The NFL Combine is the second big event of the pre-draft process and it is our first opportunity to see the underclassmen since they declared early for the draft. Every year the importance of the combine is questioned. While it has importance, people have to remember not to let it dramatically swing their opinion on a player, yet instead, use as an additional resource in evaluating these players. Some of the most important parts of the combine we are not allowed to see on the television, such as the correct measurements, medical checks and interviews. On the field it allows us an opportunity to put every player, from every level, on an equal playing field, in evaluating their athleticism, speed, strength and talents in a variety of ways. Below are the top storylines and players from the offensive skill positions that I am most intrigued with following throughout the event.
[am4show have=’g1;’ guest_error=’sub_message’ user_error=’sub_message’ ]
The Big Three Quarterback All Plan to Compete
One of the things I am most looking forward to this year is that as of now, all three of the big quarterbacks: Jared Goff (California), Carson Wentz (North Dakota St.) and Paxton Lynch (Memphis) plan to compete in all the drills. So often the top quarterbacks in the draft decide not to compete, so it is exciting to see all three of them willing to let it rip in the passing drills on Saturday. For Wentz, he will try to build off all his momentum he built at the Senior Bowl, and for Goff and Lynch they will get their opportunity to show that they deserve as much or more of the attention that Wentz has been getting.
Connor Cook, Michigan State
Of all the quarterbacks heading to the Combine, none is under more pressure than Cook. After passing on the Senior Bowl and with all the questions about his leadership being discussed, Cook needs to have a strong performance this week. He has to perform well in his interviews, and then back it up with a strong performance in the passing drills. If he does both of them, he will have a chance to push his name back into consideration for the late part of round one. If he struggles in either area, he may be waiting to round three before he has his name called.
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
As recently as last May, Hackenberg was considered a potential top five pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Right now he is considered as a second or third-round pick, with a ton of question marks. Hackenberg has really struggled, especially with his accuracy and decision making, after a strong freshman season, when Penn State was coached by Bill O’Brien, who is now head coach of the Houston Texans. There is no question Hackenberg has arm talent, but he needs to show more consistency and accuracy. He needs to hope one or two teams fall in love with him this week, to have any chance at pushing himself into the back end of round one or early part of round two.
Cardale Jones, Ohio State
If Jones had declared last year after winning the National Championship, I think there would have been a strong possibility of him being selected in the late part of round one or early part of round two. After going back to school, struggling, and being benched in favor of J.T. Barrett, Jones needs a strong performance this week just in order to hear his name called before the third day of the draft. While Jones has elite arm strength to push the ball vertically down the field, he struggled with progressions and accuracy this past season.
Other Quarterbacks to Watch: Dak Prescott (Mississippi St), Jeff Driskel (Louisiana Tech)
Derrick Henry, Alabama
The Heisman Trophy winner comes into the combine with a handful of question marks; his speed, agility and hands that he will have to try and answer. Of all the top players in attendance this week, I think Henry’s timed scores will be closely scrutinized the most. People will want to see his long speed in the 40 yard dash and probably even more important will be the different drills that test his agility, change of direction and quickness. If Henry can check off most of those boxes, he has a chance to push himself into the late part of round one. I expect him to struggle in some of those drills and be taken somewhere in round two.
Devontae Booker, Utah
Since an injury ended Booker’s senior season, he has seemed to be flying under the radar. Booker will hope to use the combine as a spring board up the running back rankings. All signs currently point to him being fully healthy enough to run and compete in the drills. The medical check will obviously be important for him this week, and if that goes well, I expect Booker to be one of the big winners of the week. Booker is one of my favorite running backs in the draft this year, and I believe he has a chance to be the second or third running back selected. Booker can play on all three downs, as he has the power and strength to run inside as well as the speed to get to the outside. In addition, he is one of the best receiving backs in the draft this year. Last year when many expected Booker to declare early, Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network compared him to former New York Giant, Tiki Barber and that comparison has always stuck well for me.
