32 things we learned from 2024 NFL scouting combine: Xavier Worthy sets 40 record, J.J. McCarthy builds buzz

INDIANAPOLIS – The NFL's annual scouting combine is effectively the closest thing the league has to a convention, all 32 teams assembling to evaluate draft prospects, meet with player agents and other representatives ahead of free agency, attend to league matters … with a little bit (or more) of hobnobbing at night in downtown Indy.

The event can also be a bit of “Groundhog Day” meets “Dazed and Confused” – “That's what I love about these [inserts ‘draft prospects’], man. I get older, they stay the same age.”

Nonetheless, it’s a prime (47) opportunity to pick up scuttlebutt and gather first impressions of the NFL’s next stars – and it appears this draft could have quite a few.

The 32 things we learned from the 2024 NFL scouting combine

1. With the first pick of the 2024 NFL draft ... Appropriate spot to reference former USC QB Caleb Williams, who’s widely projected to be taken No. 1 overall by the Chicago Bears two months from now. He was poised during his media session Friday, while patiently explaining the narratives that have been attached to him and his rationale for not working out or even undergoing the combine’s universal medical evaluation (he'll allow teams he visits to poke and prod him).

1a. And, take it for what it’s worth, but when asked if he’d been told yet by the Bears if they’d pick him first, Williams laughed. And paused. And declined to answer.

1b. In fairness to current Chicago QB Justin Fields, who wears No. 1, he also gets a mention here. Bears GM Ryan Poles maintains the team will try to “do right” by Fields as it pertains to his future, telegraphing an intention to find a resolution sooner than later. But it seems noteworthy that the team’s brain trust is almost universally not mentioning the notion of moving forward for a fourth season with Fields while openly entertaining its options rather than backing someone who would be considered the face of the franchise in several NFL cities – and could well be next season.

1c. As it pertains to Fields' trade value? The New York Jets traded 2018 first-round QB Sam Darnold after his third season, getting a second-, fourth- and sixth-rounder in return.

2. In case you were wondering, yes – the combine actually concludes Sunday afternoon with the offensive linemen going through their paces.

3. And the blockers appear to be a fine group, led by Notre Dame OT Joe Alt. It wouldn't be a surprise if they represent a full quarter of the first-round picks by the end of the night April 25.

4.21. Former Texas WR Xavier Worthy’s combine record 40-yard dash time, established Saturday night. He'll be stretching defenses somewhere next fall.

4.22. The previous 40 record, held by former University of Washington and Cincinnati Bengals WR John Ross.

4.3. If Worthy, who amazingly was labeled "WO 40" going into the combine, is that fast, wouldn’t you think he’d have averaged more than 14 yards per catch during his Longhorns career? Just sayin’.

Oct 30, 2021; Waco, Texas, USA; Baylor Bears safety JT Woods (22) tackles Texas Longhorns wide receiver Xavier Worthy (8) in the second half of an NCAA football game at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Spillman-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: IMAGN-452721 (Via OlyDrop)
Oct 30, 2021; Waco, Texas, USA; Baylor Bears safety JT Woods (22) tackles Texas Longhorns wide receiver Xavier Worthy (8) in the second half of an NCAA football game at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Spillman-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: IMAGN-452721 (Via OlyDrop)

4.34. The time for Texas' "slow" receiver, 6-2, 205-pound Adonai Mitchell, who's very likely to wind up a first-round pick.

4.4. Nine combine wideouts ran faster than 4.4.

5. Defensive players will likely account for between one quarter and one half of Round 1 … yet don’t be shocked if none land in the top 10.

6. An almost universal opinion held by NFL executives and draft observers? This is an amazing group of wide receivers.

6a. Also, former Georgia TE Brock Bowers might actually be one, too.

7. An almost universal opinion held by NFL executives and draft observers? This is not an amazing group of running backs.

7a. But with Florida State’s Trey Benson and Tennessee’s Jaylen Wright clocking sub-4.4 40 times Saturday, don’t be surprised if either or both get tabbed in Round 2.

8. Expect the prominence of the NFLPA team report cards, which dropped Wednesday, to continue growing as players praise and/or air out their employers. Pretty shocking to see a dichotomy like the one in Kansas City, where the Chiefs’ champion players clearly adore A+ coach Andy Reid … yet have a 180-degree view of team owner Clark Hunt.

