The NFL Combine

March 2, 2016

Since its inception in 1982 by former Dallas Cowboys president/general manager, Tex Schramm, the NFL Combine has become arguably the most highly evaluated event pre-draft. Its growth in both viewership and popularity has continued to grab the attention of scouts, general managers and coaches in attendance witnessing the greatest athletes performing a circuit of interviews, tests and drills.

These evaluations have proven to determine prospects’ future and destination come draft day. Every hundredth of a second could be the difference of a million dollars in salary, whether one is drafted/undrafted, and the culture in which a player is adopting.

Furthermore, it allows teams to decide which players they feel best fit their organization and position of need. Whether they’re selecting the potential face of the franchise, the unpolished prospect, or the one missing link that could get them over the hump.

The NFL combine is important, and players that attend can either hurt, help or maintain their placement in the minds of teams on the draft boards. Here’s a list of 10 players I believe have greatly affected their stock based on the performances this past weekend.

1) WR – Will Fuller (Rose – Hands)

Fuller put on a spectacle at this year’s combine. While playing under Coach Brian Kelly at Notre Dame, Fuller instilled fear into the minds of those covering him. Scouts have marveled at his speed, and clocking in a 4.32 40 yard dash only validated their sentiments. His ability to take the top off of coverages is rare; however, evaluators have questioned Fuller’s size, hands and route running ability.

This past weekend he managed to provide those answers, and did so by measuring at 6’0, 186 pounds, and displaying a great level of concentration and precision in his on-field drills. NFL Draft analyst and commentator, Todd McShay, was stated summarizing how well Fuller’s performance was and how it would enhance his stock come April.

McShay said, “I thought (Fuller) was very consistent catching the ball in drills. He had a great workout, so it certainly didn’t hurt him and if anything it will help him a little bit.” Though he may be passed on in the first round, I believe his performance has shorten the gap between top receivers Laquon Treadwell and Josh Doctson.

2) DL – Robert Nkemdiche (Fell — Off-field)

Teams have continued to express uncertainty in Nkemdiche. Though he produced great results in his drills and tests, his interviews with owners, managers and coaches have reportedly been cringe worthy.

Talent wise Nkemdiche is among the best in the draft, but admitting to taking plays off and openly addressing his involvement in the incident this past December that ultimately had him suspended for the Sugar Bowl have signaled red flags.

Teams that considered taking Nkemdiche in the top ten no longer have interest. In turn, he has been projected to fall to the bottom of the first round, according to Todd McShay’s recent Mock Draft Board.

3) QB – Jared Goff (Maintain — If you like what you see)

This year’s crop of quarterback prospects aren’t as revered as those years before. The two frontrunners are Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, who both happened to perform this past weekend. Of the two, I believe Goff had by far the better performance.

What you witnessed at the combine is exactly what you would expect from a highly touted prospect. Goff is undoubtedly the most pro-ready quarterback in this class, and is deserving of top 10 consideration. In his on field drills he was smooth in his drops, showcased a strong combination of arm strength and accuracy, anticipation, and polished mechanics.

Those that questioned Goff’s narrow frame were silenced once he measured at 6’4 and 215 pounds. Though not the biggest, teams are confident he will be able to hold up against NFL frontlines. If the Cleveland Browns opt to pass on Goff, I believe he will be off the draft boards by the Cowboys at pick no. 7.

4) CB – William Jackson (Rose – Conference)

Suffering the same fate many prospects encounter coming out of smaller football programs, Jackson has been widely overlooked throughout this year’s evaluation process. Despite Jackson having five interceptions and 23 pass defenses last season scouts have questioned the level of talent he’s faced playing in a dense American Athletic Conference (AAC).

However, this past weekend he proved his individual talent was as advertised. Jackson posted one of the fastest times in the 40 at 4.37 seconds and displayed fluid movement in DB drills. The performance he was able to generate has propelled him to be considered a top three prospect in an intensively deep cornerback class.

5) LB – Jaylon Smith (Fell — Injury)

Prior to the NFL combine former Notre Dame standout, LB Jaylon Smith, was considered a consensus top 15 pick. Unfortunately, Smith suffered a torn ACL in this year’s Fiesta Bowl and was unable to perform any physical activities in the combine. Instead, he opted to participate in a number of sit-downs with teams and team doctors.

Following a series of physical evaluations, it was presumed that the injury Smith suffered was even worse than physicians previously envisioned. There’s a possibility he may have to sit out another season. Though Smith has remained positive, there are no guarantees of full recovery and the risk it has posed for teams has run off a lot of potential bidders.

6) RB – Derrick Henry (Rose — Test Out/3 Downs)

Reigning Heisman winner Derrick Henry impressed a number of teams at the combine. Scouts have already raved about Henry’s size for the position. At 6’ 3 and nearly 250 pounds he is merely a linebacker with 4.54 speed rushing the ball. It was no surprise when Henry recorded 22 bench reps, jumped 37’ and had an astounding 10’ 10 broad jump.

However, in drills he displayed improved lateral quickness and his ability to catch in the backfield, both questioned by scouts prior to his performance. Prior to his performance Henry was considered a solid second round entry. However, according to writer DMooreNFL of SB Nation, Henry’s stock may have pushed him into the bottom of the first round.

7) DL – Joey Bosa (Maintain — Tape)

Immediately following the 2015 college football season Joey Bosa was regarded as potentially the no. 1 pick in the draft. However, after posting sub-par numbers at the combine with a 4.87 second 40 and 32” vertical many questions have manifested. Still, scouts have relied on Bosa’s tape as an accurate barometer of his impact on the field, those beyond tests and drills.

Evaluators have compared Bosa to Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt. Though his numbers may not measure up among the elite in the draft, his play on tape outweighs what he may lack athletically. There is no question, Bosa is a top five talent despite his pedestrian numbers. It would be a surprise to see him on the boards outside of the top 10.

8) QB – Paxton Lynch (Fell — Sucks)

Lynch’s performance was simply unimpressive. At 6’7 and 240 pounds he surely looks the part, but he had absolutely too many blunders throwing the ball. Watching film of Lynch at Memphis one is initially in awe of his jaw dropping arm strength, and this past weekend it was on full display.

However, the inaccurate throws and lack of anticipation were alarming. His porous performance only validated scouts’ previous dissensions with Lynch as a prospect. Again, Lynch has the physical tools of a NFL quarterback, but it’s difficult to see him starting year one with the holes he has in his game.  Evaluators expect Lynch to be a day two or day three pick.

9) OL – Laremy Tunsil (Maintain — All-Arounder)

Tunsil is undoubtedly the best OL in this year’s class, and with the performance he displayed this past weekend he’s proven to be the best player in the entire draft regardless of position. Tunsil absolutely exceled in individual drills.

His lateral quickness, polished footwork and natural athleticism is unmatched. He has the complete package and the potential to be an effective franchise caliber left tackle in the NFL. One that will be a great plug in for a young Titans offense and a key anchor for a struggling offensive line. A line that last season failed to protect second year quarterback Marcus Mariota who was sacked 38 times in just 12 games.

10) CB – Jalen Ramsey (Rose — Beast)

Jalen Ramsey had a tremendous NFL Combine, one many evaluators believe has solidified his placement as the top DB in this draft. His 4.41 40, 41.5” vertical and 11’ 3” broad jump was earth shattering, especially when you consider his size at 6’1 and a solid 202 pounds.

He has the size, length and speed to contest throws among the elite receivers in the game. His on-field drills showcased his versatility to be able to play both the cornerback and safety position. His drop backs were smooth and his hips were fluid. Wherever he is placed on the field he is going to produce and elevate the second level of the defense.

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