NFL Combine Recap: Aztecs are Athletes, Too

Credit: NFL.com

In many ways, the NFL Combine is a silly and over-commercialized endeavor.

There’s no doubt that watching large men in tights go through drills meant for practice fields may not be worthy of the level of attention it draws. Even for NFL coaches and executives, little may truly change in terms of their player evaluations based on a player’s broad jump or 40 time.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t still a handful of meaningful points to take away from the weekend of workouts. And with four Aztecs – Donnel Pumphrey, Nico Siragusa, Daniel Brunskill, and Damontae Kazee – making the trip to Indianapolis for the Combine last weekend, local San Diego State supporters are still hungry for news on how each player performed under the scrutiny of scouts.

With that in mind, then, here’s a recap of each athlete’s performance over the weekend and how it may affect their draft stock going forward.

Donnel Pumphrey – Running Back

The NCAA’s all-time leading rusher (depending on who you ask), Pumphrey’s foremost skill is his turf-burning speed, and that extra gear certainly flashed its potential when he ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash, good for fourth-best among running backs and tied with fellow Heisman contender Christian McCaffrey of Stanford, while besting other top prospect names like Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook. Pumphrey also finished near the top of the rankings with his vertical jump (33.5”) and broad jump (117”).

However, his mere five reps on the bench press did little to answer questions about the diminutive back’s relative strength. And for someone of his size, it would’ve been nice to see him definitively distance himself from some of the larger backs in the draft in the 40. Pumphrey’s prolific college career leaves little doubt that he can be a productive back in spite of these physical shortcomings. However, an underwhelming combine means scouts will have to rely more closely on film to find evidence of the record-breaking runner’s worthiness as an every-down back in the NFL.

Nico Siragusa – Offensive Guard

Credit: AP Photo

The 6’4”, 319-lb. Siragusa is the definition of stocky, and showed off strength throughout the weekend. His 28 reps in the bench press ranked fifth among offensive lineman, as did his 110” broad jump. Meanwhile, his 32” vertical jump bested all other offensive lineman at the combine. The verdict: there’s little doubt that the durable third-team All-American has the power to contribute as a run blocker at the professional level. However, questions about his lateral mobility were limiting his draft projection to power-running teams so far. Fortunately, those concerns can now be offset some by a strong 4.56-second shuttle in Indianapolis, third-best among O-line prospects. Ultimately, Siragusa looked the part of a strong starting candidate all weekend, and the combine could have only helped his already high standing among talent evaluators.

Daniel Brunskill – Offensive Tackle

Of the four Aztecs at the combine, Brunskill is undoubtedly the least favored in the eyes of NFL scouts. None of his physical measurements stood out relative to his peers, and at just 273 pounds, there is no question that there will be a good amount of eating and lifting in his future if he wants to have the mass to play on an NFL offensive line. That being said, the tight end convert is able to use his lack of size to his advantage by being one of the more athletic tackle prospects available. While this makes him intriguing, a ho-hum showing at the combine renders the second-team all-conference lineman a practice squad player in the NFL for the near future.

Damontae Kazee – Cornerback

Kazee’s range in the defensive backfield already pops on film, with any viewing of an Aztecs game from last season showcasing the Mountain West’s premier defender batting down passes all over the field. At the combine, Kazee did not stand out physically in any way, which could be expected of a lean 5’10”, 184-lb. defensive back. His 40-yard dash was a decidedly average 4.54, far behind some of the speedsters that ran with him. The only spot in which he did rank among the best was his 124” broad jump, good for tenth among DB’s. What Kazee lacked in physical talent, though, he seemed to more than make up for with his play in position drills. One talent evaluator described his footwork as “hypnotizing” and his movement as “efficiency embodied.” That’s high praise for any defensive back, especially when combined with Kazee’s tremendous ball skills, and points to how the San Bernardino native projects to make up for any physical shortcomings at the next level.

For the most part, then, it appears that all four invites from Montezuma Mesa delivered pretty much everything NFL executives expected them to at the combine. While that means none of the four took a significant step forward, it also means none of the four regressed, either.

Pumphrey, Kazee, and Siragusa should all end up getting their name called come draft day and will have their shot to contribute right away at the next level, while Brunskill remains a more raw work-in-progress for now. For a program that hasn’t graduated an NFL draft pick since 2014, that points as much to the development of Aztecs football as a whole in recent years as it does to the talent of the four as they look to take the field on Sundays for years to come.

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Noah Hilton
I am a current undergraduate at the University of San Diego and lifelong San Diegan. A pitcher and outfielder on the nationally-ranked USD club baseball team, I have aspirations of one day being the GM that finally leads the Padres to a World Series title. I'll write more once I graduate. You can follow me on Twitter @thebackseatlamp

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