Top News: South Florida Products On Display At NFL Combine

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Tunsil Ties

Dolphins tackle Laremy Tunsil’s physical gifts were apparent pretty early and Ole Miss safety Zedrick Woods was there pretty much right from the beginning. Like Tunsil, Woods is from Lake City, Florida, and he first noticed Tunsil when he started going to middle school. “I went to sixth grade and I went out to practice and you have a guy out there in eighth grade that’s already 6-4, 270, so I’m like, OK, he’s gotta be getting recruited,” Woods said. “I knew he was going to do something special.” Woods and Tunsil were teammates that one year in middle school and then again for two years of high school and one year at Ole Miss when Woods was a freshman and Tunsil was in his junior — and final — season. “He was just a freak,” Woods said. “’I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. Just seeing a guy that big … when we did like lateral drills, he was going up there with the DBs, beating some of them. He’s fast, strong, never seen anything like it — ever.” As it turned out, Tunsil’s presence at Ole Miss was one of the reasons Woods decided to go to that SEC school. For his part, Woods describes himself as an aggressive safety in the mold of longtime Seahawks starter Kam Chancellor and longtime Vikings starter Harrison Smith.

Minkah the Mentor

Minkah Fitzpatrick arrived in Miami last year with a reputation as a leader and a tremendously versatile defensive player, and that’s exactly what he showed during his rookie season. Alabama safety Deionte Thompson saw all of those traits first-hand when he played with Fitzpatrick in college, and now he’s hoping to follow in his footsteps as an NFL first-round pick. “I talked to him earlier this season,” Thompson said Sunday. “He was just telling me to just focus on the season, focus on playing football and everything else will take care of itself. When that time comes, which it came, you can focus on that. I did exactly what he told me to do.” Thompson, however, couldn’t quite match Fitzpatrick’s amazing ability to play all six spots in the Alabama secondary — and play all of them at a high level. Not that many players can do that. “You don’t get a guy that can do that normally,” Thompson said. “There’s very few guys that can do it and do it in an effective way. That he was effective at each of the six positions in our secondary just goes to show you what kind of player he is. He’s a special talent and a guy that I admire a lot.” Thompson, who is considered among the top safety prospects in the 2019, grew up in the same Texas town as longtime Seattle starter Earl Thomas and spent time at his house during his high school days breaking down film with the six-time Pro Bowl safety.

Combine Highlights

Alabama’s Quinnen Williams solidified his standings as one of the top prospects in the draft when he ran a time of 4.83, the fastest recorded this year among interior defensive linemen. It was the fourth-fastest time since 2003 by a defensive lineman weighing at least 300 pounds. … Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat, who is 6-6, 260, ran a 4.41 — the fastest time for a defensive lineman at the combine since 2003. Per the NFL’s Twitter account, Sweat’s time was faster than the combine 40 times of Odell Beckham Jr., Ezekiel Elliott and Antonio Brown. … LSU’s Devin White and Michigan’s Devin Bush had the fastest 40 times among the linebackers at 4.42 and 4.43, respectively. Bush also had the highest vertical jump of the day at 40.5 inches.

South Florida Stars

This is not unusual in the least, but several of the top prospects at the 2019 combine come from South Florida, starting with St. Thomas Aquinas alum Nick Bosa. When NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah unveiled his Top 50 prospect list in late January, it included seven players who went to high school in South Florida. Along with Bosa, there was Oklahoma wide receiver Marquise Brown (Hollywood Chaminade), Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker (Miami Northwestern), Georgia wide receiver Riley Ridley (Coconut Creek Monarch), FAU running back Devin Singletary (Deerfield Beach American Heritage), Clemson cornerback Trayvon Mullen (Coconut Creek HS) and Florida State defensive end Brian Burns (Plantation American Heritage).

Brotherly Love

Bosa and Ridley, the brother of 2018 Falcons first-round pick Calvin Ridley, are among the handful of prospects with a brother currently in the NFL. There’s also Kansas defensive lineman Daniel Wise (Deatrich Wise), Stanford defensive back Alijah Holder (Mikah Holder) and University of Miami defensive lineman Gerald Willis, the younger brother of New York Giants safety Landon Collins. Willis said this was his brother’s advice about the combine: “Focus on the task in front of you, take every day, enjoy the process. Because it’s going to be a long process. He said you might get aggravated sometimes, but just enjoy the process. You only do it one time.” Willis was asked about the possibility of teaming up in the NFL with his brother, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent March 13. “We talked about it,” Willis said. “Hopefully one day we can. It would be great. Like, he’ll have more interceptions because I play D-line and (I’ll tip the ball up there and get (him) more picks. Tip the ball and let him go score. Hopefully I’m going to be behind and he’ll pitch it back.”

Positions of Strength

We detailed earlier the incredible Clemson presence at the combine along the defensive line, with an amazing five prospects in Indianapolis this week. That group includes three potential first-round picks: Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins. But there are other programs that have multiple elite prospects at the same position. For example, Alabama has two of the top running backs prospects with Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs. At tight end, it’s very possible that the first two players selected in the 2019 draft will Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson, both from Iowa. Two of the top wide receiver prospects are from Ole Miss, A.J. Brown and combine sensation D.K. Metcalf. Lastly, while they’re not considered at the top of the offensive line rankings, Iowa has three prospects of note in David Edwards, Michael Deiter and Beau Benzschawel.

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