The spotlight is trained on the quarterbacks – it always is – as the annual NFL scouting combine gets underway this week.
But the player creating the most buzz is the one who runs them down, the appropriately named Chase Young of Ohio State.
“Men lie.. Women lie.. But numbers don’t...,” Young recently tweeted of his statistics since 2018, which according to Pro Football Focus are all No. 1 among edge rushers: 29 sacks, 81 hurries, 131 pressures.
Also hurrying this week are the league’s 32 teams, who are looking to gather as much in-person information as they can about the top 300-plus draft prospects. Those teams already have identified their areas of need and have broken down a film festival full of game video, but now they get to meet the future pros face to face, host them for interviews, have their medical staffs look them up and down.
Already, prognosticators are slotting Young to the Washington Redskins as the No. 2 pick in the draft behind Louisiana State’s Joe Burrow to the quarterback-starved Cincinnati Bengals.
Current NFL stars chosen second overall in the past decade include Saquon Barkley, Carson Wentz and Von Miller.
Daniel Jeremiah, draft analyst for NFL Network, calls Young the best player in the draft and ranks him up there with fellow Buckeyes and pass-rushing terrors Joey and Nick Bosa, brothers who anchor the defenses of the Chargers and the San Francisco 49ers, respectively.
“I actually had a little bit higher grade on Nick coming out than Chase,” Jeremiah said. “I had a higher grade on Chase than Joey. Obviously, Joey has been a perennial Pro Bowl player; he’s outstanding.”
No one is expecting this to be a big year for schools from Southern California. The combine features four players from UCLA, and just two from USC. They are Bruins Devin Asiasi, Darnay Holmes, Joshua Kelley, and J.J. Molson; and Trojans Austin Jackson and Michael Pittman.
Then again, there are plenty of success stories involving eventual NFL stars who were not invited to the combine, among them receivers Julian Edelman, Adam Thielen, and Doug Baldwin, and tight end Antonio Gates, whose five-year Hall of Fame clock started with his retirement this offseason.
As receivers go, this draft class is flush with them. Jeremiah has given 27 of them top-three-round grades, “and consider an average of 31 are taken” in all seven rounds, he said.
Three of the top pass catchers in this crop are Alabama teammates Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III, and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb.
Last year’s No. 1 pick, Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray, is already lobbying his team to use the No. 8 selection on Lamb, his college teammate.
“I would obviously be very fond of that pick,” Murray recently told the Arizona Republic. “Obviously, I don’t make the choices. I’m here for whatever, but I’m looking forward to free agency and us adding some great players and adding more of them in the draft so we can continue to grow this thing.”
Burrow is a foregone conclusion for the Bengals at No. 1, even though there are indications the LSU phenom — who grew up in Ohio and started his college career at Ohio State — might resist going to Cincinnati.
During a reception in Fort Worth, Texas, in which he accepted the Davey O’Brien Award, given to college football’s top quarterback, Burrow made comments about the Bengals that could be interpreted as ominous. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he said: The Bengals “have their process and I have my process. We haven’t even gotten to the combine yet. There’s a lot of things that happen leading up to the draft and a lot of information gathered.”
Forcing a team’s hand wouldn’t be unprecedented for a No. 1 pick. Baltimore made John Elway the top selection in 1983, but the Stanford star refused to play for the Colts. Eli Manning did the same in 2004, when he was unwilling to even don the cap of the San Diego Chargers, who traded him to the New York Giants within an hour.
Besides Burrow, the most highly regarded quarterbacks in this year’s draft class include Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa (though saddled with injury concerns), Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Utah State’s Jordan Love, and Washington’s Jacob Eason.