NFL Scouting Combine Preview - NFL Draft
The NFL off-season has only just begun and there is already an upcoming event to speculate and focus on. The NFL Scouting Combine is scheduled from February 23 to 26 and will test prospects in a wide-range of drills. While the 40-yard dash garners the biggest press, the vertical jump, broad jump, bench press, three-cone drill, shuttle run and array of positional drills are used to measure the athleticism of this year's draft class. Scouts, coaches and executives will take this information and apply it toward the 2013 NFL Draft which follows in late April.
All your favorite buzzwords are now in play: upside, length, potential, wingspan, frame, footwork, explosion, football IQ and the list goes on. From the BCS conferences to junior colleges, if a player has game, he will be evaluated whether it is at the Combine, a regional Combine (yes, these exist) or a college pro day.
Each year the Combine can heavily influence the NFL Draft and in this preview, I want to prognosticate about what you might expect from some key players at each position. In addition, I will highlight some possible diamonds in the rough that your team might target in the later rounds or perhaps as an undrafted free agent.
In part one of this two-part series, I will focus on the offense. Look for part two very soon.
The current prospect evaluations say even the best signal-callers in this class are second rounders at best. All eyes will also be on a solid group of second- and third-round QBs that could vie for higher consideration.
Geno Smith, West Virginia: There are few question marks regarding his arm strength. Look for a lot of questions about his footwork and ability to deliver a consistently accurate throw.
Matt Barkley, USC: Look for his grade to make a slight rebound over the coming months. His experience in a pro-style offense will help. Height, arm strength and throwing while on the move are his chief concerns.
Tyler Wilson, Arkansas: Above-average arm strength needs to be on display. A long delivery is a problem and scouts will want to see him get the football out quick and clean.
Mike Glennon, N.C. State: Huge frame will attract the traditionalists. He must improve his footwork and accuracy at the next level.
Other players to watch: Florida State's E.J. Manuel had a solid career and needs to display better finesse and touch on his short and intermediate routes. Tyler Bray of Tennessee is a hot and cold option with a gunslinger mentality. A poor junior year hurt him. Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib must improve his technique in his lower half. Miami of Ohio's Zac Dysert will often be compared to Ben Roethlisberger and it is a fair comparison, especially since they played at the same school.
Digging deeper: Oklahoma's Landry Jones may have once been considered a top QB prospect, but those days are long gone. He is projected to go in the middle rounds. Another mid-round option is Duke's Sean Renfree. His arm strength should secure him an opportunity as a backup.
This is considered a down year for the skill positions, but don't be fooled. The high turnover due to injuries can create opportunities for players even in the later rounds. There is talent to be found in the third round and beyond.
Giovani Bernard, UNC: Injury history and inconsistent pass coverage are concerns. He is very explosive as both a runner and receiver.
Eddie Lacy, Alabama: A late scratch to the Combine due to injury. Great north-south runner who can navigate through traffic. (Update: Lacy will not participate in Combine due to a hamstring injury.)
Montee Ball, Wisconsin: Average size and speed, but has been a durable back for the Badgers. Some off-field troubles may hurt him and will have to be addressed during the interviews.
Andre Ellington, Clemson: Terrific speed. Must learn to work between the tackles and not look for the edge. Violent runner that accelerates through the hole with serious burst.
Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State: Upright runner with so-so speed. Must continue to improve in making cuts and using his agility in open space.
Other names to watch: Stanford back Stepfan Taylor is a well-built runner that works well between the tackles, but lacks ideal speed. Le'Veon Bell from Michigan State is a thick player that delivers punishment to defenders. Good footwork and solid vision could make him an ideal "thunder" when paired with a teammate's "lightning." Rutgers' Jawan Jamison is a quick-twitch runner with some injury concerns. Arkansas RB Knile Davis had injury woes in 2011, but the back could rebound his draft stock by putting his speed on display.
Digging deeper: UCLA's Johnathan Franklin and Texas A&M's Christine Michael are two thicker backs that run hard. Oregon's Kenjon Barner could be a mid-round scat back. Mike Gillislee from Florida can run through tacklers and has solid speed and quickness. Pitt's Ray Graham and Vanderbilt's Zac Stacy are two shorter backs that run with tenacity and produced well while healthy.
RECEIVERS & TIGHT ENDS
While lacking a blue-chip receiver, the 2013 draft class runs deep. There should be a run on receivers and tight ends late in the second round and into the third.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee: An after-the-catch monster who will only improve once he cleans up his route-running. Must show more reliable hands.
