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2023 NFL combine workouts, defensive line and linebackers: TV, time, and players to watch

Your open thread for the first day of Combine workouts

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Cincinnati at Arkansas Photo by Andy Altenburger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2023 NFL Scouting Combine is finally here.

The combine is one of the biggest events on the NFL calendar, as all 32 teams gather in Indianapolis Indiana to poke, prod, interview, test, and measure the top prospects in the upcoming draft. This is one of the defining weeks in the Draft Process, as we get important data and comparisons to fine-tune scouting reports.

Every workout will be important for the New York Giants, who have needs all over their roster despite making the playoffs.

In a change from previous years, we’ll be starting with the defensive side of the ball, as opposed to the offense. Today will see the defensive linemen and linebackers take the field, and the Giants could certainly use a linebacker or two, an edge defender, and more depth along the defensive line.

How to watch

TV Channel: NFL Network, and NFL+ (streaming)
Time: 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. ET
Fans who subscribe to NFL+ can also get live coverage of on-field drills.

Players the Giants should be watching

Drew Sanders (LB, Arkansas)
Sanders could cure a lot of ills for the Giants’ defense. He has fantastic size at (listed) 6-foot-5, 232 pounds and tremendous athletic upside. But what makes him particularly intriguing is that he rose to the top of many off-ball linebacker rankings after just one season at the position. He was a rotational EDGE at Alabama for two years prior to transferring to Arkansas and transitioning to off-ball linebacker. He could potentially improve the second level of the Giants’ defense as well as their pass rush.

Bryan Bresee (iDL, Clemson)
There are going to be Clemson Tigers all over the place today, but Bresee might be the one who really catches the Giants’ eye. He has solid size and evident natural athleticism, both of which once made him the top recruit in the country. However, Bresee has dealt with injury over the last two years and took time away from the team this year when his sister lost her battle with cancer.

But when he’s on the field, Bresee is a force against the pass and run, both of which could appeal to the Giants in the first round.

Nolan Smith (EDGE, Georgia)
Smith has a non-traditional build for an EDGE defender at a listed 6-foot-3, 235 pounds. He also didn’t have much pass rush production in 2022 with just 7.0 tackles for a loss, 3.0 sacks, and 3 QB hits in 8 games. However, he also has a very high athletic ceiling and is always one of the most aggressive and physical players on the field.

Unfortunately, his 2023 season was ended early by a torn pec and he is very unlikely to work out. He is one of the players for whom medical reports will be crucial to his draft stock. And on that note, it’s important to remember that the Scouting Combine was originally conceived as a way for teams to share medical reports on prospects.

Smith’s athletic profile, potential versatility, and play demeanor could certainly appeal to Wink Martindale — assuming his medicals check out.

Workouts we want to see the most

Trenton Simpson (LB, Clemson)
Formerly the top linebacker on most big boards and at one point the pick du jour for the Giants at 25. Simpson is an excellent athlete with very good movement skills in space. He doesn’t quite have Sanders’ versatility and physicality playing downhill, but he should put on a show in both the measurable events and the field drills.

Calijah Kancey (iDL, Pittsburgh)
This is a very talented interior defensive line class, but Kancey very well could wind up stealing the show — and draw ‘Aaron Donald’ comparisons in the process.

Kancey is undersized, listed at just 6-foot, 280 pounds, but he is an explosive sparkplug of a defensive tackle. He wins with leverage, quickness, and explosive attacking gaps, as well as having a white-hot motor in pursuit. Kancey might be viewed with skepticism by those who have strict size thresholds, but he could be valuable for any team that values speed, aggression, penetration, and disruption behind the line of scrimmage.

Myles Murphy (EDGE, Clemson)
Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. is the top EDGE in the country, but Murphy could be nipping at his heels after today. He has a rare combination of size, athleticism, and movement skills that should make for an excellent (and entertaining) workout. I said before that Clemson would be well-represented today, and Murphy will have one of the most anticipated workouts of the week.

Who needs a big day?

Noah Sewell (LB, Oregon)
Before Trenton and then Drew Sanders took over the top of the LB charts, Sewell was regarded as one of the jewels of the draft. Penei Sewell’s younger brother has a good blend of size and athleticism, but he’s fallen by the wayside over recent weeks and months. A big day could work wonders for his draft stock.

Mazi Smith (iDL, Michigan)
Smith was the top player and freakiest freak on Bruce Feldman’s annual “Freaks List”. Not only is he explosively athletic, but his strength is regarded with awe around Michigan’s weight room. In fact, the Michigan strength and conditioning staff had to buy equipment that was specially modified to handle loads heavy enough to challenge him.

The problem for Smith is off the field. He was arrested in October after he was pulled over for speeding and found to be driving without a license and illegally carrying a firearm. The felony charges were eventually reduced when he plead guilty to a misdemeanor, but he will need to convince teams that he made a mistake and doesn’t have any character concerns.

And, of course, an impressive workout will surely go a long way toward soothing any off-field concerns NFL teams might have.

Byron Young (EDGE, Tennessee)
One of the unique aspects of the 2023 NFL Draft is how many older prospects there are. That is, in large part, due to the extra year of eligibility afforded to players to compensate for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Byron Young is one such player and will be 25 by draft day. Young will need to show teams that age is just a number, and the athleticism that made his JuCo highlight reel go viral is more important than whether he was born in 1999 or 2001.

Small schoolers to watch out for

Thomas Incoom (EDGE, Central Michigan)
Every year there are small school players with rare athletic traits who blow up the combine and put draft evaluators on notice. Incoom might be “that guy” for this year’s EDGE class. A former 2-star recruit, Incoom has near prototypical measurables at 6-foot-4, 260 pounds with good length to go with great production (19 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, 13 quarterback hits in 12 starts in 2022).

Incoom won as a dominant athlete in the Sun Belt, which suggests that his upside is sky-high as he learns proper technique.

Nick Hampton (EDGE, Appalachian State)
Small school players always start out behind the 8-ball for NFL teams. They not only need to show that they can dominate their level of play, but that their upside is at least as high as their Football Factory peers. For Hampton, he also needs to show teams that his slight frame isn’t an issue — or perhaps an asset for teams willing to view it as such. Listed at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Hampton would be very small for an NFL edge defender and looks more like a big wide receiver. However, he also has rare twitch, fluidity, and explosiveness as a pass rusher to go with production and leadership skills.

A big day for Hampton could send scouts running back to his tape, and raise his profile in the eyes of teams willing to take a chance on an unconventional talent.

Names to know

  • Trenton Simpson (LB, Clemson)
  • Jack Campbell (LB, Iowa)
  • Henry To’o To’o (LB, Alabama)
  • Daiyan Henley (LB, Oregon State)
  • Ivan Pace Jr. (LB, Cincinnati)
  • Keeanu Benton (iDL Wisconsin)
  • Gervon Dexter (iDL, Florida)
  • Siaki Ika (iDL, Baylor)
  • Tuli Tuipulotu (DL, USC)
  • Derick Hall (EDGE, Auburn)
  • Keion White (EDGE, Georgia Tech)
  • B.J. Ojulari (EDGE, LSU)
  • Isaiah Foskey (EDGE, Notre Dame)
  • Dylan Horton (EDGE, TCU)