Jordan Howard, Indiana
Howard is another name that has not generated much buzz until recently in the running back rankings. After transferring to Indiana from UAB and taking over for Tevin Coleman, who was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons last year, Howard instantly became the focal point of the offense. Howard rushed for 1213 yards and nine touchdowns in only eight games due to injuries. Similar to Booker, the medical check will be important this week. Listed in college at 6’1” and 230 pounds, it will be interesting to see his actual measurements this week. When he runs, he is big and powerful but also possesses good speed to get to the outside and make people miss in the open field. He also is a solid receiver out of the backfield. Over the next few months, Howard could see his value rise in the draft process and push his way into consideration to be one of the first five running backs selected.
Other Running Backs to Watch: Alex Collins (Arkansas), Paul Perkins (UCLA), CJ Prosise (Notre Dame)
Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
For many, Treadwell is the unquestioned top receiver available in the draft this year. Treadwell has elite size, strength, can high point the ball well and be physical at the catch point. He has been compared to elite NFL wide receivers such as Alshon Jeffrey, Dez Bryant and Jordy Nelson. Even with all of the lofty praise, Treadwell has some questions to answer this week and none more important than his speed. Treadwell has chosen not to run the 40 yard dash at the combine, saying he has not had enough time to prepare. This makes me believe he is concerned that he may have run in the 4.6 or 4.7 range and rather wait to his pro day, where scores are usually lower.
Corey Coleman, Baylor
Coleman enters the combine with two big question marks that NFL teams need to find out the answers to. The first one is his actual measurements. While he was listed at Baylor at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, there have been some rumors that his actual height may be closer to 5-foot-9. While two inches may not seem like a big difference, for NFL teams it will considering how few NFL elite receivers there have been at that height. The second big question mark is just how fast he will run. His body type looks more of like a running back than a receiver, and his actual long speed in the 40-yard dash may not be as fast as some may expect after watching him on film always running down the field past defenders. If he runs a time in the high 4.4 range, rather than somewhere in the 4.3’s, that could hurt his draft stock a little.
De’Runnya Wilson, Mississippi State
While Wilson does not enter the combine ranked as highly as Treadwell, he comes in with similar questions. While Wilson has been effective the previous two years in college, there are many that question his speed and whether he has the ability to create separation at the top of his routes against NFL defenders. While many do not expect him to put up a blazing time in the 40 yard dash, teams will be concerned if he runs a 4.6 or worse. If he also struggles in the change of direction drills, some will question whether or not he can be more than a red zone weapon. If teams view him solely as that, that may push him into day three of the draft.
Other Wide Receivers to Watch: Tyler Boyd (Pittsburgh), Josh Doctson (TCU), Will Fuller (Notre Dame), Roger Lewis (Bowling Green), Rashard Higgins (Colorado State), Duke Williams (Auburn)
Hunter Henry, Arkansas & Austin Hooper, Stanford
Henry and Hooper are considered the top two tight ends in the draft but both enter the week with similar question marks. Teams will be interested in watching both of these players closely to see their athleticism, speed and hands during the different workouts. Last year at this time, Maxx Williams entered the combine with a first-round grade from many, but a poor showing in some of the tests dropped his value and Williams was not taken until the late part of round two. I think this year people are valuing Henry currently as a round two prospect and Hooper as a third-round prospect. It will be interesting to see if either improve or hurt their perceived value following the event.
Thomas Duarte, UCLA
Duarte played wide receiver for the Bruins this year and had a very good season catching 53 passes for 872 yards and 10 touchdowns. At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Duarte has good size but many do not believe he has the speed or athleticism to match up well with NFL cornerbacks on the outside. Therefore, he has been asked to switch positions and work out with the tight ends at the combine. This could be a move that really benefits Duarte and leads to him having a productive NFL career. In a down year overall for tight end prospects, teams will be interested in watching Duarte closely to see if he can become a move tight end that plays off the line of scrimmage or in the slot. If matched up often with linebackers, safeties or slot corners, Duarte could use his size as a major advantage to create mismatches for the offense, especially near the end zone. It will be interesting to see how Duarte looks in positional drills and how fast he runs the 40 compared to the other tight ends.
Other Tight Ends to Watch: Jerell Adams (South Carolina), Tyler Higbee (Western Kentucky), Nick Vannett (Ohio State)