Analysis: Previewing the NFL Combine for Washington State’s Andre Dillard, Gardner Minshew and James Williams
Over the next three days, Washington State left Tackle Andre Dillard, quarterback Gardner Minshew, running back James Williams and a few-hundred other pro hopefuls will be darting through orange cones, pressing loaded barbells into the air and fielding questions from general managers as they aim to boost their stock before the NFL Draft in mid-April.
Based on NFL.com’s prospect grading system, each of the three Cougar players have a great chance of finding their way onto an NFL roster, while Dillard and Minshew by most accounts are sure-fire Draft picks who could hear their names called before day three. Williams, meanwhile, has a big opportunity to show scouts why his skillset should be valued at the next level after leaving college a year early.
Today, Dillard, Williams and the offensive linemen/running backs will go through psychological testing, an NFLPA meeting, media availability, the bench press test and interviews. Their on-field workouts will take place Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Minshew and the QBs will have their on-field testing Saturday after going through interviews and psychological tests Friday.
Here’s a Combine primer on the three WSU players and a brief look at what they’ll need to show NFL teams this weekend in Indy.
Most of what scouts wanted to see of WSU’s All-American left tackle was on display for a week in Mobile, Alabama, last month. Like every Air Raid offensive lineman that came before him, Dillard has to show teams he can adapt to playing in a more run-oriented offense that pinches its linemen closer together – as opposed to the wide O-line splits he was accustomed to in Pullman.
So far, so good. Dillard came out of the Senior Bowl – probably the most important part of his own pre-Draft process – as arguably the top-rated offensive tackle prospect in the country and he grades out as a 6.19 on NFL.com’s prospect grading chart as someone who “should become instant starter.”
Dillard’s been training with the reputed Rep1 Sports team in Irvine, California, and it’s hard to imagine him really sputtering anywhere at the Combine. Formerly a 230-pound high school basketball player, Dillard’s always had solid footwork, strong lateral movement and great athleticism for his position, so drills involving cones and vertical leaps shouldn’t be much of a challenge for him. After a Senior Bowl practice, he told the NFL Networks in an interview he expects to clock a sub 5-second 40-yard dash – something only 10 O-linemen have done in the last three Combines.
For someone who lets his play do most of the talking, actually talking – to general managers, scouts, reporters, etc. – might be the most uncomfortable part of the next few days for Dillard. While he’s intelligent and articulate, WSU’s left tackle, one, hasn’t always been fond of media attention and, two, hasn’t experienced a ton of it playing his college football in one of the smallest Power Five markets in the country.
Dillard got a small taste of that at the Senior Bowl, talking to just about every NFL team in attendance, but the car wash of interviews and media encounters he’ll have at the Combine should be much more time-consuming.
Minshew, on the other hand, thrives whenever there’s a microphone in front of him. So, the more opportunities the quarterback has to give scouts and GMs a glimpse of his charisma and outgoing personality, the better off he is.
If Minshew sneaks into the top four rounds of the NFL Draft, it’s likely because someone’s placing high value on his intangibles – the work ethic, the vocal leadership and amicable persona that made him a star for one season in Pullman.
But this is also a significant opportunity for Minshew to show scouts he’s more than that. While he came out of the Senior Bowl feeling good about his body of work for the week, Minshew was critical of his performance in the game itself after finishing just 1-for-8 for 4 passing yards. So if there’s anything Minshew should be zeroing in on this week – and this probably holds true for every QB in attendance – it’d be the throwing drills.
The graduate transfer who came to WSU after stops at Troy, Northwest Mississippi and East Carolina is much more accurate than he showed in the Senior Bowl and probably has slightly better arm power than his predecessor, Luke Falk, who was only average during the on-field portion of last year’s Combine. Minshew threw plenty of short screens and dump-offs in college, so if he can put some zip on his intermediate passes and display some touch on his longer ones, it could be a boon for his draft stock.
Just about every second of this Combine will be pivotal for Williams, who wasn’t a shoo-in for an invite in the first place and didn’t have an opportunity to prove himself at a college all-star game like teammates Dillard and Minshew.
Williams’ Pro Day in Pullman will be crucial, too, but he won’t have more exposure than he has this week in Indianapolis. NFL already scouts know how versatile the WSU running back is and the Combine’s drills seem to be tailor-made for someone who’s fantastic in small spaces. Williams spent enough time hurdling tacklers at the collegiate level that it’s easy to imagine him performing well in the broad jump and vertical jump.
While he’s great in short bursts, Williams didn’t have many long runs in college – largely because of how defenses schemed against the Air Raid, often dropping eight back into coverage. Therefore, few know how quickly the running back can eat up 40 yards of real estate. That’ll be an important test for Williams, as will the bench press.
And the better he performs in media settings and closed-door meetings with NFL teams, who still don’t know a ton about the Burbank, California, native, the more likely it is Williams goes from a fringe Draft prospect to a day-three lock.