It feels like just yesterday bowl season ended and now we’re ready for the Kentucky Derby-like aspect of the NFL Draft process. Paying careful attention to combine numbers can answer some of the best toughest NFL Draft projection questions. Below are topics listed from least to most important that I’m curious about going into the combine
1.) Which quarterbacks will rise or fall?
As of right now, I have the top four quarterbacks in the draft as Patrick Mahomes II, Deshaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky, and DeShone Kizer. After that, my second tier consists of Brad Kaaya, Alek Torgerson, and Davis Webb. I’d see Kaaya and Torgerson as quarterbacks that teams will draft and work with as potential starters or high-end backups. During and after the combine process is often where my quarterback rankings move the most, I consider Wonderlic scores and combine measurements and those two may sink some ships for some quarterbacks in this class. It wouldn’t shock me if either Mahomes or Kizer saw a sizeable decline in stock after this weekend.
2.) How serious is the depth at running back?
My pre-combine rankings list from last month has 17 running backs worthy of a draft pick and I’ve seen more since then that can also earn late round selections. We all know this class has draftable running backs, but I’d sleep easier if I could see these players check the boxes at the combine and give me more insight as to whether they are: legitimate starters, possible tandem running backs, or low to high-end committee backs.
3.) Can we find depth at offensive tackle?
Cam Robinson received lots of hype because he has the size and length to fit pre-requisite physical standards at offensive tackle, but I doubt he’ll impress scouts with explosiveness or flexibility in the coming days. We’ve all heard the same names: Garrett Bolles, Antonio Garcia, and Ryan Ramcyzk. If these players don’t test well, offensive tackle rankings should be wide open. Also, my eyes will be watching lesser known players closely, if they just meet average starting offensive tackle athleticism, they will see a sizable boost in their draft stock.
4.) The eventual shift in tight end rankings.
I watched tape on a lot of tight ends this year and I’m certain there are some good ones, but not a single one worth a first round selection. Scouts and fans need to evaluate in-line blocking potential the same way they do yards-after-catch potential or straight line speed. Right now I like David Njoku, Evan Engram, and Adam Shaheen, they may be some of the more well-rounded guys at the position.
5.) The fall of the stiff cornerbacks.
Rasul Douglas, Quincy Wilson, and Desmond King and countless other tall, stiff corners will fall out of good graces with some scouts and fans this weekend. I think ball skills and a more proven track record of disrupting the catch point can help King, but many others are in trouble.
6.) The depth of the safety class.
Everyone is in love with Jamal Adams and Malik Hooker and the reasoning behind the love for both is very sound. I’ll just add after the combine they’ll be more optimistic about the potential of guys like Tedrick Thompson, Josh Jones, Obi Melifonwu, and possibly Jonathan Ford in a hybrid safety role.
7.) Is Mike Williams as athletic as we think?
I’ll say he’ll run in the 4.40 range, but after that, I’m curious about his flexibility, and explosiveness. Because I wasn’t exactly thrilled with his tape, I think a strong combine showing could help me move him up my board.
8. Will Ricky Seales-Jones or Speedy Noil impress?
Both of them being invited to the combine surprised me. Personally, I felt like a guy such as Wyoming’s Tanner Gentry was more deserving. Therefore, I’ll be expecting Seales-Jones and Noil to make the best out of their opportunities and impress in drills and combine tests because they will be competing against receivers that were far more productive and showed more potential on tape.
9. Overrated performances by select pass rushers.
Some of the most popular names in the draft will be a little stiffer than fans should be comfortable with in regards to the agility drills. There will be the “this drill doesn’t matter” argument coming in waves from analysts and fans, but edge rushers have to: run fast, turn their hips (while bending) and hit the quarterback. Hip flexion is important so please don’t put all your stock into 40 times.
10.) Can Jabrill Peppers regain first round status?
Peppers’ stock has progressively declined since November and a little more sharply in January once his flaws became more widely known. By now we know about the sub-par coverage ability to play safety, and the lack of size scouts covet at linebacker. I’m curious as to whether he’ll test well enough to convince scouts to look past his lack of size at linebacker. It’s also worth noting that last year Su’a Cravens had a similar plan last year and now Redskins are moving him to safety, which apparently was the initial plan. Pepper’s tape is a great deal better than Cravens, but regardless the combine is huge for Peppers.
Follow Montel Hardy on Twitter: @MontelNFL