The NFL combine is when the most elite athletes in college football showcase their physical talents. This year, there are a handful of players who stand out as true athletic freaks at their respective positions.
They could be the missing piece for teams in need of a game-changer, or a foundational element of a rebuild. These players have the potential to skyrocket their draft stock with impressive performances at the combine. As the Detroit Lions prepare for the draft, these freakish athletes could be on their radar if they fall to a desirable spot.
Here are physical marvels at every major position competing at the NFL Combine:
Mazi Smith, DL, Michigan
Mazi Smith is a true physical specimen. He recently was named No. 1 on Bruce Feldman’s annual College football Freaks List. Smith’s strength is evident, as he did 22 reps with 325 pounds on the bench press, outranking any defensive tackle weighing north of 310 pounds in the past decade. Smith’s quickness cannot be underestimated either, as he is rumored to have clocked a 4.41 20-yard shuttle time, which could be the fastest among defensive tackles.
Smith is a force at the nose tackle position, but his athleticism is what sets him apart. His three-cone time of 6.95 seconds could better those of some wideouts in this draft. Smith has a lot at stake in Indianapolis; his interviews will be heavily scrutinized. If he can confirm his athleticism and character, Smith could be a late first-round selection due to the lack of depth of defensive linemen in this class.
Luke Musgrave, TE, Oregon State
Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave is considered one of the most athletic tight ends in the 2023 NFL Draft class. Despite lacking impressive numbers, Musgrave’s speed and athleticism are undeniable. According to Jim Nagy, executive director of the Senior Bowl, Musgrave could run the 40-yard dash in the 4.4-second range. That would put him in an elite group of only five other tight ends. Along with his football skills, Musgrave also excelled in lacrosse, alpine skiing, and track in high school. He finished high school ranking top five in the triple jump (44 feet, 4.25 inches) at the 2019 Oregon state championships.
Musgrave’s athleticism translates well to the football field, as he possesses the acceleration to gain vertical separation and the footwork to break away from coverage. During Senior Bowl practices, he clocked 20.05 miles per hour, making him the first tight end to reach the 20-MPH mark in the five years that player speed has been tracked in Mobile.
Devon Achane, RB, Texas A&M
Devon Achane is a two-sport star who led the Aggies in rushing last season. He finished with an SEC-best 161.0 all-purpose yards per game. He is expected to crack a 4.3 40 time, with reports stating that he’s hit that mark several times while training for the combine. Achane’s 6.4 career yards per carry is one of the best marks in school history, and his impressive track record includes winning a state championship in the 200-meter dash with a time of 20.46 seconds in high school.
Achane’s size is a concern, as he’s listed at 185 pounds. However, he has the speed and quick cuts to be a dynamic player on the field. His performance at the combine could catapult him into an earlier round. as he looks to prove that his special speed can translate to the NFL.
Ivan Pace Jr., LB, Cincinnati
Pace is a pound-for-pound powerhouse with rare leverage, toughness, and tackling ability. He’s able to slip and club blockers out of the way with elite contact balance and has a feel for finding routes to the ball. He may lack length, but his off-ball blitzing abilities are excellent. His testing numbers at the NFL combine could vault him higher up draft boards, as he’s currently projected to go in the fourth or fifth round.
Andrei Iosivas, WR, Princeton
Iosivas is a standout athlete with versatility, speed, and power. He finished fourth in the 2021 NCAA Track and field championships in the heptathlon. He has a 39-inch vertical jump and 375-pound bench press. He’s also a fluid mover on the field with the ability to become a three-level route runner. Iosivas’ size and athletic ability could give him a real chance at an NFL roster spot, but he’ll need to work on his catch technique and aggressiveness in competing for catch space.
Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia
Despite some recent slides in mock drafts, Ringo possesses rare athleticism that could vault him back up draft boards. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound cornerback has been called “arguably the freakiest athlete in the entire draft” and is expected to test off the charts. He ran a 4.35 40-yard dash in high school and has the surface-level attributes NFL teams covet, including size, speed, and explosiveness. A strong performance at the combine could help him solidify his first-round status.
O’Cyrus Torrence, OG, Florida
Torrence has the potential to be a blue-chip prospect and move into top-10 consideration with a strong showing at the combine. He’s a three-year starter with outstanding balance in pass protection and a people mover in the run game. He’s penalty-free and above average at neutralizing opponents’ power. His strength, size, and quick read of adjustments make him a standout prospect, and a good showing at the combine could further elevate his draft stock.
Brian Branch, S, Alabama
Alabama’s Brian Branch is a versatile and skilled defensive back. He has the physical tools to match up against shifty slots, bigger possession receivers, and pass-catching tight ends. His reactive quickness and burst allow him to hound the route and use explosive burst to undercut the pass. He has no real weaknesses and could be one of the safest picks in the draft. The upcoming NFL combine will showcase his superior athleticism. This will further prove why he is one of the biggest athletic freaks in the safety class.
Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
Richardson has been touted as the most physically gifted quarterback in the draft. He has elite arm strength and the ability to throw the ball 70 yards with ease. However, consistency and accuracy are areas where he needs improvement. His performance at the combine could solidify him as a first round pick, as he’ll have the opportunity to showcase his arm talent in an indoor, controlled environment. Richardson’s ceiling is high, but there are also warning signs for potential issues. He’s a project who may take a few seasons to develop, but his tools could make him among the NFL’s best quarterbacks someday.
Here is a breakdown of the various positions and their drill start times:
- Defensive Linemen + Linebackers: Thursday, March 2 at 2:00pm EST
- Defensive Backs : Friday, March 3 at 2:00pm EST
- Quarterbacks + Wide Receivers + Tight Ends: Saturday, March 4 at 12:00pm EST
- Running Backs + Offensive Linemen: Sunday, March 5 at 12:00pm EST
As the NFL Combine approaches, these athletes will have the chance to showcase their freakish athleticism and solidify their draft stock. It will be exciting to see which prospects rise to the occasion and which ones fall short.
Featured Image Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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