s list of defensive-line standouts.

    Matt Holder @MHolder95

    My standouts from the 2nd group of DL:

    Georgia Nolan Smith
    Northwestern Adetomiwa Adebawore
    Eastern Michigan Jose Ramirez#NFLCombine #NFLDraft

    Adebawore, the 103rd-ranked prospect on the B/R board, is trending in a positive direction. His draft stock should see a significant jump from his 40 time alone. It won’t be a total shock to see him land in the early second round, given his rare combination of size and speed.

Trenton Simpson and Owen Pappoe Are Fast

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    Clemson LB Trenton Simpson

    Clemson LB Trenton SimpsonZach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Teams looking for speed at the linebacker position will be happy with what they saw on Thursday.

    Clemson’s Trenton Simpson, the top-ranked linebacker on the B/R board, ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash. That should be quick enough to solidify Simpson as one of the top linebackers on many draft boards this spring.

    Simpson’s quickness shows up on game film, and he had a very productive three-year career for the Tigers. He finished his 2022 campaign with 72 tackles, four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He’s a versatile defender who believes he can fit in any scheme.

    “I would honestly say I can do it all,” Simpson said, per Jonathan Heitritter of Steelers Depot. “… I feel like I bring value to any team. I can play on all three downs.”

    Simpson certainly has the quickness to do a variety of things for an NFL defense.

    Auburn’s Owen Pappoe was even faster than Simpson, logging an official 4.39-second 40-yard dash.

    While Pappoe isn’t as highly touted as Simpson—he’s the 83rd-ranked prospect on the B/R board—he’ll be a fine addition for any NFL team seeking a speedy off-ball linebacker. He logged 91 tackles, three passes defended and an interception this past season.

    For context, consider this: The combine 40-yard dash record for a linebacker was set by Shaquem Griffin in 2018 with a 4.38-second time. Isaiah Simmons logged a 4.39-second 40 in 2020. Jon Alston logged a 4.40-second 40 in 2006, and Troy Andersen (2022) and Devin White (2019) rounded out the previous top five for linebackers all-time with 4.42-second 40s each.

    Both Simpson and Pappoe are top-tier athletes who should hear their names called before Day 3 of the draft.

Isaiah Land Is a Sleeper Prospect to Watch

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    Florida A&M edge-rusher Isaiah Land

    Florida A&M edge-rusher Isaiah LandMichael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    NFL franchises are always looking to uncover gems during the middle and late rounds of the draft. Florida A&M linebacker and pass-rusher Isaiah Land could be one of those gems in 2023.

    Land logged 23 tackles, seven sacks and a forced fumble this past season. Though he’s a bit undersized for a pure edge-rusher at 6’3½” and 236 pounds, Land tested extremely well in Indianapolis on Thursday.

    Officially, Land ran the 40-yard dash in 4.62 seconds. He also logged a 34.5-inch vertical and a 10’6″ broad jump.

    “A lot of these scouts tell me he is as athletic as any player out here,” NFL Network’s Stacey Dales said on Thursday.

    Land’s fantastic athletic showing comes on the heels of an equally impressive performance at the Senior Bowl. The former Rattler finished with two tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack while impressing American Team coach and Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.

    “Isaiah had the big sack because that’s what he came here to do. He’s selfless and said ‘I’ll play another position for you’ with a cast on his hand,” Getsy said, per Gerald Thomas III of the Tallahassee Democrat.

    Land weighed a full 10 pounds more than he did at the Senior Bowl, and it’s clear that the extra weight isn’t affecting his quickness or his athleticism. That’s a big development, as a heavier playing weight should allow Land to better stand up to the rigors of rushing off the edge at the NFL level.

    Because of his small-school status, Land is unlikely to hear his name called early in the draft—he isn’t listed among the Bleacher Report Scouting Department’s top 150 prospects. However, he will be on several franchise’s radars over draft weekend.

Tyree Wilson Close to Cementing His Status as a First-round Pick

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    Texas Tech DL Tyree Wilson

    Texas Tech DL Tyree WilsonZach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson might be a notch below Anderson and Carter, but he’s a versatile defender teams should be comfortable taking on opening night. He’s the 15th-ranked prospect on the B/R board and may have cemented his status as a first-round selection in Indianapolis.

    The 6’6″, 275-pound prospect showed off a massive 86-inch wingspan. That’s an important trait for a defender who will be tasked with keeping offensive linemen off his frame and latching onto ball-carriers come near him.

    Wilson has also impressed teams during the interview process, according to NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah:

    Daniel Jeremiah @MoveTheSticks

    A couple players receiving rave reviews for interviews with teams- Tyree Wilson & Michael Mayer. I’ve heard both of those names come up multiple times. Polished pros.

    The big unknown with Wilson is how he’ll test athletically. The talented defender suffered a fractured foot on November 12 and did not participate in drills on Thursday. He may also have to answer a few questions about his physical upside.

    “His bend and overall athletic ability aren’t necessarily bad, per se, but he might fall short in that department when compared to other first-rounders,” Holder wrote.

    The good news is that Wilson is on the mend and should be close to 100 percent by Texas Tech’s March 29 pro day.

    “I think I’m real close to 100 percent,” Wilson said, per ProFootballTalk’s Charean Williams. “I plan on working out at (Texas Tech’s) pro day and a private workout before the draft also.”

    Wilson, who logged 14 tackles for loss and seven sacks in 10 games this past season, has checked about every box he could while still recovering. As long as he puts together a respectable showing at his pro day, fans should expect to hear Wilson’s name called early in the draft, possibly within the first 10 selections.

Raiders Could Be Eyeing a Defensive Lineman in Round 1

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    Clemson edge-rusher Myles Murphy

    Clemson edge-rusher Myles MurphyZach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    In the coming weeks, a lot of the predraft buzz will be focused on this year’s quarterback class and the teams that may target them early on opening night.

    The Las Vegas Raiders, who parted with Derek Carr last month and who own the seventh overall selection, seem like a team that could be eyeing a signal-caller. However, according to Sobleski, talk in Indianapolis suggests that Las Vegas may be more interested in a defensive lineman:

    “Buzz around the combine has them potentially targeting Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson or Clemson’s Myles Murphy with the selection. This possible approach also means the Raiders may not be interested in overpaying in a situation to trade up for a quarterback prospect. A veteran addition remains the most likely path for Las Vegas to find Derek Carr’s replacement.”

    Defense is a logical focus for the Raiders, who ranked 23rd in yards per rush allowed (4.5) and logged just 27 sacks last season. It’s a logical Round 1 focus too, as Las Vegas could be too far back to land its top quarterback prospect, whether it’s Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young or someone else.

    With quarterback-needy teams like the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans selecting in the top four, Las Vegas would probably have to trade up to secure the signal-caller it wants—and general manager Dave Ziegler has noted that the Raiders might not find their long-term answer this offseason.

    “We’re in charge of filling the most important position on the team,” Ziegler told the Bussin’ With the Boys podcast (h/t NFL.com’s Kevin Patra). “There’s some pressure that comes along with that. And however we fill it, it doesn’t mean we’re going to have an immediate answer this year.”

    Expect the Raiders, who have $46.3 million in projected cap space, to be heavily involved in the free-agent quarterback market. Also, expect the Raiders to be among the teams targeting a defensive lineman early in the draft.

    *Cap information via Spotrac. College statistics from Sports Reference, unless otherwise noted.

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