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Defensive draft prospects turn NFL combine into freak show

Updated March 3, 2019 - 4:42 pm

INDIANAPOLIS — No shortage of confidence was heard this weekend from the blue-chip defender prospects in the NFL draft. Some in the group, which evaluators regard as the deepest talent pool in years, offered bold declarations.

There was Rashan Gary, a defensive lineman from Michigan.

“I’m the best player in this draft offensively and defensively,” Gary said. “Period.”

There was Josh Allen, a former Kentucky outside linebacker.

“Oh yeah, I think I’m the best player in the draft,” Allen said. “But I think every guy here should believe that. And if a team doesn’t believe that, I’ll see them during the season.”

The front-seven defenders talked the talk at the scouting combine.

On Sunday, they walked it — or more aptly, ran it.

Former Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, ex-Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat and the aforementioned Gary were among those who wowed onlookers during workouts. The greater crop represents hope for the Raiders’ defense, which is in dire need of offseason upgrades between free agency and the draft.

Free agency begins March 13. Oakland owns 10 picks in the draft (April 25-27), including four in the top 35.

Each year, the NFL Network televises the combine for several hours a day.

The athleticism Sunday made for a freak show.

Williams arrived as an obvious option for the Raiders at No. 4 overall if on the board. Increasingly, he appears unlikely to be available. At 6-feet-3-inches and 303 pounds, he ran the 40-yard dash at 4.83 seconds with a stout 10-yard split of 1.67 seconds. Although not necessarily a likely scenario, the case could be built for him to be chosen as the first overall pick.

Sweat, someone the Raiders scouted and interviewed at the Senior Bowl, may have moved into the draft’s top 10.

He measured at 6 feet 6 inches and 260 pounds. And yet, he clocked at 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash, the fastest time a defensive lineman has run on record at the combine. For perspective, wide receivers Amari Cooper , Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. were slower, each clocking 4.42 seconds.

Sweat’s explosion was reflected in a 1.55-second split and broad jump of 10 feet, 5 inches.

Linebackers Devin White of LSU ran 4.42 and Devin Bush of Michigan 4.43 in their 40-yard dash times. Other notable performances included former Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa, who ran the 40 in 4.79 seconds while owning stout agility times in the 20-yard shuttle (4.14) and three-cone drill (7.10) of any defensive lineman.

If Bosa was to fall to No. 4, his tumble is fully expected to end there.

He remains a possibility at No. 1.

Gary, expected to shine at the combine, did not disappoint. At 6 feet 4 inches and 277 pounds, he ran the 40 in 4.58 seconds. Where evaluators show trepidation with Gary is his underwhelming production during his college career; he totaled 9½ sacks in three seasons at Michigan, including 3½ last season.

That does not tame his self-confidence.

On Saturday, a reporter asked Gary why he thinks he is the draft’s best player. Gary ultimately cited versatility as his main point, but that followed a terse initial response.

“Why do I think, or why do I know?” he said.

More Raiders: Follow at reviewjournal.com/Raiders and @NFLinVegas on Twitter.

Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at mgehlken@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.

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