Now that we’ve all wiped away our tears at the fact we’ll be without live-competitive football until the fall, there is still joy to be found in the fact we’re still one step closer to the NFL Draft. With collegiate All Star games completed and reviewed, the next step on the path to the draft: The Underwear Olympics.
The annual NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis is the both overanalyzed, yet under appreciated showcase of the natural talents in the world. Players of all shapes, sizes, collegiate backgrounds, and accolades collide during this four day bonanza; to show organizations they have the physical (and even cerebral) traits to belong in this business.
Whether it’s on the field in some swagged out Under Armour compression, or enclosed in a room with some of the powerful men in football–many prospects have to emphasize selling their draft stock well at the most publicized open-interview session known to mankind. Here are some offensive prospects who have the most to gain from their time in Indy.
Medical/Interviews: Josh Rosen, UCLA
Testing/On Field Drills: Sam Darnold, USC
Well, isn’t it ironic that essentially the top two signal callers in this year’s draft class have the most to prove. If anyone needs to impress in these respective areas to solidify a check and a future, Rosen and Darnold undoubtedly top the list.
For Josh Rosen, everyone’s focus will be on how the former Bruin handles his media and personnel interactions throughout the weekend. The current notion about Rosen, in league circles, is that there is some doubt about his long-term love and commitment to the game of football. This in turn is giving teams a subtle pause on whether or not they want to invest their future building pieces around him. Monitoring Josh Rosen’s interviews with teams such as the Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, and Denver Broncos among many others will be a top storyline in Indy.
Sam Darnold will make headlines in other regards because he’ll have to potentially show refinement in his passing mechanics during the on-field drills for the quarterbacks. Darnold will need to excel predominantly in the “drop back” drills from under center. Not only because Darnold took significantly less traditional snaps in comparison to Rosen or Josh Allen, but I also want to see if his footwork, weight transfer, and throwing release are really as erratic as his tape showed at times. With being the quarterback connected the most with Cleveland at first overall, Darnold must show his confidence and consistency to reassure scouts he is the top signal caller in this draft class.
My two cents on Nyheim Hines' potential 40 yard dash time. Prepare yourselves for him to shred up the Combine both in testing and on field drills. https://t.co/6RApsNDtgl
— Cagen Cantrell (@CeeingTheDraft) February 14, 2018
Off-Field/Medical: Mark Walton, Miami
Testing/On-Field: Nyheim Hines, North Carolina State
If there was ever a year to glue your eyes to the running back segment of Scouting Combine, 2018 is that year. With 31 running backs in attendance this year, the prospects who come out most impressive will certainly see a boost in their draft stock.
Someone that could see his stock rise with both his on field and off field sessions is former Miami running back Mark Walton. One of the most electrifying backs in all of college football saw his 2017 season cut short in early October when his right ankle was required to undergo surgery. Walton has since recovered, and plans to fully participate in drills, but that ankle will still need be closely monitored to determine if he still owns the same elite explosion and speed that made him flash while playing for the Hurricanes.
Teams will be certain to ask Walton about his odd DUI arrest during the summer of 2016. He supposedly was drunk while driving, imitated a police officer, and then proceeded to pull over a women on the road and sexually harass her. These claims and charges were dismissed after no evidence could prove any of this to be true. Teams will no doubt ask the questions about Walton’s health and background, but if both check out well, he could be a surprise name that is called much earlier than expected in April.
For testing drills, the 40 yard dash is always the most focused drill for skill players. While short area quickness (10 yard split) is a more significant measurement for running backs, everyone will be pay close attention to Nyheim Hines’ 40 yard dash time.
Hines, a former track standout will be one of this year’s favorites to clock in the closest speed to Josh Ross’ 4.22 record from last year. Hines is expected to run somewhere from the low 4.2s to the mid 4.3s, which would surpass T.J. Logan’s (North Carolina) 4.37 time, the fastest official 40-time amongst the 2017 running back draft class. Not only is Hines expected to shine in explosion centric drills like the vertical and broad jump as well; a segment where Hines can truly help his draft stock is during the bag drills.
If Hines displays the instinctive vision, change of direction, and ball carrier awareness that the drill is supposed to emphasize, he will solidify himself as a guy who could show equal dynamic as both a runner and receiver in an offense.
Start your day with some Antonio Callaway pic.twitter.com/yquy2bHP1a
— Jonathan Valencia (@JonValenciaBF) August 16, 2017
Interviews: Antonio Callaway, Florida
Testing/On Field: Courtland Sutton, SMU
On a yearly basis, no position can make or break their draft stock more than wide receiver prospects. Whether it’s in the 40 yard dash, vertical jump, or just in on-field workouts such as route running or the gauntlet (arguably the Combine’s silliest drill), there is always a handful of guys who come away having to double take on their film saying to yourself: “What did I miss?”, or “What did I see in this guy?”
In regards to that “make or break” draft status, no receiver has more to prove than former Gators wide receiver Antonio Callaway–and it’s not even due to his pure talent. Callaway has a checkered background that is unlike any other potential draft pick.