Keenan Allen, WR, California: The safest choice for those looking for a No. 1 receiver. Height, length and hands are all excellent. Improvement in his separation skills are his primary concern. (Update: Allen will not participate in the Combine due to a knee injury.)
Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia: A true game-breaker with the ball in his hands. Undersized and lightning quick. Allows the ball into his body too often.
Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee: Athletic specimen who also excelled in track and field. Could have highest potential among his peers. Route-running is very raw.
Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame: Can line up out wide and is a natural receiver. In-line blocking is average and will likely need to add more strength. Huge frame.
Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford: Another big target at his position. Long arms, good blocker and can work the middle of the field. A well-balanced prospect who needs to run well.
Other names to watch: WR Aaron Dobson from Marshall has tremendous hands and can pluck it away from his body while airborne. Louisiana Tech's WR Quinton Patton is a great route runner with excellent hands. Baylor's WR Terrance Williams is a natural athlete with raw skills across the board. WR DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson is a bit undersized, but does almost everything well on the football field. USC's WR Robert Woods displayed a lack of concentration at times and his lean frame will need to grow.
At tight end, Jordan Reed of Florida will be compared to Aaron Hernandez. He can line up almost anywhere on the field and has noticeable athleticism and fluidity for the position. San Diego State's Gavin Escobar will need to run well considering his size and weight.
Digging deeper: Oregon State's WR Markus Wheaton has adequate speed and route-running to become a solid No. 2 receiver. WR Cobi Hamilton from Arkansas has a great frame and good length. Long strider who can work downfield and work the route tree. Washington State's Marquess Wilson played some quarterback, but is a natural athlete who may just need time to develop at the next level. Virginia Tech's Marcus Davis and Rutgers' Mark Harrison are two excellent athletes that both played in unreliable offenses. Both players could surprise once teamed with a NFL quarterback. Texas A&M's Ryan Swope is a steady receiver with a great all-around game.
TE Vance McDonald of Rice and Michigan State's Dion Sims are two big bruisers. Both will need to have solid 40-times to ensure they can not only block, but gain separation. Stanford's Levine Toilolo is 6'8" and moves well for his size with great hands. Travis Kelce from the University of Cincinnati is one of the better athletes at his position and must show he can hold his own as an in-line blocker.
An offensive lineman has not been the No. 1 pick since OT Jake Long was selected by the Miami Dolphins in 2008. That could finally change this year, but it is still too early for anything except speculation.
Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M: Superior technique and footwork could make him the No. 1 pick. Strength is only adequate and must improve.
Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama: One of the best guard prospects in years. Might be the best prospect at his position in this class. Few holes in his game.
Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan: Excellent Senior Bowl could make him a Top 10 pick. A lean player that moves extremely well in open spaces. Strength is lacking.
Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma: Quick riser on the draft boards. Limited experience as offensive lineman. Very tall and must remain low to maintain consistent leverage.
Jonathan Cooper, OG, UNC: Excellent in the open field. Elite footwork. Average size and strength, must improve long-term.
D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama: Likely limited to right tackle only. Needs to maintain a healthy playing weight. Powerful, but his movement skills look limited.
Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky: Less than ideal height. Sluggish release off the line. Great bender and technician. Could contribute immediately.
Other names to watch: Tennessee OT Dallas Thomas may eventually transition to guard due to below-average footwork. C Barrett Jones of Alabama is one of the most highly-decorated linemen to enter the draft in years. Virginia OT Oday Aboushi lacks the strength to play right tackle and may need a year of grooming to take over at left tackle. Syracuse OT Justin Pugh is excellent in pass protection and could afford to add some bulk and will probably play guard at the next level. Oregon OG Kyle Long is the son of former Oakland Raiders DT Howie Long and brother of current St. Louis Rams DE Chris Long. He will make a name for himself in the NFL.
Digging deeper: Kent State OG Brian Winters is quick off the line and possesses active hands to disrupt defenders. Off-field concerns could hurt Illinois OG Hugh Thornton. Florida State OT Menelik Watson is a terrific athlete that may be best-suited for a zone-blocking scheme. OT Terron Armstead of Arkansas Pine Bluff, a Southwestern Athletic Conference school, is rapidly moving up draft boards. OG Garrett Gilkey is a Division II prospect from Chadron State who formerly played tackle.