Cougs shine bright in NFL Combine

Minshew, Williams, Dillard proved they can play at next level this past weekend



Then-graduate transfer quarterback Gardner Minshew II hands the ball off to redshirt junior running back James “Boobie” Williams in the Apple Cup matchup against UW on Nov. 23 in Martin Stadium. Three Cougs competed in the NFL Combine.

ALEX BIVIANO, Evergreen columnist

Three Cougs participated in the NFL combine that took place over the weekend.

The record-breaking 2018 season elevated the status of all three, making this year’s NFL draft one to watch for Coug fans everywhere.

Redshirt junior running back James Williams left WSU with a year of eligibility on the table to make his NFL dreams a reality. Williams has a level of excitement recent WSU running backs haven’t displayed.

Williams’ success was no surprise to anyone here in Pullman, as he holds the school record in both receptions and receiving yards for a tailback. While Williams has proven himself an excellent complement to the passing game, his skills as a runner were questioned by scouts ahead of the combine.

Williams was listed at 5 feet 9 inches tall, 3 inches shorter than what he was listed at on the official WSU roster. For most positions on a football team, losing height from a pre-draft report can be damning, but for running backs it actually elevates their chance of being drafted.

In a position where leverage is king, a 69-inch frame carrying 205 pounds is a more enticing prospect than a player who is taller but weighs the same. Williams posted about his new workout regimen on social media and his combine numbers showed it paid off.

Williams ran 4.58 40-yard dash, a fine showing for a powerful runner in the most important measure of speed evaluated in prospects before the draft. The decorated pass catcher also had a 36.5-inch vertical jump, which put him in the top-10 among running backs.

Williams proved that he is more than just an explosive runner though as he ran a top-5 performance in both the three-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle run. His performance caught the eye of scouts, garnered buzz on social media and improved his overall draft stock.

Gardner Minshew II, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award-winning quarterback, fully committed to the combine by both running and throwing in front of scouts from all 32 NFL teams.

Before coming to WSU, Minshew was not even considered an NFL prospect. However, after winning Pac-12 player of the year Minshew has proven himself as a formidable second-tier quarterback prospect.

Minshew is considered an “average arm talent,” according to scout Lance Zierlein, but his intangibles will be what elevates Minshew to success in the NFL.

Minshew’s legacy was never built on his athleticism, and the combine is not the kind of event that will determine as much of Minshew’s future as the other two Cougs who competed. Nonetheless, a strong showing still proves to scouts that the Mississippi Mustache is ready to compete at the pro level.

Compete he did. As he ran a sub-five-second 40-yard dash and threw great passes to other aspiring NFL players, Minshew proved that his award-winning season at WSU was not just a flash in the pan — he is a pro-ready NFL quarterback, even if he is only a backup on the roster.

Andre Dillard may not have as much clout as Minshew and Williams, but he is the only Coug projected to go in the first round. An air-raid offense requires great protection and Dillard provided excellent security throughout his five-year WSU career.

The four-year starter from Woodinville, Washington showed scouts everywhere why this All Pac-12 player was a consensus first-round pick. Dillard ran a 4.96 second 40-yard dash, did 24 reps on the bench press and had a 29-inch vertical jump.

Dillard has a chance to be the best NFL player WSU has ever produced, joining the ranks of Drew Bledsoe and Marcus Trufant as established NFL starters. Williams, Minshew II and Dillard represented WSU well on their journey to the NFL draft.