With three separate run-ins with the law, which include: sexual battery, illegal marijuana possession and credit card fraud (which cost him the remainder of his career at Florida); Callaway has not played football in over a year. Before the fiascos, Callaway was touted as one of the most prominent and dynamic players in all of the SEC conference. Posting 2,279 total yards in only two seasons, Callaway is also one of 21 players in FBS history to produce a touchdown in five different ways (passing, rushing, receiving, kickoff and punt return).
Unfortunately, none of that will matter if Callaway fails to make a positive impression on teams during the interview sessions. On top of that, not having played a game since 2016 will also cause teams to backtrack on him. Some teams might have Callaway entirely off their board as a draftable prospect, but for those who still have him, he could explain to them that taking a chance on his talent could be worth the investment.
For many evaluators, the Scouting Combine is used as a measurement scale to confirm what they’ve recognized on film. A guy like Courtland Sutton has a ton to confirm while in Indy. Sutton’s tape has shown much to desire in terms of upside and prototype. However, in many regards, his tape has left many undesirable impressions as well.
With his his ideal frame of 6’4″ and 220 pounds, Sutton has a chance to prove himself as a legitimate vertical threat at the next level. If he happens to run the 40 yard dash, anything above 4.55 will be beneficial to his campaign of being a first round selection.
Along with the long speed testing, Sutton will have much to prove in the route running segments as well. With running a fairly limited route tree in college, Sutton will need to show his ability to be a complete route runner, show fluidity in and out of his route breaks, and then be able to also track the ball in the air naturally on the passes that seem incapable of being caught. Courtland Sutton’s on-field performance in Indy could have his draft stock fluctuate anywhere from a Top 25 pick to somewhere in the mid to late area of Day 2.
Wild Card: Jaylen Samuels, North Carolina State
Testing/On Field: Hayden Hurst, South Carolina
With the tight end position, the Combine is crucial for draft value. With the evolution of the position from being a glorified blocker to a money making pass catcher, the Combine is an important platform for many guys to prove they’re the best of both worlds for an offensive scheme.
Jaylen Samuels is a unique prospect and with that he garners a unique subtitle. Scouts and evaluators were given the opportunity to evaluate Samuels as an “athlete-hybrid” prospect at the Senior Bowl, as he participated as a running back. Now he is going back to being a tight end prospect at the Combine, a position I feel he’s most naturally tailored to play at the next level.
In Indy, Samuels will be the subject of the “eye test” and will more than likely be asked in interviews if he’s willing to accept any creative role within an offensive scheme. Samuels is a truly a wildcard, but a prospect that brings forth a tremendous amount of intrigue.
Moving to the on-field, Hayden Hurst is a prospect that I’ve been able to evaluate in recent days, and boy, he is interesting. A former minor league baseball player, Hurst spent some time in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system before switching lanes and playing football for the Gamecocks. Hurst will be 25 years old as a rookie, therefore certain teams could be hesitant to invest early on him.
Hurst is a substantial pass catcher and blocker, but will have to prove himself as a clean route runner and a strong finisher of blocks. With the Combine being the land of opportunity to showcase both talents as a tight end, along with the potential of breaking a 4.5 in the 40 yard-dash, Hurst could begin to sneak his way up draft boards and trend towards being a first round pick.
Medical: Connor Williams, Texas
Testing/On Field: Chukwuma Okorafor, Western Michigan
While the Underwear Olympics might not be very flattering for an offensive lineman’s physique, a stellar performance could be very flattering for their draft stock. Testing in the 40 yard dash or vertical jump doesn’t hold any real significance to the hogs. However, leaving an impression while there could bode well, as majority of teams are always searching to bolster their trenches with youth and upside.
There doesn’t appear to be any real consensus on who is the top offensive tackle prospect for this draft, but many including myself believe Conner Williams is that guy. That is predominately due to his 2016 tape as he missed several games in 2017 with a lingering left knee injury.
When Williams was able to play, he was sharp. As aforementioned with Mark Walton, Williams has ensured teams he is 100% and plans on giving full participation at the Combine. If the medical clears out and Williams looks healthy, he is very well in the running to be first tackle to be drafted in April.
With offensive tackles always being somewhat of a scarce commodity, many teams tend to factor in upside as a main selling point on whether or not to draft a certain OT prospect. A prospect who has been the beneficiary of the upside factor is Western Michigan’s Chukwuma Okorafor.
The Nigeria and Botswana native moved to the United States in 2010 and has only played six years of organized football. Not only is he raw to the game of football itself, he is also a raw athlete. A drill that is going to hold much weight for Okorafor is the “mirror” and “kick slide” drills.
On film, Okorafor didn’t appear to have much movement fluidity, hip flexibility or bend. Since he is touted as a strong guy with a solid athletic prowess, those two movement drills will determine whether he can be refined to be starting tackle during year one, or if he’ll be a multi-season project at the position.