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2022 NFL Scouting Combine: Standout defensive backs on the final day

16 defensive backs run sub-4.40 40; Sauce Gardner looks great

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 06 Tulsa at Cincinnati Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The final day of the 2022 NFL Combine lived up to the high expectations established during the previous days of the event. The defensive backs and special teams players took the field at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The group measured, tested, and displayed their talents during drills.

The New York Giants are in the defensive back market as they attempt to mold their defensive unit to the aggressive, man-heavy, philosophy of Don “Wink” Martindale. Reports indicate that James Bradberry is on the trade market; the need for a cornerback becomes more pertinent if Bradberry is traded.

There were plenty of impressive Combine performances on Sunday at both position groups. New York currently holds nine picks, with five of the top 81. 16 players ran a sub-4.4 40, which set the record for defensive backs at the Combine. New York could spend two of nine selections on the defensive backs, if not more. Here’s an assessment of how the defensive backs performed.

Cornerbacks

Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner

Cincinnati’s Sauce Gardner is a realistic option for the Giants in the top ten. He’s a big 6-foot-3, 190-pound cornerback with long limbs - he has 33½-inch arms. Garnder ran a quick 4.41-second 40. He is one of the best press-man cornerbacks in the draft, which meshes very well with Martindale’s vision.

Gardner is a true professional who is competitive and doesn’t seem to get distracted by the vices of smoking or drinking - he claimed that he never has and never will indulge. His movement skills in the on-field portion of the event lived up to the expectations:

Gardner was exceptionally sticky in coverage throughout his college career. He wasn’t generating the same buzz as other top cornerbacks heading into 2021, but he had an excellent campaign, allowing a 48 percent completion rate and securing three picks and three passes defended. Gardner never allowed a touchdown in college, and he intends to keep it that way in the NFL.

Coby Bryant

Sauce Gardner’s teammate, Coby Bryant, was the Jim Thrope Award winner in 2021. Bryant only allowed a 44 percent catch rate with three picks and eleven passes defended. He ran a 4.54, which was one of the slower times at cornerback, but that means he may slide a bit in the draft. He could be an attractive option if he slides further than expected.

Tariq Woolen

The UTSA product had a meteoric ascension within draft media since the Reese’s Senior Bowl. Woolen tied UGA linebacker Channing Tindall’s 42-inch vertical, and he was the second-fastest player at the Combine, behind Baylor CB Kalon Barnes (who ran the fastest 40 for defensive backs in Combine history). Woolen blazed a 4.26 in the 40 - the fourth-fastest in Combine history:

The simulcast shows the difference in speed between Woolen and two of the top defensive backs in the NFL. Woolen also looked smooth in the drills and performed well in the gauntlet:

Woolen is also insanely smooth, flipping his hips at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds with 33⅝-inch arms.

Woolen was a Day 3 player at the beginning of the draft process but is now discussed near the top of Day 2.

Other cornerbacks

I was pleased to see Nebraska’s Cam Taylor-Britt run a 4.36 40. He’s a thick 5-foot-11, 196 pounds, and he played a physical brand of football. There was media speculation that he wouldn’t run too fast and that an inevitable transition to safety could be in his deck of cards. It was nice the time he run fast, and he looked excellent flipping his hips in on-field drills. Taylor-Britt was also very smooth in the gauntlet, showing great hands.

Florida’s Kaiir Elam ran faster than many anticipated with a 4.39 40. He measured a shade under 6-foot-2, 191 pounds with 30⅞-inch arms. If the Giants pass on Gardner or LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. (who did not test), then Elam is a quality target at pick 36. Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr. also didn’t test with a minor issue.

Outside of some Senior Bowl tape, I haven’t seen much of Missouri’s Akayleb Evans. I thought he was another longer CB who looked good moving in drills. Evans is 6-foot-2, 197 pounds, with 32-inch arms; he jumped 36 inches in the vert, had a 10-foot-9 broad, and ran a 4.46-second 40.

Washington’s Trent McDuffie is another potential first-round CB. He ran a 4.44 and looked very smooth in his backpedal:

McDuffie’s teammate Kyler Gordon disappointed with a 4.52 40; the time isn’t too bad, but his play speed and tape suggested he would test around the 4.3 mark. Oregon’s Mykael Wright has solid tape but tested as the second slowest CB at 4.57. Roger McCreary has some of the best college football tape in man coverage, but his 28⅞-inch arms dropped him out of first-round consideration after the Senior Bowl. A 4.50 40 isn’t bad, but it won’t help shift him towards the backend of Round 1. However, these movement skills are difficult to ignore.

Safeties

Kyle Hamilton

Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton is an option for the Giants in the first round. He possesses elite range, excellent ball skills, and he’s great in run support. Hamilton jumped 38 inches in the vert, ranking third behind Baylor’s JT Woods and Illinois’ Kerby Joseph. Hamilton ranked second in the broad with a 10-foot-11, just behind Georgia’s Lewis Cine.

He also looked great in the on-field drills, but his 40 was a bit disappointing relative to the speed that surrounded him in this safety class. He ran a 4.59 at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds with 33-inch arms. The Broncos’ Justin Simmons ran a slower 40, and he’s just fine as a difference-making player in the NFL. He’s an explosive player who should be a top ten pick.

Nick Cross

The Maryland product blazed a quick 4.3440 with a 37-inch vertical and a 10-foot-10 broad at 6-foot, 212 pounds. Cross is a heat-seeking missile coming from depth, and he possesses excellent explosiveness. Cross is a Day 2 player who will be an impact player roaming the secondary or near the line of scrimmage.

Lewis Cine

Georgia continued to impress on the final day of the Combine. Cine is one of the best alley defenders in the draft. He flies into the box, taking excellent pursuit angles while finishing plays with authority and power. Cine ran a 4.37 40 while jumping 36.5 inches in the vert and 11-foot-1 in the broad. Cine, along with many Georgia prospects, helped himself at the Combine.

Dax Hill

The Michigan Wolverine is a versatile overhang defender who can execute many different assignments for a defense. Hill is a quick mover that ran a 4.38 40 at 6-foot, 191 pounds. He also jumped 33.5 inches in the vertical and 10-foot-1 in the broad - modest relative to these other prospects. Hill has a chance to be a backend round one selection.

Jalen Pitre

Baylor was well represented at the Combine, and Pitre could be the best of the bunch. He did not run the 40, but he looked very smooth in the drills. Like Hill, he can execute so many different assignments well on the backend of defenses. Pitre jumped 35 inches in the vertical and benched 225 pounds 16 times.

Other safeties

Penn State’s Jaquan Brisker could be a first-round pick. He ran a 4.49 40, repped 225 pounds 22 times, jumped 34.5 inches in the vertical, and 10-foot-4 in the broad. Brisker is a great athlete with good play speed. He is 6-foot-1, 199 pounds with 31¾-inch arms.

Another Baylor product, JT Woods, blazed a 4.36 40 at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds with 32⅜-inch arms. Woods also jumped 39.5 inches in the vertical and 10-foot-8 in the broad. Woods had six interceptions in 2021 and the game-sealing interception in the Reese’s Senior Bowl - that doesn’t happen on accident. Woods isn’t a top prospect at the safety position, but he is an excellent option on Day 3.

Another option on Day 3 is Florida A&M’s Markquese Bell. He is a late day three option who measured at 6-foot-2, 212 pounds with 32⅜-inch arms. He ran a 4.41 second 40 while jumping 36.5 inches in the vertical and 10-foot-3 in the broad. He’s a Bridgeton, N.J. native.