8a. Similarly – and no surprise – the Pittsburgh Steelers graded HC Mike Tomlin as an ‘A’ guy. Yet the Rooney family ownership got stung with an F. Whoa.

8b. “Oh, I pay attention to it,” Indianapolis Colts GM Chris Ballard said of the report cards. “We do a lot with our players internally anyway and ask for their feedback. What I would tell you is there are some things I would probably debate with them, but we pay attention to it. Do I take it 100% to credence? No, no. But there will be questions asked and we'll get feedback.”

8c. The Colts, the combine’s home team, finished 22nd overall among the league’s 32 clubs.

9. To date, only Bengals WR Tee Higgins and Chiefs CB L'Jarius Sneed have received the franchise tag. K.C. is allowing Sneed to explore the trade market, though that’s only necessary if he's franchised.

9a. But, barring long-term extensions coming together ahead of Tuesday afternoon’s deadline, expect the likes of Bears CB Jaylon Johnson, Colts WR Michael Pittman Jr., Baltimore Ravens DT Justin Madubuike, Tampa Bay Buccaneers FS Antoine Winfield Jr., Carolina Panthers OLB Brian Burns, New England Patriots DB Kyle Dugger and New York Giants S Xavier McKinney to receive either a franchise or transition tag.

10. As long as the SEC and its schools have dominated the combine and draft, Michigan – which sent the most-ever players (18) to Indianapolis at one time – could be the new kid on the block. For now.

11. Maybe that’s why Ohio State superstar WR Marvin Harrison Jr. couldn’t bear to show up for testing or even his scheduled media interview Friday morning.

11a. Though, per fellow Buckeyes WR (and Pro Football Hall of Famer) Cris Carter, Harrison was attending to more important matters.

12. Shots fired at the NFC North champion Detroit Lions? "Around here, we’ve never hung banners for division championships, so it’s never been about that. It’s a nice starting point, but I think we’re always looking for bigger things," Green Bay Packers GM Brian Gutekunst told local reporters at the combine. Hmmmm.

12a. For the record, the Packers and Lions have combined for four Super Bowl trophies.

12b. Detroit has never appeared in a Super Bowl.

13. Upward nepotism is now alive and well in the NFL, new Tennessee Titans coach Brian Callahan adding his father, legendary offensive line coach Bill Callahan, to his staff.

13a. “It's been great. Him and I get along really well. There's not a whole lot of bossing around, if you will. There's not many people that are going to tell him how to do his job. He's about as good at it as anybody,” said Brian Callahan. “It's been a dream come true to be able to sit and to have a cup of coffee with my dad in the morning and talk about what we got coming up that day and talk about pass protection and technique and watch him do his job too, has been really fun.”

14. Could former Washington Husky Rome Odunze be the draft's premier receiver? Even better than the highly touted Harrison Jr.? TBD. But give Odunze points for competing in the drills Saturday – neither Harrison nor LSU's Malik Nabers did – and for a compelling reason.

14a. "Just for me, it was about being able to compete against generations before and generations to come and see where I stack up against all those people," said Odunze. "I feel like it's a one-time thing that you can do once in your life."

15. Once medically retired after a neck injury suffered at Washington, former UCLA DE Laiatu Latu is fun to watch, fun to talk to and has all the makings of a great teammate – and he stayed late Thursday to support fellow prospects after his testing was complete. He's definitely in the mix to be the first defender drafted.

15a. And, yes, former Bruins pass rusher Jaelan Phillips also wore (and still rocks) No. 15, like Latu, and has gone on to become a premier NFL player as a 2021 first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins despite being medically retired himself in college.

16. Bummer that top quarterback prospects Williams, LSU's Jayden Daniels and North Carolina's Drake Maye opted not to throw Saturday. Declining rarely hurts you, but participating can generally only help – especially for the passers likely jockeying for position behind Williams.

17. Michigan's J.J. McCarthy, Oregon's Bo Nix and Washington's Michael Penix did air it out and looked good doing so.

17a. And while that triumvirate might have been considered this year's second tier of quarterbacks coming into Indianapolis, keep an eye on national champ McCarthy – he was 27-1 for the Wolverines – who's building momentum as a potential top-10 selection ... and perhaps even one of the first three QBs taken.

