HomeSports2023 NFL Combine: What scouts watch for, who to watch this year

2023 NFL Combine: What scouts watch for, who to watch this year

The NFL Scouting Combine is days away. Hundreds of prospects hope to impress evaluators in interviews and workouts that will impact their standing on draft boards around the league. While the four-day evaluation event is only a small part of the pre-draft process, the information gleaned from the interviews and workouts will help coaches, scouts and executives make solid assessments of which players are ideal fits for their respective teams. 

As a mid-level prospect coming out of North Carolina as part of the 1994 draft class, I vividly remember the stress of the event as I hoped to impress scouts as a big-play receiver with the speed and athleticism to fill a role as a playmaker on the perimeter. From blazing a fast 40 time to popping superhero-like jumps to snatching over-the-shoulder passes like an MLB center fielder chasing down fly balls on the warning track, I hoped to dispel some of the narratives that surrounded my game. 

In addition, I wanted to project the confidence and competitiveness in interviews that would prompt a coach to fall in love with my talent and potential as a player. I told Buddy Ryan via a video that I was the player he needed to help the Arizona Cardinals get over the hump. 

While the bravado makes me laugh in retrospect, there are hundreds of guys preparing to make positive impressions on a legion of coaches, scouts and executives intent on finding players with the talent and intangibles to flourish as pros. 

As I transitioned into the scouting world as a college scout for the Seattle Seahawks (2000-2003) and Carolina Panthers (2003-2007), I had a chance to sit on the other side of the table as an evaluator. The week-long audition allowed me to assess players’ athleticism and skills while researching their background and character. With each prospect expected to hit specific benchmarks as an athlete while grading out with high marks for competitiveness and character, the NFL Scouting Combine is an essential part of the evaluation process. The performances enable evaluators to complete each prospect’s pre-draft puzzle. 

Here’s what scouts are looking for at the combine.


The best players in the NFL exhibit outstanding explosiveness in their movements — a combination of strength, power, speed, quickness and leaping ability to dominate the competition and produce big plays. Although workout performances are vastly different from game production, prospects who display the requisite physical dimensions and athletic traits jump to the front of the line in the draft process if there is enough on-field production to match the athletic potential. 


The combine provides top prospects with a chance to compete on a big stage against other blue-chip prospects at their position. The “alphas” in the group relish the opportunity to show off their talents in front of their peers. They want everyone in the building to know that they are the best in the game, and they are not afraid to prove it between the lines. Teams want players who can perform in clutch moments in a league in which most games are decided by eight points or fewer. Though workout performances don’t directly correlate to game production, the “show up and show out” mentality is part of the winning culture that every coach wants to establish with his squad. 


Every position on the field requires a battery of skills to flourish at the NFL. In addition, coaches are looking for position players with specific skills to thrive within their respective schemes. While the general agility drills provide evaluators with the comparative measurements to separate the top prospects, the position-specific drills enable coaches to get a great assessment of how a player would assimilate into a team’s scheme. Considering the importance of scheme-fit in the evaluation process, the position drills are a critical part of the pre-draft puzzle. 


Scouts will evaluate each prospect’s moral and football character. Most players will enter the combine without blemishes on their background profiles, but a handful of prospects will need to address transgressions from their past. How well they handle the tough questions regarding their issues will significantly impact whether teams view them as worthwhile risks or opt to bypass them on draft weekend. 

The football character of each prospect will be revealed throughout the interview process with the scouts and coaches. Teams will pepper prospects with football questions and film reviews to shed light on their work ethic, intelligence and competitiveness. While some candidates will prep for the process and give “canned” answers, savvy evaluators will find a way to determine if a candidate loves the game and has the requisite intangibles to enhance a roster as a trusted contributor. 

Five Prospects To Watch 

Bryce Young, QB, Alabama: The 2021 Heisman Trophy winner is a spectacular passer with a polished game that could make him a star at the next level, but Young’s slender frame and lack of bulk is a major concern. Although the Alabama standout cannot drastically alter his physical appearance, scouts will spend the week assessing his body and projecting whether durability will be a potential issue for him as a pro. 

Mazi Smith, DL, Michigan: The run-stuffing defensive tackle is an intriguing prospect with the size-strength combination to wreak havoc on opponents at the line of scrimmage. However, questions about his pass-rushing skills and an off-field incident will take center stage when he meets with evaluators in Indianapolis. 

Jalin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee: The speedster could vault to the WR1 of the class with a spectacular showing that squashes the concerns regarding his route-running skills. Despite his impressive production as the Vols’ No. 1 receiver (67 caches, 1,267 receiving yards, and 15 touchdowns), Hyatt was viewed as a bit of a “one-trick pony” as the vertical playmaker in an offense that featured him exclusively on fades, post routes and slants. 

Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida: The ultra-talented playmaker has tantalizing tools that intrigue and entice creative offensive minds intent on gambling on his athleticism and tools. But the Florida standout must display competent passing skills and a solid understanding of the high-level passing concepts to prompt a team to take a chance on a “boom-or-bust” quarterback prospect with limited experience. 

Andre Carter, EDGE, Army: The freak athlete from West Point has an opportunity to vault up the charts with a sensational showing in workouts. Carter is regarded as one of the A-plus athletes in the class, and his explosive movement skills enhance the prototypical frame (6-foot-7, 260 pounds) that has scouts drooling over his potential at the next level.

Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He regularly appears on “Speak For Yourself” and also breaks down the game for NFL Network and as a cohost of the “Moving the Sticks” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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