The yearly fun that is arguing over the importance of the combine will soon begin if it has not already. Analysts, draftniks, and even teams will debate the importance of 40 times, bench press reps, and the like. The great thing about the combine is that it puts all prospects on a level playing field in the same uncomfortable environment.
Even so, there are handfuls of prospects whose raw numbers at the combine mean little. That could be due to position or simply due to the already evident skillset they possess. For other prospects, the spotlight will shine bright when they toe the lines. A strong showing in events is a must. These are the guys who fit that mold, by position.
QB: Blake Bortles, Central Florida
Rumors swirl that the Houston Texans will consider selecting Blake Bortles with the first overall pick. One spotlight. Bortles has decided to participate in every event. Two spotlights. Other quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr will not be throwing in Indianapolis. Three spotlights.
The combine is a place where Bortles should stand out theoretically. One of his most commonly-placed descriptions is that he “looks the part” of an NFL QB. His size and movement skills are appealing and should impress scouts and coaches this weekend. Throwing drills are also a big chance for Bortles to show, up close, that the hitch in his delivery is not a fatal flaw. The velocity of his throws will also be closely watched, as it seemed to have dropped off in 2013 compared to his previous season.
RB: Jeremy Hill, LSU
As a bigger back, Jeremy Hill’s weigh-in will be eagerly received. Weight management is especially important for this type of back. The number he hits on the scale will say something about his work ethic since declaring. His past issues off the field will also be something teams hit on in their interviews with him. For obvious reasons, Hill needs to ace the off-field events of the weekend.
Timed drills have a higher level of importance for running backs. Jeremy Hill will be far from an exception. He must prove the foot quickness and agility he shows on tape and even go past that by showing burst and explosiveness to his movements. Even though he’s a big back, Hill’s running style requires a level of athleticism that matches the defenders who will pursue him on Sundays.
WR: Martavis Bryant, Clemson
Bryant has been a splash-play receiver for Clemson over the last two seasons. His production jumped up in 2013, but his projection to the NFL is still highly based on the projection of his size and athleticism. That is why his times will be closely watched. I expect Bryant to hit impressive marks in the 40 yards dash and vertical leap, both of which translate to the role one would expect him to play in the NFL.
His technique catching the ball will also come into focus in pass-catching drills. Bryant hasn’t been a stranger to drops over the last few seasons, often due to not properly high-pointing balls in the air or positioning his hands poorly. One good showing in a combine drill won’t alleviate those concerns entirely, but could say something about the work he’s put in to improve it up to this point.
TE: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
The most important number for Seferian-Jenkins in Indianapolis will be the one that comes up when he steps on the scale. He was listed at 276 pounds in 2013 and looked it athletically. Rumors that he has dropped 20 pounds for the combine have been thrown around. If true, that would say a lot about whether or not his weight can be managed. Interviews will also be important for Seferian-Jenkins, who found some trouble off the field during his time with the Huskies.
The numbers he puts up in on-field drills will be monitored closely as well. It’s likely that many teams have thresholds he will need to cross in order to be considered a viable receiver as a tight end. No team will draft Seferian-Jenkins because of dynamic athleticism, but he needs to put up times that indicate he can create an adequate amount of separation against NFL coverage.
OL: Seantrel Henderson, Miami
Offensive line is the position group that has the least to prove at the combine, especially in on-field drills. Seantrel Henderson has an important few days ahead though. The way he comes off in interviews could literally move him a round or more on draft day. His mentality, work ethic, and focus have all come into question during his time at Miami. He couldn’t even lock down a full-time starting spot for stretches of his senior season for the Canes.
Henderson should look the part in timed drills. He’s a behemoth tackle who moves with light feet and is athletic in space. If he comes in with disappointing numbers, questions about his preparation for the combine will surface. That’s the last thing he needs.
DT: Will Sutton, Arizona State
Sutton is another prospect whose ability to manage weight bears importance. Optimum Scouting’s Eric Galko reported that Sutton was told by Arizona State coaches to bulk up to 325 for the 2013 season after playing at 285 as a junior. Sutton tipped the scales at 315 in Mobile last month. If he can weigh in closer to 300 in Indianapolis, he can further assure teams that a return to the form of his junior season can be expected.
The quickness of Sutton’s first step is part of what made him so disruptive as a junior. Keep an eye on his ten yard split and 3 cone times. They will say a lot about how agile and quick his feet are. I expect him to time well in those drills.
DE: Aaron Lynch, South Florida
The biggest reason Aaron Lynch hits this list is because of the relative unknown to him. He’s only played two seasons of college football with a year off in between after a transfer. His playing time was limited in 2013 as South Florida rotated him in and out with regularity. He also just wasn’t the player most expected him to be this year after a highly promising freshman season at Notre Dame.
Lynch should be expected to put up impressive numbers in comparison to his counterparts at defensive end. His ability to overwhelm opponents with an explosive first step and sudden feet is what makes him so intriguing. His weigh-in results will be important as well consider his lean frame. He was listed at only 244 pounds in 2013 despite being 6’6”.
OLB: Khalil Mack, Buffalo
Opinions differ on just how athletic Khalil Mack really is. His level of competition leaves makes it difficult to evaluate his athleticism in comparison to other top pass rushers. His times in Indianapolis will be closely watched as he competes side by side with other great edge prospects.
Mack’s times in the 10 yard split, short shuttle, and 3 cone will be worth comparing with the likes of Anthony Barr and Dee Ford. Showing that he’s an elite talent athletically would surely cement Khalil Mack as a top ten if not top five pick.
ILB: Chris Borland, Wisconsin
After having what was widely-regarded as an impressive week at the Senior Bowl, Chris Borland has a chance to build on a successful pre-draft process. His lack of optimal size will have scouts and coaches eyeing his times closely.
Other deficiencies Borland has magnify his need to test well at the combine as well. His lack of size is combined with a lack of optimal strength as a tackler and inconsistencies diagnosing plays. Playing fast athletically is a must for Borland. He also still has something to prove when it comes to pass coverage, which could be alleviated to some degree by showing well in combine drills.
CB: Jason Verrett, TCU
Verrett’s weigh-in measurements are some of the most highly anticipated from secondary prospects. TCU lists him at 5’10” 176. Every eighth of an inch will count for something, especially if Verrett comes in under 5’10”. NFL teams will also be looking for Verrett to weigh in at over 180 pounds to be sure.
The quickness of Verrett’s feet also must show through in agility drills. At his weight, a timely 3 cone performance is vital. Where he clocks in with his 10 yard split and overall 40 time will also say something about his ability to play man coverage on the outside and run with athletic wide receivers. Finally, Verrett’s vertical will be closely watched considering how his lack of height brings concerns when it comes to competing with bigger receivers at the catch point.
S: Jonathan Dowling, Western Kentucky
Dowling is a prospect who’s most important events will happen away from the field. He was kicked off the Florida football team as a freshman after getting into heated arguments with position coaches and skipping practices. Teams will grill him on that in interviews.
The weight Dowling comes in at will also be monitored. Dowling has a very lean build. While that isn’t a fatal flaw in safety, he needs to prove he has the bulk and strength to be an effective tackler when he needs to be. Outside of that, expect Dowling to time well in on-field drills. He could be a late riser at the safety position.
Tags: Aaron Lynch, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Blake Bortles, Chris Borland, Jason Verrett, Jeremy Hill, Jonathan Dowling, Khalil Mack, Martavis Bryant, NFL Scouting Combine, Seantrel Henderson, Will Sutton