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NFL Combine Day 1 recap: Speedy wide receivers and Malik Willis impress

The first day of the 2022 NFL Combine was an exciting one, featuring the on-field workouts for the QBs, WRs, and TEs. The WRs clocked in tied for the fastest overall group in Combine history, and we saw impressive performances from several QBs.

NFL Combine Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

After a year of no Combine, it was a lot of fun to see the on-field workouts broadcast live once again. The day started with the tight ends—a good group overall—but the luster was lost pretty quickly once it was revealed that many of the top prospects were opting out of the testing. Wide receivers and quarterbacks followed, and they absolutely did not disappoint.

It should be noted that whoever was doing the unofficial times for the NFL Network broadcast was very aggressive. Don’t get me wrong, I like seeing 4.2s come across my screen as much as the rest of you. But seeing Ohio State WR Chris Olave’s time change from 4.26u to 4.39 was jarring. I hope there will be adjustments today, as that big of a time difference is a disservice to the viewing public.

I tend to emphasize the winners from these sorts of events as opposed to the losers, and I’ll continue to focus on the positives today. Here are my observations from the first day of the 2022 NFL Combine.

Quarterbacks

With Malik Willis choosing to sit out the athletic testing, the competition for the most impressive quarterback got a little more interesting. The unquestioned winner was Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder, who posted a blazing-fast 4.49 at 6’3, 211. That is in the 99.5 percentile range for QBs all time. Ridder’s overall testing, including his jumps (which were also great) put him at a projected 9.8 RAS (Relative Athletic Score, for those who aren’t aware).

Pitt’s Kenny Pickett also tested out very well. Although it wasn’t quite as eye-popping as Ridder’s 40, Pickett still ran a 4.67 (88th percentile) and had very good jumps at 6’3, 217.

In terms of the on-field work, the unquestioned winner was Liberty QB Malik Willis. For those of us who were at the Senior Bowl, Willis’ incredible arm talent was nothing new. Showing off his effortless deep ball on national TV has certainly gotten the attention of fans at this point. Pickett was another winner of the throwing drills, showing off his touch and accuracy on a variety of routes. Ridder also impressed with some good throws and cleaner mechanics, continuing his improvement from the Senior Bowl.

Wide receivers

While the enormous hype of the unofficial times wasn’t quite replicated in the official numbers, it was a lot of fun seeing so many 4.2s come across the screen. In the end, this still ended up being tied for the fastest receiver class of all time, with eight players running faster than 4.4. Baylor’s Tyquan Thornton finished with the only official sub-4.3 time at 4.28—which is still incredible speed.

In terms of the overall winners, there were a lot of receivers that helped themselves.

  • North Dakota State’s Christian Watson—my biggest winner from the WR group at the Senior Bowl—was also the biggest winner of the athletic testing. Watson tested out with an incredible 9.98u RAS, including an absurd 4.36s 40 and 11’4” broad jump at 6’4, 208. There’s a solid chance he winds up going in the first round at this point.
  • Memphis’s Calvin Austin III had a terrific week in Mobile, but his size still had a lot of scouts concerned. He ended up measuring better than expected, checking the minimum boxes for most teams at nearly 5’8, 170. On top of that, he put on a show during the athletic testing, running a 4.32 and posting incredible jumps for an 8.99u RAS.
  • Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce also had an incredible workout and caught a few beautiful deep passes from QB Desmond Ridder. At 6’3, 211, Pierce ran a 4.41 and posted an insane 40.5 vertical jump for a 9.62u RAS.

Tight ends

While the tight end group lacked the shine of the receiver group, particularly with expected top testers like Coastal Carolina’s Isaiah Likely, Colorado State’s Trey McBride, and Ohio State’s Jeremy Ruckert opting out, there were still a few prospects who helped themselves.

  • The biggest riser will definitely be Virginia’s Jelani Woods. I thought he had the potential to turn heads with his testing, and he did not disappoint. Woods put up a blazing-fast 4.61 at 6’7 (!!), 253 and finished with a 9.97u RAS.
  • The other big riser was San Diego State’s Daniel Bellinger. One of my biggest winners from the Senior Bowl, Bellinger was known as a good blocker in college but wasn’t heavily utilized as a receiver. In Mobile, he showed off his hands and surprising athleticism. That athleticism was confirmed on Thursday, as Bellinger turned in a 9.5u RAS.
  • The honor of fastest tight end was won easily by Maryland’s Chigoziem Okonkwo, who posted a very impressive 4.53. He’s undersized at 6’2, 238—so Okonkwo is clearly more of a move TE—but still finished with a very good 7.98u RAS.

We’ve still got three more days of Combine testing to go, including tonight’s running back and offensive line workouts. Look for our continued coverage over the remainder of the weekend.