NFL combine 2022 winners, losers: Jordan Davis, Ahmad Gardner among biggest draft standouts
After a one-year hiatus, the NFL scouting combine returned to action, bringing back with it the event's annual inflated hype and sense of uncertainty.
What has recently been billed as a prime-time showcase of the NFL's top incoming talent did not entirely pan out that way, as several prospects elected to abstain from certain portions of drills or entire workouts altogether. The bench press and agility drills were largely shunned by many of those who did partake in the other portions of testing, leaving evaluators with a less complete profile.
All that made for a more difficult assessment of this year's class. And for impact on any prospect's draft stock, the workouts typically take a backseat to medical assessments and team interviews.
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With all that in mind, here are the biggest winners and losers from this year's NFL scouting combine among the draft prospects who did participate:
NFL scouting combine winners
1. Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
Combine workouts seldom highlight the talents of defensive tackles. What became clear Saturday, however, is that Davis is no ordinary man in the middle.
The 6-6, 341-pound standout created perhaps the biggest buzz of the event with his 4.78-second 40-yard dash, the best time since 2003 of any player weighing more than 310 pounds, according to Next Gen Stats. Any mark for an all-out sprint might seem immaterial for a defensive tackle, but Davis' 1.68-second 10-yard split compared favorably with some of the most athletic defensive linemen in recent history. And his 10-3 broad jump and 32-inch vertical further underscored his singular explosiveness.
The session served as a clear reminder that Davis shouldn't be pigeonholed as merely a space eater inside. While he might not rack up immense sack numbers and needs to prove he has the stamina to stay on the field throughout games, he's hardly an anachronism in today's game. As a consistently disruptive force who will command significant attention from opposing offenses, Davis showed he's worth the price as a first-round talent.
2. Tariq Woolen, CB, Texas-San Antonio
If not for Davis, Woolen likely would have emerged as the biggest star of the combine. Expectations were almost unattainably high for the 6-4, 205-pound cornerback after he registered the fastest mph reading in Senior Bowl history (22.45). Woolen still somehow cleared them with a 4.26-second 40 (tied for the fourth-fastest time since 2003) and 42-inch vertical leap (tied for the best of any player at the combine).
A former wide receiver, Woolen has just two years experience at cornerback – and at times it shows. Still, this unique physical package is one many teams should be leaping at.
3. Christian Watson, WR, North Dakota State
At 6-4 and 208 pounds with certifiable deep-ball prowess, Watson has the make-up quarterbacks dream of for their receiving corps. Watson put himself on a new plane, however, with a 4.36-second 40, 38 ½-inch vertical leap and combine-best 11-4 broad jump. Expect the DK Metcalf comparisons to ramp up in the coming weeks.
Like Metcalf, Watson might not be the fit for every style of offense. Yet there are plenty of teams that can leverage his elite traits and burgeoning feel for the finer points of the position. Watson looks like one of the top candidates to be taken much earlier than many expect.
4. Zyon McCollum, CB, Sam Houston
Looking for one of the combine's best under-the-radar performers? Try McCollum, the 6-2, 199-pound cornerback who reeled off a 4.33-second 40, 39 ½-inch vertical leap and 11-0 broad jump (tops at his position). He also showed impressive fluidity in drills and was the only cornerback to run the short shuttle (3.94 seconds) and three-cone drill (6.48), acing both. Doesn't hurt that he has 13 career interceptions, either.
McCollum still might face an extended learning curve in the NFL as he adjusts to a higher level of competition, and he'll have to learn to put his timed speed to use in defending vertical threats downfield. But he looks like an ascendant developmental prospect.
5. Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Top prospects often have little to gain from working out in Indianapolis, so it's not uncommon to see many bow out. Never one to back down from a challenge, "Sauce" still decided to show off on Sunday despite his billing as an expected early first-round selection. The 6-3, 190-pound coverage ace answered one of the few remaining questions about him by running a 4.41-second 40, and he later excelled in his workout.
