The Need for Speed
Photo Credit: Josh Hallett, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
It sure seems like this offseason has flown by, doesn’t it? Usually, Bengals’ fans have had months to digest the team’s plans and learn about the players the team will target, both in free agency and in the draft. Get this: Super Bowl LVI was just twenty-two days ago.
The NFL offseason is fully underway at this point, and no event signals the anticipated new NFL season like the annual NFL Combine. Held in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Combine is an event where NFL coaches, executives, scouts and trainers all gather to observe and report on the best of the best incoming NFL talent from the college ranks.
This year’s crop of talent showed up and showed out in Indy. There was excitement and intrigue each day. Records were broken. Eyes were opened. Money was made.
When we look back on the 2022 NFL Combine, one theme will stand out: speed, speed and more speed. Although no one eclipsed John Ross’ record 40-yard dash of 4.22 seconds, set in 2017, numerous players came close, and the total speed of this class might be greater than any previously.
Baylor’s Kaylon Barnes, a cornerback, just barely missed out on matching Ross’ record with a 4.23, while still setting the new high-water mark for a defensive player. Barnes’ teammate Tyquan Thornton also had a blazing time of 4.28. Six running backs posted times in the 4.3s, double the previous combine record. Defensive end Amaré Barno of Virginia Tech stunned everyone with a 4.36 in the 40-yard dash, tied for eighth best time overall and the best time ever for a defensive lineman.
But somehow, Barno’s athletic display might not even be the most impressive of the weekend. That honor goes to Georgia’s 341-pound nose tackle Jordan Davis. This mammoth human-being ran forty yards in 4.78 seconds. That’s insane. It’s easily the fastest time ever for a player of that size. Davis also managed to record a vertical jump of 32 inches and a broad jump of 123 inches. At 341 pounds. Somebody pinch me.
For reference, among all defensive tackles, Davis had the second-fastest 40 time (the only faster player was his teammate Devonte Wyatt, who recorded a time of 4.77 at a measly 304 pounds), the second-highest vertical jump and the best broad jump (by nearly a foot). And he did this, again, at 341 pounds. There are Create-a-Players on Madden with more believable athletic profiles.
Local product Desmond Ridder, quarterback of the Cincinnati Bearcats, also impressed with his 40-time, recording a positional best of 4.52 seconds. He was also impressive in drills, showcasing a strong arm and accuracy to all levels of the field. Ridder may have solidified his spot in the first round of the NFL Draft with his performance.
Ridder’s teammate Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner was also extremely impressive. The top cornerback prospect weighed in at 6-3, 190 pounds but still managed to record a 4.41 40-time, easing any concerns about his top-end speed. He also shined in positional drills, showcasing the ability to flip his hips and drive on the ball. It’s easy to imagine Gardner locking up opposing wideouts on Sundays.
Some of Gardner’s potential Sunday competition includes Ohio State wide receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. The former Buckeyes recorded 40-times of 4.39 and 4.38, respectively. Both also looked smooth and sure-handed in positional drills. OSU could potentially have the top two wide receivers in the entire draft.
Another local standout was UC’s Alec Pierce. The former Bearcat wide receiver is not a highly touted prospect (he’s a projected second or third round pick), but he had one of the more impressive combine showings, recording a 4.41 40-time, 129 inches in the broad jump, and a wide receiver-best 40.5 inches in the vertical jump. Add in he weighed in at 6-3, 211 pounds and you have a player that made himself a lot of money at the combine.
While UC and OSU both had strong days at the NFL Combine, Georgia had undoubtedly the best. I already mentioned how defensive tackles Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt wowed everybody with their insane track speed at over 300 pounds a piece, but they weren’t the only Bulldogs who put on a show. Defensive end Travon Walker recorded a 40-time of 4.51 while measuring at 6-5 and 272 pounds. Walker played primarily inside for Georgia, but his strong athletic showing will suggest that he is capable of much more at the NFL level.
It wasn’t just speed that these former Bulldogs displayed, either. Former team captain Jamaree Salyer, an offensive lineman, recorded 31 reps on the bench press, second-best among all offensive lineman. Safety Lewis Cine recorded a broad jump of 133 inches, a positional-best as well. Even their punter, Jake Camarda, got in on the action, running a 4.56 in the forty, another positional-best. With all of this talent all over their roster, especially on the defensive side of the ball, it’s pretty easy to see why the Bulldogs won the national title this year.
With all of this said, it’s likely the Cincinnati Bengals will be targeting offensive linemen in the draft, and speed isn’t necessarily the end-all, be-all for those players. Still, this year’s offensive line crop was not to be outdone, and many displayed strong athletic traits that will translate to the NFL level.
Tackles Trevor Penning of Northern Iowa and Bernhard Raimann of Central Michigan, two players commonly mocked to the Bengals at pick #31, both had strong days at the combine. Penning, in particular, may have risen significantly up draft boards after weighing in at 6-7, 325 pounds and recording a 4.89 in the 40-yard dash. Some think he may have vaulted himself into top ten consideration. Raimann weighed in at a more modest 6-6, 303 pounds and was slightly slower in the 40 at 5.05. Still, Raimann looked fluid and more than mobile enough to warrant consideration from the Bengals. He also managed 30 reps on the bench press, good for third best overall.
Another offensive lineman that the Bengals may have their eye on is Boston College’s Zion Johnson. The former Eagle managed to put up 32 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, the most of the entire combine. Johnson played multiple positions at BC, but projects best at guard at the NFL level. Considering the massive hole the Bengals have at that position, he could be a perfect fit as the Bengals look to repeat as AFC Conference Champions.
Lastly, Daniel Faalele of Minnesota weighed in at a whopping 6-8, 384 pounds. The Australian-born lineman is larger than any player currently in the NFL. Astoundingly, Faalele admitted that he weighed as much as 426 pounds when he first arrived in Minnesota in 2018. The gargantuan human being declined to participate in speed and agility drills, depriving us of another epic Jordan Davis-like performance.
Overall, it was an entertaining weekend in Indianapolis. With so much speed throughout the class, the NFL will be getting a serious injection of athleticism at every position. While many don’t consider the very top of the class to be particularly special, scouts continue to rave about the depth, especially along the offensive and defensive lines, which works out especially well for the Bengals. With free agency just around the corner (and the Bengals officially kicked off their offseason by franchise tagging safety Jessie Bates III today), the Bengals look to be in an excellent position to add impact players.