Mekhi Garner arrived in Indianapolis for the 2023 NFL Draft Combine focused on trying to catch the attention of NFL scouts and coaches.
Frankly, standing 6-foot-2 and weighing 212 pounds, he couldn’t avoid sticking out as one of the bigger defensive backs among a crowd of three dozen on hand for the annual NFL event that brings together the latest crop of NFL draft prospects. Furthermore, the wide-shouldered cornerback has thick arms that measure 32.5 inches and hands measuring over 10 inches.
Garner, one of nine LSU players invited to the Combine, could end up as one of the biggest surprises in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft set for April 27-29 in Kansas City.
“My physical traits – I am the biggest corner in the Draft,” Garner said, during a meeting with the NFL media during the week of the Combine. “I’m probably one of the longest corners in the Draft. I’m physical. I’m not afraid to tackle.”
Garner, a fifth-year senior, tallied 43 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, and eight pass breakups last fall during his lone season at LSU. It was the kind of breakout effort that he hoped to have at LSU after playing three years at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. His play in the highly competitive SEC that routinely produces NFL talent earned him an invitation to the Combine.
The Mesquite, Texas native expressed that he felt plenty confident about making the most of his visit to Indianapolis. He arrived ready to impress prospective NFL employers looking for defensive secondary help. Garner believes his body of work last fall against the likes of SEC foes like Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia helped him build a solid resume on the field prior to being invited to the Combine.
“I felt like I was ready,” he said. ”It was one year in the SEC is how I did it. I felt like I was ready. I grinded my ass off at the (University of Louisiana-Lafayette). I took a big leap into the SEC and I flourished and I felt like I could now take the next big jump, which is professional.”
Garner participated in four of the seven physicality exercises that test Combine participants’ speed and strength. His overall performance ranked average at best. Among the 37 defensive backs to participate in the combine, his 5.82 overall grade ranked 31st.
He ran the 40-yard dash in a time of 4.55 seconds, which ranked as the 24th fastest time among 29 defensive backs that ran the short sprint. His time of 1.54 for the 10-yard split was only the 18th-fastest split out of the 29 that took part in the exercise. His best effort came in the vertical jump where he recorded a leap of 38 feet, ranking 11th out of 30. His jump of 10-8 for the broad jump was the 13th-best among 29.
Garner opted not to participate in the bench press where Utah’s Clark Phillips III led all cornerbacks with 18 repetitions of the 225-pound barbell. He also passed on participating in the 3-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle.
NFL analyst Lance Zierlein reports that Garner has “below-average footwork adjusting to receiver’s release” and “might need to upgrade tackle consistency if he moves to safety.”
Garner failed to record an interception during his last two college seasons, which may suggest that he’s more suited to play safety than cornerback at the next level. He certainly has the size to come up and defend against the run.
Regardless, Garner believes he’s physical enough and has the head for the game to play in the NFL.
“My IQ,” Garner replied, when asked about what makes him a top defensive back prospect. “I’m very intelligent. I watch a lot of film. I can diagnose everything about a play or tendencies about a quarterback, or about the opposing team that we’re playing that week.”
During his brief stint at LSU, Garner was able to secure Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) deals. He didn’t share what his NIL deals amounted to, but said it helped him and his family while he was at LSU. He has a 3-year-old son, Kylan, who is being raised in the Dallas area while he prepares for the Draft.
“I think (NIL) is a great thing for guys that come up where I come from,” he said. “They come from a single-parent household where moms can’t really send money like other households can. It’s definitely a blessing.”
Garner added: “Half of the (NIL) money went back home to my mother, my son, and my little brother.”
All of his NIL deals required that he post pictures, videos, etc., on social media platforms. To avoid any conflicting of schedules involving his NIL obligations with classroom responsibilities and practicing, Garner completed all of his NIL requirements before the start of the fall semester.
“I did all of my NILs in the summer, so when it came to the fall or toward the season, toward school, I really wasn’t worried about NILs anymore,” he said.
Garner hopes his performance at the Combine will help him get drafted and ultimately secure a deal from one of the 32 NFL organizations.
Besides being compensated for his Name, Image, and Likeness, Garner believes the experience of having any NIL deal while in college also offers a valuable lesson in dealing with money for anyone that has the opportunity to have a career in professional sports.
“It definitely helps you balance your money,” he said. “A lot of the guys don’t come from a lot of money, so when they get a lot of money, some people can’t balance it. To have this blessing or the opportunity to have this (NIL) money before I even make it to the NFL, it’s a blessing in disguise to learn how to balance money and manage my money.”