The NFL Scouting Combine is taking place this week in Indianapolis, and three Michigan State Spartans had an opportunity to impress NFL scouts, coaches, general managers and personnel decision-makers through interviews, on-field drills and physical tests. Those players are tight end Connor Heyward, wide receiver Jalen Nailor and running back Kenny Walker III.
On Thursday, the quarterbacks, tight ends and wide receivers went through tests to showcase their abilities. Nailor and Heyward both competed that day. On Friday, it was the offensive linemen and running backs who had their chance to improve draft stock, with Walker showing out. For those who care, the combine concludes with defensive linemen and linebackers on Saturday, and special teamers and defensive backs on Sunday.
The three Michigan State draft hopefuls have now wrapped up their week Indianapolis. Below is a recap of how each player performed.
Connor Heyward, tight end/fullback/H-back
Heyward is an intriguing prospect for NFL teams. He isn’t quite a tight end, and is no longer a running back, but his versatile skill set — good hands, strength, ability to carry the football, ability to fight for yards after the catch, has improved as a blocker, has experience as a kick/punt returner and special teamer, leadership. etc. — allows him to play multiple positions. Some NFL team — perhaps the New England Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers (where Heyward’s older brother, Cameron Heyward plays) — will find a fit for him as a hybrid fullback/H-back/move tight end.
“A lot of (NFL teams) are asking me where I see myself — as an H-back, fullback, I can be a third-down back, line up in the slot, play tight end,” Heyward said earlier this week at the combine. “(I) play special teams, as well — I know that’s going to be important in my process. I played special teams at Michigan State. Honestly, I think I can play anywhere on the offensive side of the ball, and I think I’m an offensive weapon.”
After impressing at the Senior Bowl in early February, and now a solid combine showing, Heyward could be a Day Three target during the NFL Draft (rounds four through seven). If he isn’t drafted, he will be signed as a priority undrafted free agent and will undoubtedly work his way onto an active NFL roster or practice squad.
Heyward did not compete in the bench press, broad jump, three-cone drill or 20-yard shuffle, but had solid, perhaps not spectacular, performances in the 40-yard dash and vertical jump tests.
- Official 40-yard dash time: 4.72 seconds (sixth out of 12 tight ends)
- Vertical Jump: 32.5 inches (ninth out of 13 tight ends)
- Broad Jump: N/A
- Bench Press: N/A
- Three-Cone Drill: N/A
- 20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
In case you missed it! @ConnorHeyward1 first 40-yard dash attempt while his brother @CamHeyward looks on. #GoGreen— Michigan State Football (@MSU_Football) March 3, 2022
Don't forget to tune-in to the #NFLCombine March 3-6 on @NFLNetwork pic.twitter.com/MWCbU61EnV
Heyward also showed off his hands and ability to track a ball during the on-field receiving drills:
Jalen Nailor, wide receiver
Nailor had an overall impressive combine performance. Some Michigan State fans were surprised about Nailor’s decision to declare early for the NFL Draft following his redshirt junior campaign, and perhaps, at that time, some fans and pundits considered Nailor as a fringe player in terms of if he would get drafted or not in a very deep wide receiver class.
However, Nailor showed a strong mix of speed, athleticism, explosiveness and agility at the combine that caught the attention of the media, and likely NFL scouts, coaches and general managers as well. If NFL teams can look past Nailor’s lengthy injury history, he may have very well solidified himself as a Day Three target in the draft. At the very least, he certainly improved his draft stock in Indianapolis.
Michigan State WR Jalen Nailor testing really well early.— Ryan Fowler (@_RyanFowler_) March 3, 2022
38.0" in the vert, 10'8" in the broad. Both totals top 5 among all WRs so far.
Nailor’s unofficial 40-yard dash times of 4.47 seconds on his first attempt and 4.46 seconds on his second attempt didn’t quite hold up, as the NFL’s officially reviewed time came back at 4.50 seconds for Nailor. While perhaps it wasn’t quite as “Speedy” as Nailor was hoping for in a very fast class of wide receivers, it was a solid time, and he ranked highly among the receivers group in several other tests.
“I feel like I bring the most to this opportunity — route running, speed, being physical, being a run blocker,” Nailor said at the combine earlier this week, via the Detroit News.
Nailor also posted strong metrics in the vertical jump, broad jump, three-cone drill and 20-yard shuffle. He did not participate in the bench press.
- Official 40-yard dash time: 4.50 seconds (19th out of 32 wide receivers)
- Vertical Jump: 38.0 inches (eighth out of 34 wide receivers)
- Broad Jump: 10-feet-eight-inches (eighth out of 34 wide receivers)
- Bench Press: N/A
- Three-Cone Drill: 7.03 seconds (third out of 13 wide receivers)
- 20-Yard Shuttle: 4.28 seconds (fifth out 13 wide receivers)
Nailor also ran a flawless “gauntlet” drill showing off his hands, concentration, timing and focus by catching every pass thrown to him in a very fast-paced drill.
Kenneth Walker III, running back
Walker, who is going by “Kenny” or “Ken” at the combine, may just have cemented himself as the top running back in the 2022 class with an excellent combine performance. While a running back isn’t projected to be taken in the first round of the NFL Draft this year (although it is possible), Walker is expected to be the first running back to hear his name called in late April, although it could also be Iowa State’s Breece Hall, but neither player will make it out of the second round.
Walker, who won the Doak Walker Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year award, and was a consensus first-team All-American, among many other accolades, has a unique ability to create running lanes for himself and pick up yards after contact. While he will need to do a little bit better job of staying with a play design and hitting the correct hole in the NFL, he has No. 1 running back written all over him and projects to have a strong professional career in his future. Despite only playing at Michigan State for one season, Walker will be considered a Spartan legend and live forever in East Lansing lore.
Walker ran a blazing-fast official 4.38-second 40-yard dash, which tied him for the third-fastest individual time in a group of running backs that was historically the fastest collectively on record. Opposite of Nailor, Walker’s official time came in quite a bit faster than his unofficial time of 4.46 seconds.
He also competed, and tested favorably, in the vertical jump and the broad jump. For some reason, every running back, including Walker, opted out of the agility tests, such as the three-cone drill and the 20-yard shuffle. Walker also did not participate in the bench press.
- Official 40-yard dash time: 4.38 seconds (tied-third out of 27 running backs)
- Vertical Jump: 34.0 inches (10th out of 31 running backs)
- Broad Jump: 10-feet-two-inches (ninth out of 31 running backs)
- Bench Press: N/A
- Three-Cone Drill: N/A
- 20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
One of the few question marks about Walker’s game is his ability to run routes, catch out of the backfield and be a true three-down back. However, due to Michigan State’s scheme, and bevy of receiving options with Nailor, Heyward, Jayden Reed, Tre Mosley and others, Walker simply was not called upon too often to catch the football (13 catches for 89 yards and one receiving score in 2021). He certainly has the ability in his arsenal, though, as he showed off at the combine.
At the NFL Combine, Walker sat down with CBS Sports HQ to discuss the NFL Draft. During the interview, Walker said being the first running back selected is a goal of his.
“It’ll mean a lot, and just another goal of mine, to be the first running back off the board — all the work that you put in, it’s showing,” Walker said.
When he was asked why he is the top running back in this class, Walker, still as humble as ever, had this to say:
“I feel like I’m just an all-around back,” Walker remarked. “My vision, my cutting ability, I feel like it’s second to no one, and I’m able to hit home-run plays.”
The full interview with CBS Sports HQ is below: