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Teams and analysts begin working on their NFL draft big boards more than a year in advance, but there’s still room for movement during the run-up to the event.
What a franchise sees on film is the most important thing, but there’s a reason for the whole process. All-Star games, the combine and pro days are all pieces of the puzzle that give a prospect multiple chances to improve their stock.
Great times and interviews shouldn’t be enough to skyrocket someone’s stock by themselves. However, they do give reason to go back, review what a player has done and adjust the evaluation accordingly.
That change in perception can best be seen in mock drafts. Looking back on anyone’s projections, there’s quite a bit of change that goes on even from the combine to the end of pro-day season.
With pro days now behind us, a handful of prospects have seen some positive movement between the B/R Scouting Department’s post-combine, three-round mock draft and the one most recently compiled heading into the April 28-30 event.
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Post-Combine Mock: N/A
Current Mock: No. 79
The post-combine mock draft accounted for the first 103 picks, and Wisconsin linebacker Leo Chenal (scouting report) was nowhere to be found.
With the predraft process complete, Chenal is projected to easily be a third-rounder. The scouting department predicted the Los Angeles Chargers will take the linebacker with the 79th pick.
After his performance at the combine and his pro day, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him taken even earlier. Between the two testing events, he posted a 90th percentile or higher score among linebackers historically with his 1.55-second 10-yard split, 34 bench press reps, 41-inch vertical, 10-foot, 8-inch broad jump, 3.94-second shuttle and 6.84-second three-cone time, per Anthony Treash of PFF.
That play strength and explosiveness shows up on tape too. Chenal was a wrecking ball against the run for Wisconsin and was elite at getting off blocks with his hands.
Teams that miss out on Devin Lloyd or Nakobe Dean early in the draft should be evaluating how Chenal could fit into their system. He very well could be the next-best linebacker in the class.
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Post-Combine Mock: No. 40 overall
Current Mock: No. 35 overall
Arnold Ebiketie (scouting report) only jumped five spots from one mock draft to the next, but the real increase came on the scouting department’s big board, where the Penn State edge-rusher jumped 12 spots from No. 39 to 27.
B/R analyst Derrik Klassen noted David Ojabo’s torn Achilles as part of the reasoning for the move but also gave credit to some of his athletic testing: “Ebiketie also cleared the 90th percentile in both the broad and vertical jumps, which showed more than enough explosiveness to be a difference-maker.”
The betting markets have also recently warmed to Ebiketie. He’s now -130 (wager $130 to win $100) to be selected within the first 32 picks at DraftKings.
The additional time to dig into the advanced stats for Ebiketie has contributed to his rise as well. For instance, an astounding 55 percent of his pressures in 2021 came within 2.5 seconds of the snap, per Austin Gayle of PFF.
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Post-Combine Mock: No. 58 overall
Current Mock: No. 46 overall
Baylor safety Jalen Pitre (scouting report) did not run the 40-yard dash at the combine but showed off his straight-line speed at his pro day.
Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy reported that scouts timed his pro day run at 4.44 seconds. That performance along with his showing in the Senior Bowl have helped his draft stock.
He jumped 12 spots from the post-combine mock to the post-pro day version. However, the jump could be even more drastic come draft day. Doug Kyed of Pro Football Focus recently noted that sources have told him Pitre could be off the board as early as the late first round.
That shouldn’t be entirely shocking. Pitre will bring versatility to any secondary he joins. He excelled in the slot at Baylor but also played as a deep safety as well as in the box.
He registered the highest run defense grade for a Big 12 defensive back since 2014, per Pro Football Focus. Teams are constantly looking for defenders who allow them to play nickel and dime formations without subbing.
Pitre’s ability to make plays in different roles makes him an ideal modern-day safety. The athleticism he’s shown in the predraft process seems to be helping teams realize that.
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Post-Combine Mock: No. 64 overall
Current Mock: No. 50 overall
Tyler Smith (scouting report) saw an increase in his standing on the post-combine big board from Bleacher Report analyst Brandon Thorn thanks to his combine performance.
“Smith got a slight bump up from me because of him confirming everything on tape at the weigh-in and drills in terms of size (6’5″, 324 pounds) and movement skills,” Thorn wrote of the Tulsa offensive lineman. “Smith tested like an elite athlete with ideal measurements.”
Smith’s pro day did nothing to slow the hype train. ESPN’s Jordan Reid reported he heard “nothing but positive feedback” regarding the mauler. He also noted the first round is a “real possibility.”
The B/R mock draft doesn’t see it that way, but it’s easy to understand where Reid’s sources are coming from. Smith is a mauling tackle, and his athleticism points toward being able to stick at the position.
Even if he has to kick inside to guard, he still seems like a future starter. He could wind up as an elite guard or a good tackle. That’s a win-win situation for any team that needs help on the line.
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Post-Combine Mock: No. 14 overall
Current Mock: No. 3 overall
There’s nothing special about his production at Georgia. He posted 33 tackles, six sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss as part of a phenomenal defense Between the Hedges.
Yet special is the only way to describe his physical traits. He posted the third-best relative athletic score for a defensive end since 1987, according to Kent Lee Platte of Pro Football Network.
If you could build a pass-rusher in the lab, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a better combination of size and speed than Walker’s. He posted a 4.51 40-yard dash at 6’5″ and 272 pounds.
ESPN’s Todd McShay projects Walker will go No. 2 to the Detroit Lions, noting that teams will bank on his tools translating better in the NFL in a different role. According to PFF, Walker lined up over the tackle or inside on 213 out of his 596 total snaps last year.
If Walker winds up going in the top three picks, it will be one of the greatest rises through the predraft process in recent memory.
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Post-Combine Mock: N/A
Current Mock: No. 80 overall
Two things have aided Jelani Woods’ (scouting report) stock.
Second, is the kind of athleticism that Woods has showcased in the predraft process. In completing his testing profile at his pro day, he put up the highest relative athletic score since 1987 at the tight end position, per Kent Lee Platte of Pro Football Network.
At 6’7″, he’s a massive target but has the straight-line speed, change-of-direction skills and burst to become a dangerous downfield threat if given proper development.
Woods wasn’t really utilized as a receiver until he transferred from Oklahoma State to Virginia before last season. Now he stands out as one of the few tight ends in this class with the tools to become a downfield difference-maker as a receiver.
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