It’s that time of the year again, where we all don our scouting caps and pretend we know how to break down raw NFL talent. Technically, the NFL Combine began on Tuesday (Feb. 28) in Indianapolis. The first couple days are strictly for registration, medical exams, and interviews, though. The on-field workouts will begin Friday (Mar. 3), as the special teams players, offensive linemen, and running backs get the party started.
The combine is seen as an opportunity for players to showcase their raw athleticism and physical skills. Players often drastically alter their draft stock based on their performances on the field, as well as how they interview. Some players have already done enough over their collegiate careers to cement their place in the first round of the NFL Draft, regardless of what they do at the combine. Those are not the players I want to focus on this coming weekend. Instead, I’m looking at those who need a positive showing in order to hear their names called on day one.
So while you’re playing GM this weekend, here are ten guys you should keep your eyes on.
Deshaun Watson, QB (Clemson)
Clemson’s National Champion quarterback is one of the toughest players to project in the draft. In some mocks, you’ll find him going as high as second to San Francisco; others have him still on the board when the second and third-rounds take place on April 28th.
Watson’s three years in college proved he has all the intangibles and athleticism you seek in a quarterback. The former ACC Offensive Player of the Year consistently displayed leadership and the ability to perform in crunch-time. However, he also showed inconsistent accuracy, often leaving the ball behind his intended target on mid to intermediate-level throws and overthrowing the deep-ball.
If Watson wants to cement himself in the first round, he will have to exhibit accuracy and touch during his on-field workouts.
Patrick Mahomes, QB (Texas Tech)
With the news that New England has decided not to trade Jimmy Garoppolo, quarterback-needy teams just lost one of their prime targets. This, along with his supreme arm talent, opens the door for Mahomes to slide into the first-round. The Texas Tech product has shown a ton of athleticism and a great deal of accuracy during his three years in college. The biggest scare for NFL teams is his love of the big-play, and his eagerness to leave the pocket.
Unfortunately, he won’t be able to prove he has corrected those flaws this weekend, but he can continue to wow scouts with his arm-strength and accuracy. If he performs well enough in the throwing session, Mahomes can really shake up the draft board for QBs.
Christian McCaffrey, RB (Stanford)
McCaffrey is the most versatile back to enter the NFL since Reggie Bush in 2006. Over his last two seasons, he racked up 4,577 yards from scrimmage and 1,614 return yards. The son of former NFL receiver Ed McCaffrey can do it all on offense. Just get the ball in his hands in space.
Yet, scouts are pointing to his lack of size and breakaway speed as reason to push him down the board. The concerns are that McCaffrey doesn’t have the bulk to handle 20 carries per game, and may not be overly effective between the tackles. His ability to line-up all over the field and create mismatches is certainly enticing, though. After only recording ten reps in the bench press, the Stanford product will need to test well in the 40-yard dash and cone drills to prove he’s worth a first-round pick.
John Ross, WR (Washington)
There isn’t any scout who questions Ross’ explosion. But there are doubters when it comes to his size and ability to get off the press. At just 190 pounds, the Husky struggled at times when being pressed and often failed to snag contested catches.
Unfortunately, we won’t get to see Ross against press coverage at the combine, nor will we see him making a catch with a defender draped all over him. You can be sure his bench press and gauntlet drill will be highly-anticipated, though.
Zay Jones, WR (East Carolina)
Not many players did more for themselves at the Senior Bowl than Jones. The ex-Pirate made one big-play after another, while displaying incredible hands on tightly contested underneath throws. That phenomenal performance moved him up many draft boards. However, scouts still haven’t seen the burst or breakaway speed to test NFL corners on the outside.
There will be a lot of teams watching Jones run the 40-yard dash and work through the cones.
David Njoku, TE (Miami)
Njoku is an absolute freak of an athlete. He stands 6’4″ and possesses a 245-pound frame, yet has shown the speed and smooth routes of a wide receiver. Scouts have concerns over his (in)experience as a tight end, his ability to block NFL defenders in the box, and his inconsistent hands.
Everyone is aware Njoku is going to blow us away with his athleticism, but he will need to show well during the on-field drills to find his way into the first-round.
Adam Shaheen, TE (Ashland)
Shaheen is one of the biggest mysteries of the 2017 draft. Coming out of DII Ashland University in Ohio, Shaheen spent his entire collegiate career bullying inferior talent. The tight end has been grabbing attention with his size (6’7″, 277 pounds) and athleticism, but keeps hearing the criticism over his weak opponents.
You’ll want to catch everything he does at the combine.
Haason Reddick, EDGE (Temple)
Remember what I said about Zay Jones earlier? Reddick is the rare exception who had a better performance at the Senior Bowl. The Temple product played the majority of his college career with his hand in the ground, but was asked to stand up during the week of Senior Bowl practices. As a linebacker, Reddick’s athleticism really jumped out.
Teams will have to decide whether he has the necessary athleticism to play as a Will, or try to bulk him up to play the edge. Reddick has a lot riding on every test he is put through in Indianapolis.
Jalen “Teez” Tabor, CB (Florida)
Judging by his tape, Tabor is arguably a top-ten pick in the draft. When you take into account his attitude and off-field issues, he’s a borderline first-rounder. The former Gator is seen as a pure cover corner who can step in right away at the NFL level, but teams will have to decide whether they want his character in the locker room.
Tabor is going to have to test well this weekend to convince a team he’s worth the possible headaches.
Jabrill Peppers, S (Michigan)
The 2016 Heisman candidate is one of the most-discussed prospects entering the NFL Draft. Peppers is seen as too weak in deep-zone coverage to play safety in the NFL, and too small to play linebacker. His athleticism, relentless pursuit, and play-making ability still have him buzzing around the first round.
This kid is going to destroy all the physical tests the combine has in store. If he can prove his bona fides as a ball-hawk in the on-field drills, he’s apt to go on the first day of the draft.
Let's have fun and keep it civil.