Nolan Smith steals show on 1st day of NFL combine workouts
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — One day after tearing up at the podium, edge rusher Nolan Smith turned heads on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf on Thursday.
The former Georgia star ran the fastest 40-yard dash by a defensive lineman, clocking 4.39 seconds. It was tied for the best of the day with linebacker Owen Pappoe, of Auburn, and was the second-fastest time from an edge rusher since 2003.
Amare Barno, of Virginia Tech, ran a 4.36 at last year’s NFL scouting combine. Ten players on the first day of workouts posted times under 4.5.
Linebackers and defensive linemen were the only players to do on-field drills Thursday and will finish their week with Friday’s bench press as defensive backs and special teamers take the field.
Smith, who checked in at 6-foot-2 and 238 pounds, was the star attraction.
He and Pappoe also shared top honors in the split (1.52 seconds) and Smith’s 41 1/2-inch vertical also was the best of the day — three inches ahead of linebacker Anfernee Orji, of Vanderbilt, and 3 1/2 inches ahead of the next closest defensive lineman.
Even when Smith wasn’t the leader, he was close. His 10 foot, 8-inch broad jump was tied for fourth on the day.
Smith’s college teammate, defensive tackle Jalen Carter, was back in Indianapolis after turning himself in to law enforcement for charges related to the fatal crash that killed offensive lineman Devin Willock and a recruiting staff member in January.
Smith was emotional Wednesday in his first public comments since Willock was died.
A day later, he was initially upset with his 40-yard dash, thinking he'd clocked something like 4.40. “I thought I didn't run my fastest time," he told the NFL Network. "I thought I had a little more juice, and I felt like I was going 85%.”
Told that his official time was 4.39, Smith said, “That made my day. That got me a little excited.”
AARON DONALD COMPS
Calijah Kancey has been drawing comparisons to fellow Pitt alum Aaron Donald for years now. His combine workout will only make them more frequent.
Kancey's 4.67-second 40-yard dash marked the fastest time for a defensive tackle at the event in 20 years, per Next Gen Stats. It topped Donald's time of 4.68 in 2014.
NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah lists Kancey No. 30 on his list of prospects and Thursday's workout should enhance his status as a likely first-round pick.
David Blough spent the four seasons bouncing around the NFL as a backup quarterback and was featured on both of last season's “Hard Knocks” series, training camp with the Detroit Lions and in season with the Arizona Cardinals.
He has one huge fan at this week's NFL annual scouting combine — Christian Gonzalez, who some consider the best cornerback prospect in this year's draft.
The reason: Blough is Gonzalez's brother-in-law and football consultant.
At 6-foot-2, 201 pounds, Gonzalez has the size/speed combination teams crave and quarterbacks fear. It's all part of the family tree.
Blough's wife, Melissa, competed for Colombia in the 2020 Olympics. Another sister, Samantha, was a track and field All-American at the University of Miami. Gonzalez's 6-foot-9 father, Hector, played basketball at UTEP.
Now, with Blough about to become a free agent later this month, Gonzalez wants to get a chance to challenge his longtime friend — on an NFL field.
“I would love that, we talked about that all the time,” Gonzalez said when asked about playing against Blough. "We’re always talking about it. It’s a lot of fun. We’ve never done it, but it would be exciting. He doesn’t talk the most smack, but he still talks smack.”
When the NFL released its alphabetical list of combine invitees in late January, some readers might have thought there was a misprint near the bottom of the defensive linemen.
The successive lines read: Byron Young, Alabama and Byron Young, Tennessee.
It's no mistake.
The former SEC players first met when they were both coming out of junior college. Naturally, it was because of a mix-up.
“Someone tagged me instead of tagging him, and I found out that it was another Byron Young,” the Volunteers alum said. “So, we just follow each other on Instagram and Twitter and stuff like that.”
As if seeing the names together wasn't confusing enough, the two also have been preparing for the combine at the same training facility.
How can football fans separate them? Well, the Tennessee alum is an edge rusher and just finished the 40 in 4.43 seconds, the second-fastest 40 by a defensive lineman. The Alabama alum plays inside, completing the three-cone drill in 7.68 seconds, seventh among tackles.
But there's one other tip, too.
“He goes by B-Y, I’ll go by Byron,” the former Crimson Tide player said. "He’s a great guy.”
Cornerback Joey Porter Jr. also is considered a likely first-round prospect and not just because of family pedigree.
As the son of the former Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro linebacker, Porter got some early insight into the pro game that most children — or adults — never do.
“I remember as a kid I did one-on-one against Antonio Brown, so that was a nice treat,” Porter said. “I know he wasn’t going 100%, but just to be able to line up against him was something special.”
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Michael Marot, The Associated Press