Every year head coaches and scouts flurry to Indianapolis as they get a closer look on NFL Draft prospects while also getting their first face-to-face interaction. This is a big chance for prospects to improve their draft stock as they showcase their physical skills.
In past year’s we’ve seen a guy like Chris Johnson break the 40 yard dash record and see his stock skyrocket, other guys such as Vernon Gholston and Aaron Curry blew up the combine which saw them boost into the top 10 – labeled “workout warriors”, their careers came to an abrupt end as their physical attributes didn’t translate onto the field.
All coaches and scouts view the combine differently, some put more weight on it than others. Of course the 40 yard dash and bench press are the sexy events, but the most overlooked is the actual interview process. On Wednesday, teams kicked off individual meetings with prospects – think of it as a job interview. These teams are willing to invest millions of dollars into these players, they won’t do so without knowing they have a ‘sure thing’, or someone mentally stable. This also gives teams the chance to question certain players about off-field concerns, notably Noah Spence in this year’s class.
The way I see it, you shouldn’t put too much emphasis on a player’s performance at the combine. If anything, it’s just an indicator of their speed and strength without pads. Or, when comparing two players, a team could lean towards the player with the better combine showing. Some players play faster with pads on, some are faster without them, you really can’t look to closely at it. What it all comes down to is actual game-film and one-on-one interviews.
Despite what I think, I’m excited for the combine as many other Draft nuts are. This process allows us to get a better reading on projections and rankings in the final two months leading up to the draft as it serves as the final major event in that span; aside from Pro Days, but that tends to hurt players more than help them.
Let’s take a look at some headlines and players to watch leading up to the Combine which kicks off on Friday.
Combine Workout Schedule
Friday, 2/26: RB, OL, ST
Saturday, 2/27: QB, WR, TE
Sunday, 2/28: DL, LB
Monday, 2/29: DB
-All QBs to Throw
We saw this last year as Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota elected to throw, unlike past years where we see the top ranked QBs sit out this portion of the combine. I love the confidence this year’s crop of QBs is showing by participating, which is how it should always be. Just go out there and let it fly.
In a year with an unclear top QB, this proves as a great opportunity for scouts to see Jared Goff and Carson Wentz perform side-by-side. It will also be interesting to see if Connor Cook can gain some ground on Paxton Lynch and get himself back in the first round conversation.
Tune in on Saturday to see the QBs go through drills. Will someone separate themselves from the rest?
-Laquon Treadell & Corey Coleman Won’t Run the 40 Yard Dash
This was a bummer to hear, the top 2 WRs in this year’s class won’t participate in the 40 yard dash. You will, however, get to see them display their speed in this event at their respective Pro Days.
At the moment, Treadwell is the consensus top WR in the draft. While known for his tremendous skillset, he’s not exactly known for his speed – although a poor 40 shouldn’t hurt his stock in the first place.
For Corey Coleman, he was a guy many projected to challenge Chris Johnson’s 40 yard dash record. Coleman displayed tremendous speed and playmaking ability this past year at Baylor. Widely considered the #2 WR in the draft, a guy like Josh Docston or Michael Thomas can gain some ground on that slot with a good showing.
Watch for TCU’s Kolby Listenbee to shock some with his showing in the 40 yard dash.
-Is Ezekiel Elliott Actually the Top RB?
To put it bluntly, yes I believe Ohio State’s Elliott is undoubtedly the best RB in the class and very well could be the only one selected in the first round. The other guy to look at is Derrick Henry who appears on the ‘Players Who Need to Step up’ list, teams will either love him or hate him – he definitely needs a good showing at the combine to gain some ground on Elliott in the rankings.
Other RBs such as: Devonate Booker, Kenneth Dixon, Jordan Howard and Paul Perkins are all in that next tier of RBs, perhaps one of them can breakthrough into earlier round projections.
Players Who Will Impress
WR, Braxton Miller, Ohio State
What can’t this guy do? The former starting QB for the Buckeyes made the transition to WR this past season after the emergence of Cardale Jones. Considering he’s still developing at the position, Miller was solid this past season catching passes. He offers tremendous versatility and elite athleticism.
Miller will impress with his route running and of course his 40 time will be among the fastest of any player. I’ve seen Miller mocked in the 1st round by a few, he should staple himself as a solid late 1st-2nd round pick after the combine with his upside and physical skills.
DE, Jihad Ward, Illinois
With a strong showing in Mobile during the Senior Bowl, Jihad Ward made a name for himself. Ward will continue to boost up draft boards due to his freakish athleticism. The 300-pound defensive linemen very well could see his stock soar as high as round 2. If you want a little sneak preview of his athleticism, check out his video of him throwing down a reverse dunk on the basketball court.
