Monday Rewind: Drake London as WR1, Combine winners, and more
Welcome back to the Monday Rewind. Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend. Let’s dive in.
Drake London is WR1
The Megatron-lite wideout from USC won’t say it so I will:
He’s the best wide receiver available in the upcoming NFL Draft. Don’t believe the “London hurt his stock by not participating at the Combine” buzz for a second. London participated in the interview portion of the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine, but with his ankle at 85% (his words), he didn’t take part in any on-field workouts. The California native measured in at 6-foot-4 with 33-inch arms and 9.375-inch hands.
Few wideouts at the Combine matched London’s combination of size and length. North Dakota State’s Christian Watson (6-foot-4, 32.5-inch arms, 10.125-inch hands) had himself an excellent Combine, as did Cincy wideout Alec Pierce (6-foot-3, 33-inch arms), but neither has the pedigree of London.
Let’s not overcomplicate this, even though we’re well into the period of the NFL calendar where nothing is simple and everything is over-analyzed.
London was asked by reporters at the Combine last week if he felt like he was the best receiver in the class.
“All of us are pretty versatile in our own way,” he responded. “I can’t really say who’s the best. We all have our different types of tools.”
He was asked what it would mean to be the first receiver picked.
“It would definitely be special but I’m just hoping to get picked at the end of the day,” he said.
London got the biggest smiles when he was asked about former teammates who have already broken into the league, like Detroit Lions wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown and New York Jets offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker. There was a brief and genuine moment early where he recognized a USC football staffer in the crowd while stepping to the dais and flashed a quick wave.
Something small, but something genuinely cool. “Very soft-spoken,” his former high school coach told Gilbert Manzano of The OC Register. Teams are going to really enjoy talking to him. Just a real good-natured young man. You would never know … how big-time he is because he never draws attention to himself. They’ll find a very unassuming, good-natured, humble individual. He’s kinda reserved, but very polite.” That’s the kind of personality that’ll do very well in interview settings.
Now you look at his USC numbers.
A fractured ankle forced him to miss a third of USC’s season and he still finished as the Pac-12’s leader in receptions, yardage, 20-plus-yard receptions, and contested catches (per PFF). At the rate London was going before his injury, he would have ended a full season ranked…
- 2nd nationally in receptions
- 3rd nationally in yardage
… all while leading the country in contested catches—he had 19 in eight games, a pace for 28.5 when no one else in the country had more than 16. London was a reliable target on any down-and-distance. He was a big-play, throw-it-up kind of weapon every time he was on the field.
The ankle is healing. He told reporters that he just recently started running on it. According to ESPN’s Dan Graziano, London is expected to hold his own pro day workout on April 5 in Los Angeles. He’ll test and do positional drills, per Graziano. Teams want to see him run a 40, but whatever that time might end up being shouldn’t preclude him from being the top receiver on the board come Round 1 next month.
“He’s a beast,” St. Brown told MLive’s Kyle Meinke. “The tape speaks for itself—6-4, 6-5, go up and make the big play. When I was there, I remember him being a freshman. He’s progressed each and every year, which is nice to see because when he first got there he was just a raw talent. Then sophomore year he got better. Junior year, you guys saw what he did this year. It’s unfortunate he got hurt, but I don’t think it’s going to affect him one bit.”
London smiled at the prospect of teaming up with St. Brown in Detroit and playing together again. According to Meinke, the Lions would like to add two receivers from the 2022 Draft and swing for a guy at the top of the board. To get London would probably require Detroit to make a trade—they own picks No. 2 and 32—as London doesn’t figure to hang around too long.
But if the Lions did make a play for London, the comparisons to Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson would no doubt come into play. London told reporters at the Combine he modeled some of his game after Megatron, whom he called “definitely one of the greatest.”
Johnson measured in at 6-foot-5 with slightly longer arms and slightly bigger hands during his NFL Combine appearance in 2007. He also ran a 4.38 40 at the event. There were only seven wideouts at the Combine this year who hit that time. Maybe London doesn’t, but teams might be expecting that already.
The book on London is a pretty simple one:
Here’s a guy every defensive coordinator in America knew was going to be fed the football. And no one USC played could stop him from converting targets into receptions. Among guys who saw at least 100 targets (52 players), London was top-10 in reception rate. Had he not gotten hurt, London would have been the deserved Biletnikoff winner.
Here’s a guy every person who watched him play knows will be the next in an impressive line of USC receivers jumping to the league and enjoying success.
Don’t overcomplicate it. Even though London won’t say it publicly, his game will tell you plainly he’s the best wideout in the class.