Having never allowed a touchdown in college, Gardner presents a rare combination of achievement and potential at cornerback. After the combine, he could leapfrog LSU's Derek Stingley Jr., who remains sidelined by a foot injury, as the No. 1 player at the position. Gardner seems to be solidifying his place in the top 10-12 picks. The question now: How high can he go?
6. Travon Walker, DE, Georgia
While Walker was not the most touted member of Georgia's defense during the season, he has emerged as the clear front-runner to be the first Bulldogs player off the board. The 6-5, 272-pounder made waves with a 4.51-second 40 (third among all defensive linemen), 35 ½-inch vertical leap and 10-3 broad jump. His agility and fluidity were also on display in his on-field work and 6.89-second three-cone drill.
Walker still has a long way to go as a pass rusher, and how he develops in that area might ultimately determine his worthiness as an early first-round selection. But this physical profile will prove plenty alluring to many general managers.
7. Ikem Ekwonu, OL, North Carolina State
With fellow offensive tackle Evan Neal sitting out the combine workout, Ekwonu also could have abstained from joining the other blockers for testing and drills. But the 6-4, 310-pound offensive tackle went for it, ripping off a 4.93-second 40 just for the sake of it.
Ekwonu's real time to shine, however, came during the on-field session, where he displayed his smooth movement skills. The showing might not ultimately hold significant weight in determining the top of the draft, but Ekwonu didn't look out of place as a potential No. 1 pick.
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8. Lewis Cine, S, Georgia
Last week was a refresher of just how much talent the national champion Bulldogs' defense boasted, as defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt, linebacker Channing Tindall and others could have easily joined the three Georgia products on this list. Cine, however, deserves his own mention in this space. Known as a savvy reader of opposing offenses, the 6-2, 199-pound safety stunned many by notching a 4.37-second 40.
Coaching will be vital for Cine, whose range doesn't align with his timed speed at the moment. His versatility, awareness and untapped potential, however, make him an enticing defensive back for many defenses. The first round could be within reach.
9. Troy Andersen, LB, Montana State
Another Football Championship Subdivision standout, Andersen proved himself ready to run with the best. The 6-3, 243-pound former quarterback posted the best 40 time of any linebacker (4.42) along with a 10-8 broad jump and 36-inch vertical.
As he develops his feel for the position, Andersen may be 1-2 years away from contributing in any meaningful way to a defense. But he ranks among the most intriguing developmental prospects in this draft class.
10. Leo Chenal, LB, Wisconsin
The 6-3, 250-pound linebacker looks and plays like a throwback at the position. It was a bit surprising, then, when Chenal zoomed to a 4.53-second 40, and his 40 ½-inch vertical leap and 10-8 broad jump also turned heads.
None of that changes Chenal's current playing style, which is that of a downhill enforcer. Still, there's reason to believe that he could take on a more expanded role than previously thought.
11. Calvin Austin III, WR, Memphis
Having produced the likes of Darrell Henderson, Tony Pollard, Antonio Gibson and Kenneth Gainwell in recent years, Memphis has established a nice string of NFL skill-position talent. The latest in line is Austin, a former track standout and walk-on for the football team.
Checking in at 5-7 ¾ and 173 pounds, Austin needed to highlight his upside as an explosive threat. He did just that at the combine with a 4.32-second 40, 39-inch vertical leap and 11-3 broad jump, all among the top three marks among the receiver group. While some teams may be wary of a slot receiver as diminutive as he is, he should have several others eager to get the ball in his hands.
12. Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State
After a prolific career at Iowa State in which he scored 56 touchdowns in three years, Hall entered the draft as a prospect lauded for his balance and vision. But the 5-11, 217-pound ball carrier also turned heads with his testing, which included a 40-inch vertical (best among all backs), 4.39 40 and 10-6 broad jump. Hall and Michigan State's Kenneth Walker III, another combine standout, look poised to battle to be the first running back selected.
13. Jelani Woods, TE, Virginia
The Oklahoma State transfer made significant strides this past season when he caught 44 passes for 598 yards and eight touchdowns, outpacing his total production of the three previous years combined. The 6-7, 259-pound target continued his ascent last week, when he ran a 4.61-second 40 and posted 24 bench press reps, the most of any player at his position. Despite an awkward gait and inconsistent hands, Woods has captivating upside as a potential mismatch in the passing game. In an underwhelming tight end class, he looks to be a prospect on the rise.