DE/LB, Kamalei Correa, Boise State
In a strong draft filled with pass rushers, a guy like Kamalei Correa often flies under the radar. Correa terrorized the Mountain West Conference during his tenure at Boise State. Mel Kiper has compared Correa to a young Dwight Freeney and even mocked him to the Cardinals at 29. Correa will display his athleticism which should keep him at the tail-end of the first round.
CB, Artie Burns, Miami
After guys like Ramsey, Hargreaves and Alexander, the CB position is wide open. Kiper has labeled Artie Burns as a late 1st round pick, but Burns will need to follow that up with a strong combine performance. Burns displayed great ball skills and physicality this past season at Miami. The only underclassmen from the school to enter the draft, Burns was a flyer in the secondary for the Hurricanes. You’ll see a very fast 40 from Burns which will attract teams to take him by the 2nd round.
CB, Rashard Robinson, LSU
Rashard Robinson hasn’t played football since 2013 after off-field issues forced him out the next two seasons as LSU neglected to reinstate him. The former LSU standout has been forgotten by most, but he will resurface his name at the combine, that’s for sure.
His 6’3” size and great length alone will jump out at scouts, combine that with a good 40 time, the sky is the limit for a guy like Robinson. Obviously there will be red flags, seeing how he hasn’t played in two years, but he’s continued to train and work for this moment. Rashard Robinson is one of the most intriguing names to watch this weekend.
Players Who Need to Step Up
QB, Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
You’ve known Christian Hackenberg ever since he came out of high school as the top QB, but his career at Penn State didn’t quite go as planned. Every year it seemed like we were waiting for him to develop into the consensus top draft prospect like many had originally projected. At Penn State, he suffered from a porous offensive line and was unable to display his full potential.
At the combine, Hackenberg won’t wow you with his speed, but he has tremendous size. His performance in throwing drills could improve his stock substantially and cement his stock in the 2nd-3rd round range. There are some questions regarding his accuracy, so his display of poise and anticipation will be key.
Regarding draft stock, I do like Hackenberg as a mid round option. He could come in and compete right away, although he does need some progression.
QB, Cardale Jones, Ohio State
Entering the season, the sky was the limit for Cardale Jones. Coming off a great stretch in 2014 where he led Ohio State to a National Championship, early season projections had Jones as a consensus 1st round pick, with some even ranking him as the top QB in the class. As it played out, the QB situation for the Buckeyes was a disaster throughout the season and Jones’ stock plummeted out of the first round.
Jones has a lot to prove. Known for being a big, mobile QB, a good 40 time would do him some good. He’s going to have to do well in passing drills of course, his accuracy and decision making were huge question marks this past season. Jones will also have to do well in team interviews. His performance this weekend could make or break his draft stock.
RB, Derrick Henry, Alabama
He won the Heisman trophy and broke multiple SEC and Alabama records, what else does he have to prove? Well, ‘Bama doesn’t exactly have the best track record for developing pro RBs after Trent Richardson. While Henry brings tremendous size to the position, there are question marks regarding his speed. I’ve seen his 40 time projections range anywhere from the 4.4 range to 4.68.
What it all comes down to regarding his draft position, teams are either going to love or hate Henry. Some teams will see a potential premier RB, some will see a bust in the making. A good combine performance could put the haters to rest. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how his situation develops.
OT, Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
A surefire 1st round pick and 2nd OT behind Laremy Tunsil, it may be strange to see Stanley on this list. However, throughout the season Tunsil and Stanley were neck and neck for the top OT ranking in the class. As it’s panned out, Tunsil is viewed as the best at the position, while also receiving #1 pick hype. While I don’t think Stanley is worth the top pick in the draft, there is no reason for him to slide out of the top 10 as I’ve seen in recent mock drafts.
There are some concerns regarding Stanley’s technique, he needs a strong showing in position drills. Other than that, Stanley should crush the physical events and see his stock float around in the top 10 as it has until recently. If not, Stanley could see himself slip outside the top 10.
DE, Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
The former Ohio State Buckeye blew it up at Eastern Kentucky and made a name for himself at the Senior Bowl. Leading up to the Combine, Spence has seen his stock skyrocket into the top 10.
The big question mark regarding Spence are his character concerns. The most crucial area of his combine will be team interviews. Spence will need to reassure coaches that off-field issues won’t hinder his career moving forward, red flags may drop his stock a bit. With solid interviews and a good showing in physical drills, Spence could cement his stock in the first half of the 1st round.