Other winners from the NFL Combine
Full results from participating Pac-12 players at the Combine can be found here. Now, the concept of “winners” and “losers” at an event like this seems inherently slanted against guys viewed as the top prospects because the bar for them to clear to impress is so much higher. A guy like Christian Watson, who few were able to watch at North Dakota State, can explode onto the scene because no one knows who he is. A guy like Treylon Burks, the Arkansas wideout who had a disappointing 40 time, can “hurt his stock” because you expected him to compete to be the best guy on the field.
All that being said, there were a couple of Pac-12 guys who emerged from the event as clear winners.
One of them was UCLA tight end Greg Dulcich, who got near-unanimous love from national folks at the Combine.
Nick Shook, a writer at NFL.com, had this to say on Dulcich when placing him on the 2022 All-Combine Team:
“Dulcich did everything right Thursday night: gauntlet, the various route drills, and he ran a solid 4.69 40-yard dash. The skills and success from his game film at UCLA were evident on the field in Indianapolis, as Dulcich was just better than the rest of a class that has some sneaky depth to be found in the later rounds.”
He’s a popular tight end in the class and should only see his buzz grow as we get closer to the Draft. Dulcich looked really smooth running the gauntlet. The testing numbers were solid all-around. He’ll certainly feel like he helped himself.
And Washington State offensive lineman Abraham Lucas will be able to say that as well.
Here’s what NFL Draft analyst Chad Reuter wrote on Lucas:
“Lucas did nearly everything well Friday night, starting with a 4.92 40 time at 315 pounds. Those movement skills carried over to the drills, where he looked more agile than I anticipated coming into the event. Lucas ran low and fluidly, only having a slight pause in his change of direction in one drill. The pop that his hands made when hitting the pads was a plus, and his experience in pass protection showed in his kick-slide and redirect ability.”
Lucas was the No. 9 tackle on Mel Kiper Jr.’s draft board prior to the event, and he might rise a bit if he can repeat his Combine performance to Washington State’s pro day.
Losers from the NFL Combine
The Oregon edge rusher should not slip past No. 5 in next month’s draft, despite cautioning from NFL Draft experts who are mocking him to the New York Giants in the fifth spot. Six months ago this was the favorite prospect to go No. 1 overall, and now five teams are going to pass up on an elite prospect at one of the three most important positions on a football team?
The Jacksonville Jaguars, who need protection for their quarterback of the future, would be justified in potentially thinking an offensive tackle prospect would be more pressing than an edge rusher like Kayvon Thibodeaux or Aidan Hutchinson. The rest of the top five, though? Not so much.
Thibodeaux was excellent in the media portion of the Combine.
“I know what I can do for a team,” he told reporters. “I’m not really too worried about what people have to say as far as that, as long as the teams and I can come to an understanding of who I am and how hard (I play) and the love I have for the game.”
Then he put up 27 reps on the bench and ran a 4.58 40. For a 6-foot-4, 250-pound guy to do that is impressive.
The Kayvon Thibodeaux discourse is getting to just absurd levels — he is a wildly confident/motivated player with way overstated effort concerns.
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) March 5, 2022
There’s an element of sports journalism that constantly seeks to point out what guys can’t do or won’t do or aren’t great at instead of focusing on what they can do, what they excel at. It’s something I think we all grapple with. It’s at its particular worst around draft season for the major professional sports.
Thibodeaux is one of the most impressive prospects in this class. As we draw closer to the NFL Draft, let’s stop trying to manufacture reasons to change that.
Shoutouts of the week:
- UCLA’s defensive coaching staff: Bruin head coach Chip Kelly has added Ken Norton Jr. (ILBs), Ikaika Malloe (OLBs), and Chad Kauha’aha’a (DL) to his assistant coaching staff this offseason. All three should prove to be excellent hires on the defensive side of the ball. Beyond that, the moves the Bruins have made this offseason all seem to be positives for the program. Adding Hawaii linebacker Darius Muasau and then hitting on twin edge rushers from North Texas, Grayson and Gabriel Murphy, should give the defense exactly the kind of pass-rushing punch it has lacked in previous seasons. I really like what the Bruins have done with their defense so far.
- Colorado F Jabari Walker: After a 15-point, 14-rebound double-double in CU’s win over Arizona two Saturdays ago, Walker helped Colorado close out its regular season with a 13-point win over Utah. In the game, Walker had 22 points, 14 boards, and five assists. He had a wonderful regular season and was a huge driving force in CU securing a top-four finish in league play.
- UCLA F Jaime Jaquez Jr.: The last two games for Jaquez: 57 points (21-33 FG, 14-18 FT), 15 rebounds, two turnovers. If he’s going to play like that—showing that kind of aggression with the ball in his hands while also still playing under control—then UCLA is going to be the clear-cut biggest threat to upend Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament.