NFL combine preview: Top 15 to watch in medicals, interviews, drills, measurements
The NFL Scouting Combine is an annual invitation-only event where 300-plus prospects are put through a grueling job-interview process that tests them physical and mentally. The combine is broken down into four separate categories: medical evaluations, interview process, agility/positional drills and verified measurements.
When high school students apply to college, they rely on grade point average, extracurricular activities and athletics, but that’s not quite enough. Admissions departments need SAT and ACT scores, or in other words, they want to know how students test. High school transcripts and grades aren’t on the same level around the country, with different curriculum in different parts of the country. But standardized testing (right or wrong) puts all students on a level playing field.
That’s the NFL combine.
The 330 invited this year in Indianapolis represent 330 different situations and game tapes. But starting Tuesday through March 6, they will be evaluated in the same environment at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Below are 15 prospects in each of the four combine categories who bear watching.
The combine started in the early 80s as a way for teams to perform medical checks at a neutral site instead of forcing all these players to travel to go through the same exams. And that’s one of the main reasons the combine is in Indianapolis, because of the medical equipment available. Over 350 MRIs are conducted in only a handful of days, making it difficult on a host city to accommodate the demands.
Medical information is the most important step at the combine.
Florida State Seminoles
Dating to high school, Cook has undergone three shoulder surgeries, and potential long-term effects are the only roadblock keeping him from landing in Round 1.
Fournette missed five games in 2016 and parts of others because of a “reoccurring” issue with ligaments in his left ankle. Teams are crossing their collective fingers that there isn’t permanent damage.
One of the best stories in sports the past year, Conner was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma last offseason before he was announced cancer-free last May. He also tore the MCL in his right knee during the 2015 season, so his check-up will be important.
A candidate to run the fastest 40-yard dash, Ross has speed to burn. But the most important step is the medicals. Since the 2014 season, he has had surgeries on both knees and plans to have another in March to repair a torn labrum. The medicals, not the 40-yard dash, likely will determine whether Ross lands in Round 1.
Western Michigan Broncos
Unfortunately, teams won’t have the opportunity to see Davis run because of recent ankle surgery. The issue has been described as “minor,” but the medical information will still be crucial to his evaluation.
Following the ACL tear in his right knee in the Orange Bowl, Butt won’t work out, but teams will have the chance to be updated on his rehab.
He’s the best offensive line prospect in the 2017 class, but he is also recovering from hip surgery, and the medical reports will be crucial to him landing in the top 20.
Lawson put together a much needed healthy season in 2016, but his injury history is still a concern, missing the 2014 season because of an ACL tear in his left knee and sitting out most of the 2015 season because of a cracked hip.
Alabama Crimson Tide
With his violent playing demeanor, Foster is bound to have bumps and bruises lingering from the 2016 season. He has a history of shoulder stingers, suffered a concussion last October and had right rotator cuff surgery in February.
A first-round player on tape, Davis probably won’t land in Round 1 because of his extensive injury history, including two season-ending injuries: a torn meniscus in his left knee (2014) and a badly sprained ankle (2016).
, LB, Florida
Another talented but oft-injured linebacker from Florida, Anzalone just couldn’t stay healthy, notably with a banged-up right shoulder that cost him most of his first three seasons in Gainesville. He also broke his left arm, which ended his 2016 season prematurely.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Although he stayed healthy in 2016, Lattimore struggled to stay on the field his first two seasons in Columbus because of chronic hamstring issues, dating to his high school days. Doctors will need to sign off on his medicals before a team uses a top-10 pick on him, which is where Lattimore’s talent belongs.
, FS, Ohio State
Hooker isn’t expected to work before the draft because of recent hernia and labrum surgeries. How is his rehab? Will he be 100 percent for training camp? Those questions need to be answered before a team invests a top-10 pick on the talented safety.
, FS, Alabama
A broken leg in October ended Jackson’s college career and has kept him sidelined. Will he work out at the combine? When will he be 100 percent?
, SS, Florida
Maye, who has a few older injuries (torn MCL) that need to be checked, missed the final three games of the 2016 season and the Senior Bowl because of a broken left arm.
If medicals are the most important aspect, interviews are second. Each team can schedule up to 60 15-minute sit-downs, making it basically a speed-dating exercise.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
I feel confident saying there will be several NFL teams who have Kizer as the No. 1 quarterback. But there will be important questions for him to answer, including why the Irish managed only four wins in 2016. NFL teams have seen the tape and will have their own opinions, but they will want to hear Kizer’s opinion.
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
Mahomes should test and throw well; the tape shows that. But where is he mentally in his development? He is still very young in football years, and these meetings will be key for teams to project when Mahomes will be ready to see meaningful NFL snaps.
Virginia Tech Hokies
In his one season in Blacksburg, Evans flashed intriguing ability, but consistency was an issue. Why not return to school and further his development? Why enter the draft now? His answers will be important.
Although he is well-liked within the Volunteers’ program, Kamara has an immature past, including two suspensions during his time in Tuscaloosa, which led to Nick Saban booting him. He also was arrested after he left the Tide for driving on a suspended license and failure to appear. It doesn’t sound like teams are too worried about his character, but that won’t stop teams from asking tough questions.
Williams has speed to burn and might run a legitimate 4.3 40. But more important, he needs to nail interviews and provide answers that help teams feel more comfortable about his four-game “retirement” early in his senior season. He also was kicked off the team at UConn in 2013 after an arrest for larceny and theft of a credit card. His red flags are brighter than the Utes’ jerseys.
Factoring in the NFL’s new combine policies, it is a surprise Westbrook even received an invite. He has been arrested three times, twice for domestic violence incidents that involved the mother of his children. Westbrook also has some focus issues that have scouts concerned about his mental commitment.
Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M
A quick-twitch athlete oozing with talent, Noil never was consistently productive with the Aggies. And his questionable makeup is one of the culprits, including multiple marijuana-related suspensions and issues in the locker room that concern scouts.
, OT, Alabama
Although the district attorney decided not to purse prosecution, Robinson will still need to answer for an incident last May where he was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and a stolen gun.
Southern California Trojans
The medicals are crucial to Wheeler’s final evaluation, as are interviews. He was arrested in December 2015 after a belligerent encounter with police at the apartment of his girlfriend and their young child. Bean bag rounds were required to subdue him, and Wheeler was held for psychiatric evaluation.
Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes
Talent isn’t the question. Muhammad was one of three defenders dismissed at Miami last summer following an investigation into their relationship with a luxury car rental company. Muhammad, who also missed the 2014 season because of a suspension after a fight with a former student, has been training for the draft since his dismissal last August, but what kind of shape is he in? What has he been doing to train the past six months?
, DE/OLB, Alabama
Labeled as a potential
situation, Williams needs to ace interviews and quell the notion that marijuana and other activities are more important than football if he wants to land in Round 1.
Michigan State Spartans
Based on talent, McDowell belongs in the top five overall of this class. But his football makeup is a concern and teams will want to know why he appeared to shut things down once Michigan State’s season went south in 2016.
, DL, Oklahoma
Walker, who also has a history of concussions, left the Sooners’ program at midseason to start his preparation for the draft. The move wasn’t well received by Oklahoma coaches, and NFL teams, as well as some of his former teammates, will be eager to hear his explanation.
, DL, Notre Dame
Jones flashes legitimate first-round talent, but lacks consistency. Also factor in that he “wore down” the Notre Dame coaching staff, according to one source, and teams will have plenty of questions about his character.
, CB, Florida
A brash player on the field, Tabor has the cocky attitude that sometimes extends off the field, rubbing some the wrong way. And those immature tendencies led to multiple suspensions at Florida.
The sexiest aspect is the athletic testing. The 40-yard dash, vertical, broad jump, bench press, and a few others. They allow teams to match quantitative data with a player’s tape. The drills help provide context with each prospect participating on the same field, in the same setting and under the same circumstances (unlike campus pro days where scouts have to adjust for tracks, grass, wind, weather and other factors).
Some label the combine as nothing more than the “Underwear Olympics,” but longtime NFL scout C.O. Brocato, one of my mentors, once told me, “Those who don’t value the combine don’t know how to properly use it.”
, RB, North Carolina A&T
At only 5-foot-6 and 178 pounds, Cohen won’t impress during the weigh-in portion, so his athletic skills must grab the attention of scouts. Cohen, who anchored his high school’s state championship 400-meter relay team, ran away from defenders at the FCS level, and NFL teams are eager to get exact numbers on the talented athlete.
No one expects the talented Clemson wideout to run a 4.3 40. But is Williams a 4.52 athlete? Or more of a 4.58 athlete? With Western Michigan’s Corey Davis (ankle) unable to work out, Williams has the stage to prove why he should be the first wide receiver drafted.
California Golden Bears
Hansen, who ran track at Idaho State before transferring to Cal, should finish as one of the top performers across the board. He has the long-speed, short-area quickness and change of direction movements that translate to the next level.
, WR, Eastern Washington
Kupp will ace the interview process and he offers the most prolific wide receiver résumé the FCS has produced. He has vacuum hands and makes himself available in his routes, but running a solid 4.5 time in the 40-yard dash will help teams feel better about his evaluation.
, WR, USC
There is plenty to like, but on tape he doesn’t have the dynamic speed to consistently separate, making his numbers in the 40-yard dash and short-area quickness drills important.
, TE, Miami (Fla.)
A national champion high jumper in high school, Njoku has freakish athleticism and could leave Indianapolis as one of the big winners. He shows impressive speed, agility and burst on film, but producing the numbers to match could give him the edge for some teams over
as the top tight end.
Adam Shaheen, TE, Ashland
A prospect with “wow” tape, Shaheen dominated Division II competition, running by and over defenders with ease. He looks like a 4.7 athlete on film, which would be truly impressive for a 275-pounder, but facing players from programs like Lake Erie and Michigan Tech can make it tough to truly gauge his athletic skill set. I expect Shaheen to create a lot of buzz.
, DE, Tennessee
Barnett has excellent tape and production, moving well with natural bend. But he isn’t a twitched-up athlete who explodes by blockers with speed and burst alone, and his workout numbers likely will back that up.
With his current shoulder issue, McKinley’s medicals will be crucial. But his workouts will take some of the focus off his injury and allow everyone to appreciate his athleticism. McKinley, who ran a 10.71 in the 100 meters as a 235-pounder in high school, might break the 4.5 mark in the 40-yard dash at 250 pounds.
Tyus Bowser, DE/OLB,
Bowser, who also played two seasons on Houston’s basketball team, looks like a bodybuilder and is a silky, smooth mover at 244 pounds. He is already considered a Day 2 prospect by many around the league, and his numbers in Indianapolis should confirm that.
A projected top-10 pick, Thomas is going to “drop jaws” with workouts, according to a Stanford assistant coach. At 6-foot-2 and 270 pounds, he has some tweener traits, but with his blend of speed, burst and power, coaches and scouts will bang the table to add him to the defensive line rotation.
, DL, Florida State
With 45 tackles for loss over his career, Walker has first-round production. But his tape tells a different story, and his athletic testing should confirm that with average-at-best times in the 40-yard dash, short shuttle and three-cone drill.
After his Senior Bowl performance, the secret of Haason Reddick is out. But that doesn’t mean he can’t help himself more in athletic testing. A former defensive back, Reddick is an explosive mover with the fluidity that will impress.
, CB, Washington
King, who skipped the Senior Bowl, will impress with his height and length, but his jumps during athletic testing will also create buzz. King is a strong candidate to reach 40 inches in the vertical and 11 feet in the broad jump, both outstanding numbers.
Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC
While there is question about his best fit in the NFL, Jackson has special athleticism, and no one debates that. He won the Pac-12 outdoor long jump title in 2015 and 2016 and placed 10th at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials. Jackson is a strong candidate to run the fastest 40.
, DS, NC State
Somewhat of an under-the-radar prospect, Jones is a junior who came out early and should be better-known after the combine. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Jones plays with outstanding range and explosive hitting ability, which should show in his testing times.
These are important, especially for the underclassmen. Scouts have official numbers for many of the seniors from all-star games and campus visits. But at the combine, each player is measured with the same scale and measurements, making the results uniform.
, QB, North Carolina
Listed at 6-foot-3, Trubisky might not reach that mark during official weigh-ins, but as long as he comes in over 6-foot-2, NFL teams will be satisfied.
, QB, Clemson
A lean-muscled athlete, Watson doesn’t have ideal body armor for the position, and scouts are interested to see if he comes in more than 215 pounds. And if he’s less than 215, how much bulk can he add? Is his body maxed out?
, RB, Stanford
Regardless of his playing weight, McCaffrey will be more of a versatile weapon than true workhorse at the NFL level. But is he closer to 215 pounds? Or 200 pounds? A physical build will help teams feel confident in his durability.
San Diego State Aztecs
Coming in at 169 pounds in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, Pumphrey has had a month to add good weight. He should perform well during the agility workouts, and scouts are hoping those numbers come with him at 175 pounds or more.
D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texas
The nation’s leading rusher in 2016, Foreman looks like a tank, but how much weight is he carrying? And is it all good weight?
South Alabama Jaguars
After tipping the scales in the 240-pound range during the fall, Everett was only 227 pounds at the Senior Bowl. He should test well in Indianapolis, but it will mean much more if he runs a 4.65 40-yard dash at 240-plus pounds and not less than 230 pounds.
, OT, Utah
While he should perform well during testing, Bolles has core strength issues that give scouts pause. The soon-to-be 25-year-old’s official measurements and build will be important to projecting him forward in a strength and conditioning program.
Damien Mama, OG, USC
Although he has worked hard to shed bad weight, Mama ballooned to near 400 pounds as a freshman two years ago, and scouts are eager to see his current weight and body.
, OC, Ohio State
Elflein, who has been training with former Ohio State and NFL center LeCharles Bentley, has been working to trim up his frame. Since he wasn’t at the Senior Bowl, his current numbers compared to what scouts have on record from the fall should be interesting.
, DE/OLB, Texas A&M
The presumptive No. 1 overall pick, Garrett is a fantastic athlete with a NFL frame, but how much weight is he carrying? And how long are his arms?
, DE/OLB, Wisconsin
With tweener traits, Watt isn’t the easiest evaluation. When I recently asked a pro scout who he most wanted to see during combine weigh-ins, the Wisconsin linebacker was the first player he mentioned.
, DT, Washington
Since he enrolled at Washington, Qualls’ weight has fluctuated between 280 and 330 pounds. He was carrying some bad weight in his midsection last season, and scouts want to see him hold steady in the 310-315 range.
, CB, Alabama
A physically impressive corner, Humphrey could be a big winner if he comes in at more than 6-1, 200 pounds and 33-inch arms.
, CB, Washington
A lean-framed corner, Jones was pushed around by physical receivers on tape, especially in press. He arrived at Washington less than 170 pounds and played last season around 180 pounds. Scouts are hoping to see him reach 190 pounds at the combine.
, FS, Washington
History tells us that most sub-200-pound safeties don’t last long in the NFL because of the physicality of the position. And while most NFL scouts I’ve spoken with love his game, Baker might not hit certain size thresholds several teams use for the first round.