The NFL Combine is certainly not a perfect nor the only means of evaluating prospects. But there is an undeniable pattern of combine winners who meet certain athletic thresholds excelling at the NFL level, and thus for your fantasy teams. Just as importantly, NFL teams themselves heavily weigh combine results in their prospect evaluations. This has a direct effect on a prospect’s draft capital, which is also heavily predictive of success at the next level.
Let’s take a look at a few combine winners who likely heightened their fantasy football ceilings in Indianapolis.
- Anthony Richardson, though incredibly raw with major bust potential, has to be taken seriously as an elite fantasy QB prospect due to his athleticism.
- Marvin Mims elite speed and burst pair nicely with his production profile. His size is also not as big of a deal as you may think.
- Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s amazing 2021 and historic agility keep him in the overall WR1 conversion for the 2023 draft.
Anthony Richardson, QB
For those who watched Anthony Richardson play at Florida, to say he was raw and inconsistent would be an understatement. However, he also flashed undeniable athleticism and rushing upside as evidenced by his 103/605/9 rushing line last year.
How did he measure up at the combine? Let’s use RotoViz’s Prospect Workout Explorer to take a look:
At 6’4″ and a massive 244 lbs, Richardson’s 4.43 40-yard dash and jumping abilities are literally historic. It would not be a stretch to say he is the most athletic (including size) quarterback prospect in NFL history as likely the biggest among the 2023 combine winners.
As we move into an age where quarterback athleticism is becoming the norm and not a bonus, we may have to have more open minds as to how we evaluate these players (especially for fantasy football purposes):
Often QB athleticism and a rocket arm is equated to 'upside'
Instead, what if said athleticism actually creates that QB's floor. And the ability to anticipate, diagnose, react, etc is what takes that baseline to the ceiling.
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) March 7, 2023
As far as fantasy football goes, this is a very valid argument. We know for a certainty that if a quarterback does enough rushing (especially inside the red zone), passing statistics are likely icing on the cake. We saw Tim Tebow put up high-end QB1 numbers as a legitimately terrible passer, while more recently Justin Fields was winning fantasy matchups in 2022 with his legs alone.
Richardson is the next candidate to follow in the steps of recent fantasy football success stories of Cam Newton, Josh Allen, and Fields. All had raw passing ability but elite size, athleticism, and rushing ability. Again using RotoViz’s Prospect Workout Explorer, let’s look at Richardson’s closest comparable players. I removed all players who were not selected in the first round, as that is almost surely where Richardson will be selected:
Appropriately, this list includes some fantasy football superstars as well as some mega-busts. Richardson will almost certainly be the most polarizing high-end prospect in the 2023 draft. He is already becoming the preemptive subject in the “analytics vs. tape” debate that perenially rages through NFL draft circles.
Despite this, the combine proved the upside for Richardson is so sky-high that he needs to be in the conversation for the first rookie quarterback drafted in all formats of fantasy leagues. We could be looking at the next Cam Newton/Josh Allen, or the next Jamarcus Russell.
Marvin Mims, WR
The brilliant Shawn Siegele wrote about Mims over a month ago, and the combine proved Siegele prescient once again:
As we can see, Mims’ athleticism cannot be questioned. Per Player Profiler, Mims’ 40-yard dash is in the 94th percentile and his burst score is in the 91st percentile of wide receiver prospects. He can be counted among the 2023 combine winners.
But what about his size? Obviously, a 5’9″, 177lb measurement is not ideal. But with the emergence of recent smaller wide receivers, it’s probably about time to reevaluate wide receiver weight thresholds. Through the lens of BMI (body mass index, which measures weight relative to height), Mims is actually not very small when compared to recent prospects.
The recent successes of DeVonta Smith (23.7 BMI), Marquise Brown (24.5), and Jerry Jeudy (25.4) mean that we cannot write off wide receivers because of their size. Indeed, Mims’ BMI of 26.1 is exactly the same as 2022 breakout star Jaylen Waddle. He certainly doesn’t play small:
This is the first play shown on a Marvin Mims highlight reel that’s 7 mins and 7 seconds long.
What’s the point of the other 6 mins and 40 seconds of the video? pic.twitter.com/yWLBBS1D2p
— Zachary Krueger (@ZK_FFB) March 9, 2023
More importantly, Mims has the production and age-adjusted production of a potential difference-making wide receiver. He broke out at 18.5 years old (96th percentile) with a 24% dominator rating as a true freshman. After a down 2021, Mims followed this up with a 27% dominator rating in 2022 before declaring early for the NFL draft.
As an early declare with good BMI, early production, and elite athleticism, Mims (20.1 yards per catch, 94th percentile) is giving major T.Y. Hilton vibes as one of the biggest post-combine risers. If he gets drafted in the first two rounds, he’s going to shoot up fantasy draft boards even more.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR
After the 2021 season, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Jaxon Smith-Njigba would be the WR1 in the 2023 NFL draft. Fellow Buckeye wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave both went in the first round of the 2022 draft and had immediate NFL success, but 2021 shows that the younger “JSN” possibly possesses the most promise out of all of them:
Unfortunately, 2022 did not go quite as planned: Smith-Njigba played a total of 3 games and had 5 catches for 43 yards while fighting a hamstring injury. Heading into the combine, it was an open question whether or not JSN would be the first receiver drafted after TCU’s Quentin Jonhnston burst onto the national scene.
Though JSN did not run the 40-yard dash at the combine (he reportedly will do so at his pro day), he qualifies as one of the most intriguing combine winners, posting absolutely absurd agility numbers:
Similarly-agile (some even less agile than JSN) players include fantasy football stars Brandin Cooks, Chris Godwin, Odell Beckham, Cooper Kupp, and Michael Thomas. This matches JSN’s tape, where his game is predicated on quickness and not straight-line speed, bringing to mind a former PPR monster:
How great is Jaxon Smith-Njigba's short-area quickness and agility?
3cone: 6.57 / Short Shuttle: 3.93
3cone: 6.62 / 3.92
Different players, but that's legendary shiftiness.
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 6, 2023
Considering JSN is going to get first-round draft capital, we can safely assume his upside is higher than QB-turned-WR Edelman. His dominator rating and target share are poor, but the success of Wilson and Olave should negate any concerns there:
Notable 2021 YPRR among college WRs (min 25 targets)
JSN 4.01 (LOL)
Treylon Burks 3.57
Wan'Dale Robinson 3.56
Drake London 3.52
Skyy Moore 3.40
Jameson Williams 3.12
Garrett Wilson 3.00
Jordan Addison 2.94
Chris Olave 2.29 pic.twitter.com/9Xrb2zyf1j
— Matthew Betz (@TheFantasyPT) March 7, 2023