14. Zion Johnson, G, Boston College
Power is Johnson's calling card, so it should come as no surprise that he pumped out a combine-best 32 bench press reps. But the Boston College blocker is far from just a workout warrior. He looked comfortable and fluid in on-field drills. Given the demand in the back half of the first round for interior offensive linemen, Johnson looks like a safe bet for Day 1 of the draft.
15. Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
Getting enamored with a quarterback's combine workout can be a direct path toward heartbreak. Willis, however, served a reminder that he's in his own tier among this year's passers when it comes to physical tools. While he did not undergo athletic testing, his deep ball was downright dazzling. There are big-picture questions yet to be answered that could dictate how successful Willis is in the NFL – including whether he can exhibit the composure and mechanics to succeed from the pocket – but there's a strong case to be made that he should be the first quarterback off the board.
NFL scouting combine losers
1. Kingsley Enagbare, DE, South Carolina
Enagbare stuck out among this year's edge rushers, and not in a good way. With others were ripping off blazing 40-yard dashes on Saturday, the 6-4, 258-pounder managed just a 4.87-second mark, one of the worst times among his group. While his frame and power should earn him a chance to latch on with a defense, he might only be trusted to set the edge, which could serve as an anchor on his stock.
2. Kyren Williams, RB, Notre Dame
There aren't too many 5-9, 194-pound backs in the NFL, and even fewer with 4.65-second speed in the 40. Williams' time was the worst at his position, serving as a reminder of his limitations as a runner. While he could carve out a successful career as a third-down back given his savvy as a pass blocker and receiver, Williams ultimately might be relegated to a role that affords him scant opportunities to make plays.
3. Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington
Heading into the combine, Gordon drew considerable buzz as a player who would emerge as one of the biggest athletic marvels in the testing portion, with some expecting him to be among the fastest players in the class. Then, he turned in a subpar 4.52 40. That shouldn't be the sole reflection of his overall athleticism, as he made plenty of head-turning plays at Washington. But a better profile would have helped him solidify his case for the first round, which might be iffier now given that his instincts are behind where they should be.
4. David Bell, WR, Purdue
As a 6-1, 212-pound possession receiver, Bell seemed like the kind of player who merely needed to endure the combine rather than make a name at it. Still, the overall shortcomings were evident in a 4.65-second 40 (tied for second worst among all receivers), 33-inch vertical and 9-10 broad jump. His outing was somewhat reminiscent of former Tennessee wide receiver Jauan Jennings, who caught five touchdowns for the San Francisco 49ers last season. But Jennings had to wait until the seventh round to be selected in 2020, and he is two inches taller than Bell.
5. Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
Burks is perhaps in the same category as Gordon as someone who didn't capitalize on outsized expectations. The 6-2, 225-pound target sized up as one of the draft's most physically imposing receivers while being likened to Pro Bowl selections A.J. Brown and Deebo Samuel. When Burks ran a 4.55 40 and posted a 33-inch vertical, the response was mild puzzlement. Burks still has considerable physical tools, but the draft comparisons unquestionably look lofty right now, especially given the work he has to do to become a more refined and complete receiver.
6. Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M
Green was shuffled around by the Aggies, starting in four different positions in 12 games last season. His future appears to be at guard, but he still looked plodding at times during on-field work. His 20 bench press reps, meanwhile, were the second fewest of any offensive lineman. The first round is still a possibility, but it could be fading.
7. DeMarvin Leal, DT, Texas A&M
Entering last year as one of this class' most hyped defensive prospects, Leal now has plenty to answer for after a disappointing campaign. Perhaps more problematic for his draft standing: The 6-4, 283-pound lineman hasn't demonstrated sufficient playmaking tools to warrant a gamble on the first day. That trend continued at the combine, where he was not explosive in testing or his workout. He might ultimately find his fit as a 3-4 defensive end, but his arrow continues to point in the wrong direction.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.