Jan 1, 2024; Pasadena, CA, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) throws a pass against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the second half in the 2024 Rose Bowl college football playoff semifinal game at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: IMAGN-715616 ORIG FILE ID: 20240101_ojr_al2_115.JPG
Jan 1, 2024; Pasadena, CA, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) throws a pass against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the second half in the 2024 Rose Bowl college football playoff semifinal game at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: IMAGN-715616 ORIG FILE ID: 20240101_ojr_al2_115.JPG

18. And, thankfully, we got to see former Tennessee QB Joe Milton III cut it loose, too.

19. Seems to be a Super Bowl Opening Night faction has begun invading the combine. Players were constantly asked during the week if they believe in the satirical “Birds Aren't Real” conspiracy theory, or what their rating would be in EA Sports’ upcoming college football video game.

20. But in that nonsense vein, bless Texas Tech’s Tyler Owens, who doesn't believe in space but nearly jumped into it.

21. Former Southern Mississippi RB Frank Gore Jr. is not shying away from the standard his father set in the NFL. “I’m going to set a higher bar for ‘Frank Gore.’ I’m going to put that name on the map, too," he said. "There’s no pressure. I embrace the pressure. Whatever people try to make it, that’s what I’m going to take it as. It’s a blessing for sure.”

22. Reminder – and you may not believe this – but Gore Sr. rushed for 16,000 yards, third-most in league history, over 16 seasons. Only Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton outgained him. Gore finished 15 yards shy of 20,000 from scrimmage for his career, trailing only Jerry Rice, Smith and Payton. Good luck, kid.

23. Speaking of NFL families – and the combine always highlights those numerous ties – Rice WR Luke McCaffrey ran a 4.46 40 time, .02 seconds faster than big brother and 2023 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Christian McCaffrey. However, unlike Christian, expect Luke to be a Day 2 pick.

24. Speaking of NFL families – and Rice – nice job by ex-USC WR Brenden Rice, son of Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, the best receiver to ever strap up. Brenden has plenty to live up to and, like Luke McCaffrey, will likely be a Day 2 selection. But his 4.5 40 time Saturday makes him a tenth of a second faster than his old man, the original GOAT.

25. Comedian Joey Mulinaro has really expanded his impressionistic palette beyond legendary college coach Nick Saban. Pretty amazing rendition of Patrick Mahomes …

26. If you're looking for a huge safety upgrade in 2024, you might be out of luck – especially if Winfield, Dugger and McKinney get tagged. And there doesn't appear to be an elite option available in the draft.

27. Congratulations to recently promoted New England executive Eliot Wolf, officially the team's director of scouting, as he takes the personnel reins in Foxborough. Assuming the apple doesn't fall far from the tree for the son of Hall of Famer Ron Wolf, the Patriots could be back atop the AFC East soon enough.

28. Panthers fans should feel good about new GM Dan Morgan, once a star linebacker for the team, and rookie coach Dave Canales. Two seemingly dedicated straight shooters should play well in this locker room as they attempt to turn around a club that had the league's worst record (2-15) in 2023 but no first-round pick to show for it after trading it last year in order to draft QB Bryce Young first overall.

29. All due respect to McCarthy and Co., but Notre Dame QB Sam Hartman was Saturday’s best-looking quarterback. Literally.

29a. And give Hartman, who also played for Wake Forest, major props for being the only quarterback in Saturday's first grouping to run the 40, putting down a respectable, Mahomes-esque time of 4.8 seconds.

30. All due respect to Williams and Co., but no player exuded more confidence from the podium than Alabama CB Terrion Arnold – and the Crimson Tide All-American will likely be selected in the top half of the first round.

31. Good to see there appear to be no hard feelings between Philadelphia Eagles chief of security Dom DiSandro and the San Francisco 49ers. Eagles EVP/GM Howie Roseman and HC Nick Sirianni spoke Tuesday at the podium next to Niners GM John Lynch, who shared an embrace with “Big Dom.” DiSandro was suspended from the sideline for the remainder of the 2023 season after a Dec. 3 game at Lincoln Financial Field when he and San Francisco LB Dre Greenlaw got into a minor altercation on the Eagles’ boundary.

32. And always good to see combine traditions that never change – like seeing how long you can avoid coming across Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ bus while hoofing it around the city. Probably easier to hammer out QB Dak Prescott’s next contract ... which is apparently imminent.


Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on X, formerly Twitter @ByNateDavis.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL draft scouting combine takeaways: Xavier Worthy's 40 builds buzz