Stifling defense. Underwhelming offense.
That’s what we saw in the New England Patriots’ victory over the Rams this month — the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history — and it’s a general theme this week heading into the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
While there are some intriguing offensive prospects, the spotlight is squarely on the defensive line, where there’s a thumper crop of talent.
“It’s an uncommonly good draft for defensive linemen,” said Hall of Fame personnel man Gil Brandt, now senior analyst for NFL Media. “I think very likely the first two picks of the draft could be defensive linemen.”
The two most heralded defensive linemen at this point are Ohio State end Nick Bosa, younger brother of Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa, and Alabama tackle Quinnen Williams. The Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers have the top two picks.
Among the other premier defensive line prospects are Houston tackle Ed Oliver, Clemson end Clelin Ferrell, and Michigan end Rashan Gary.
Only twice in the Super Bowl era have defensive linemen gone 1-2 in the draft: Oklahoma’s Lee Roy Selmon (Tampa Bay) and Notre Dame’s Steve Niehaus (Seattle) in 1976, and Notre Dame’s Walt Patulski (Buffalo) and Cal’s Sherman White (Cincinnati) in 1972.
Regardless, with the draft two months away, it’s too early to predict. Those determinations are made after the combine — which runs Tuesday through Monday — campus pro days, and individual team visits and workouts.
This is a relatively quiet year for prospects from USC and UCLA. Of the more than 300 players invited to the combine, seven are from the two schools: tackle Chuma Edoga, edge rusher Porter Gustin, cornerback Iman Lewis-Marshall, linebacker Cameron Smith and safety Marvell Tell from USC, and tackle Andre James and tight end Caleb Wilson from UCLA.
That’s quite a change from a year ago, when USC’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen were among the combine’s marquee players. They both were selected in the top 10, marking the first time in history quarterbacks from both schools were taken in the first round of the same draft.
Much of the quarterback buzz this year concerns Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, the Heisman Trophy winner who recently announced he was dumping baseball to devote all his time and energy to a football career. He was the ninth overall pick by the Oakland Athletics in the baseball draft last June, and had agreed to a minor-league contract that included a $4.66-million signing bonus.
Murray stands 5 feet 10 inches and played at 195 pounds last season. According to NBC’s Peter King, he has beefed up to 206. Either way, Murray’s size will be an issue with a lot of teams.
But it was only a year ago that another undersized quarterback from Oklahoma, winner of the 2017 Heisman, went No. 1 in the draft. And Baker Mayfield has instilled hope in the Cleveland Browns, something more than two dozen Browns quarterbacks before him failed to do.
“Kyler can make every single throw,” said Daniel Jeremiah, draft analyst for NFL Network. “He can drive the ball. Those hole shots against Cover 2 on the sideline, between the corner and the safety, that’s a big-boy throw. He makes those effortlessly.”
Of more prototypical size is Dwayne Haskins, a 6-3, 220-pound quarterback from Ohio State. Last fall, in his only season as the Buckeyes’ starter, Haskins set Big Ten records by passing for 4,831 yards and 50 touchdowns. He capped his career by beating Washington in the Rose Bowl and sharing most-valuable-player honors.
The combine features all sorts of tests — intellectual, psychological, and team interviews — as well as extensive body measurements and drug screening. The physical tests include the bench press, vertical jump, three-cone drill, shuttle run, and the 40-yard dash.
Among the fastest players in this class are receivers Parris Campbell of Ohio State and Marquise Brown of Oklahoma, both of whom can cover 40 yards in less than 4.4 seconds. It would be an upset if someone were to beat the 40 time of former Washington receiver John Ross, who set the combine record two years ago with a 4.22.
Much was made of that scorching time in 2017, and likely earned Ross millions of dollars. The Cincinnati Bengals raised eyebrows around the league when they drafted him ninth overall.
Then again, causing a stir at the combine doesn’t always translate into instant success in the NFL. Ross didn’t have a catch as a rookie.