The NFL Scouting Combine is the most over-hyped event of the season not just in football, but in the entire sports season. The sports media goes crazy over 40 times and bench press reps, but the truth is fast guys look fast on tape and strong guys look powerful on the football field in actual games.
Having said all this, it’s still a crucial time for three reasons. One, medical evaluations on players with previous or current injuries. A player with a recent injury can save their high draft stock if he is cleared while a player with a previous injury can be taken off nearly every team’s draft board if there is nerve damage or if something hasn’t healed correctly.
Two, the interview process is huge for every prospect, not just those with some off the field issues. Teams want to make sure the guys they are drafting fit the mentality their coaching staff wants. Some teams demand high character guys or “tough guys” or guys who are football junkies. Some teams value that a lot less, but they still want to make sure they like what they hear from a player they might be drafting pretty early.
The third reason is the workouts, but only for certain players. We already know players like Dalvin Cook and John Ross can fly and that Jonathan Allen and Reuben Foster are powerful. But the players that are really protected by their scheme or wide outs who didn’t get a lot of deep balls because their quarterback didn’t have an arm for it, those players can really help or hurt themselves in Indy.
Here are those 10 prospects that I will be watching closely at the combine:
Brian Hill RB/Wyoming- I am a big Brian Hill fan. I love his patience and vision and I love him in short yardage situations. Running backs rarely get my attention during the combine because it’s hard to protect them. Their speed, quickness, power, vision and ball security are on full display on every carry. Having said that, Hill didn’t get tested against future NFL talent while playing Wyoming’s schedule.
I am very interested to see what he weighs in at, his 40 time and 3-cone drill. Right now he is my number 5 ranked running back, but I will drop him down if he runs slower and weighs in lighter than expected. Great vision is useless if you can’t hit the hole quickly or make defenders miss at the second level.
Mike Williams WR/Clemson- John Ross and Corey Davis are covering from injuries and will not be running at the combine, but Mike Williams will. This is a really good opportunity for him to move up on most teams boards as the top wide out in the draft. My concern with his tape is that he doesn’t separate from DBs. Don’t get me wrong, he’s an elite possession receiver and a solid first round pick, but you don’t take a wide receiver in the top 20 unless you feel they can stretch the field.
A good 40 and 3-cone time will do wonders for his draft stock. He was primarily used on fades and back shoulder passes at Clemson so I have no idea how fast he really is. If his 40 is under 4.5 and his 3-cone is under 7 seconds I think he is a lock for the top 10.
Eric Saubert TE/Drake- Drake is university that I am very close to. I’ve been a season ticket holder and supporter of their basketball program for years and I have family that works for the university. Their campus is 20 minutes from my house. So I can say this with complete confidence: this program is basically a division II program(they play at the FCS level but are non-scholarship in football).
He really flashed on tape and was dominant in practice at the East-West Shrine Game, but because of his competition level in college he needs to run well at the combine. He’s a hybrid receiver more than a true tight end so how he runs and jumps will greatly affect his stock. He wasn’t a good blocker, even against inferior competition. A bad 40 time could crush his stock.
Antonio Garcia OT/Troy- Scouts and coaches love this kid. He’s a long and athletic left tackle who is a nasty blocker who finishes every single play. He held his own against a loaded Clemson squad and is everything you would want from a left tackle. There’s just one problem, he weighed in at just 293 pounds at the Senior Bowl in January. That’s really light for a left tackle.
I’m not too concerned how Garcia runs at the combine. His athleticism was proven on tape all season long. His weight and his bench press reps is what I’m interested in. He doesn’t need to put up 45 reps, but if he stays toward the middle of the pack of offensive tackles at the bench press, I’ll be happy. I also want to see a weight around 300 pounds. If it’s even lower than the 293 number he had down in Mobile, I will be very concerned.
Tanoh Kpassagnon DE/Villanova- Two reasons I am really interested how this kid performs in Indy. One, he’s a physical freak and two, he played at the FCS level. No detailed analysis needed here. This kid looks like monster compared to pro wrestlers. How he runs will give us a good indication of how disruptive he can be as a pass rusher.
Malik McDowell DL/Michigan State- The Jabrill Peppers of defensive linemen. He played both defensive tackle and end in college and he was dominant at both positions. He’ll put on a show athletically, that part I’m not worried about.
What I am worried about is his weight. He was listed between 275-285 in college and weight is usually exaggerated a little bit by the schools. Ideally he is closer to 290 so I can feel better about him making a living inside. He’s a much better pass rusher inside. He’s a top 50 pick if teams feel like he can hold up playing DT in base and sup-packages. If he’s just a nickel pass-rusher I think his stock drops a bit.
Anthony Walker LB/Northwestern- Walker is an extremely well-coached linebacker who does all the little things well and has great instincts at the position. His athleticism is the big question mark. I know he can play in this league, but his exact role and how early he gets drafted depend greatly on how well he runs in Indy.
At his combine, Luke Kuechly posted a sub 4.6 40 and a very quick 3-cone drill. It vaulted him into the top 10 of the 2012 draft. Now Walker isn’t on Kuechly’s level, but if he runs well he could rise up on everyone’s big board.
Marlon Humphrey CB/Alabama- There is a lot to like about Humphrey’s game. He’s big, physical against the run and is a natural in zone. What scares me is how much Alabama protected him in coverage and that his recovery speed may be below average for cornerback.
A good 40 time will do wonders for Humprhey. You don’t take a corner early in the draft if you don’t think he can hold up in single coverage.
Chidobe Awuzie CB/Colorado- Scouts are talking about this kid playing safety at the next level. There is a lot to like about his game, but he may not have enough speed to hold up as an outside corner. I love his instincts, technique and ability in run support but if he doesn’t run well he has no shot at being drafted before the fifth round and he would probably have to move to safety.
Rasul Douglas CB/West Virginia- I’m a big fan of this kid’s game. He’s big, physical and he doesn’t back down to anyone. He has that “me against the world” mentality you want out of your outside cornerbacks. Right now I have him graded as a second round prospect, but if he runs well I’ll raise him to the first round.
He’s a great match-up corner against bigger wide outs(shut down ISU’s Allen Lazard who he followed all game), but I’m not sure he isn’t a liability against deep threats.