Top 10 prospects to watch at the NFL Combine
As we enter Saturday and Sunday of the 2011 NFL combine we finally start to see position drills, athletic tests, and the ever “important” 40 yard dash. Savvy NFL scouts and analysts will be quick to point out that the combine tests are only a very small portion of the equation when evaluating NFL prospects but that doesn’t stop us from freaking out about a ridiculous 40 time or incredible combine showing does it?
So who are the most intriguing prospects to watch in the combine over the weekend? I’m not necessarily going with who I think will have the best performances, but I’m looking at overall aura of a player, what they have to gain and lose, and some lesser known prospects who can catapult into the early rounds with a good showing.
10. Robert Sands, Safety:
Sands is a junior safety for West Virginia who possesses rare size and athleticism for the safety position. He is 6′ 5″, 221 pounds (according to the official combine measurements) and can run. His size reminds many scouts of Taylor Mays and Sean Taylor and if he’s able to test well over the weekend he could climb draft boards very quickly. This draft lacks depth at safety that we saw in last year’s draft with Eric Berry, Earl Thomas, Taylor Mays, T.J. Ward and others and NFL scouts will absolutely drool over this kid if he’s able to run anything in the 4.5 range or better.
I don’t think he can move into the 1st round, but there is a real chance that he could be considered the best safety prospect with a great showing.
9. Von Miller, LB:
The stud LB from Texas A&M measured in at 6’3″ 243 pounds in Indianapolis and his play on the field has established him as one of the premier players in the entire draft. Now, nearly regardless of what he does this weekend, he will be a top 5 pick as his production on the field speaks for itself. But from what I’ve seen in limited spots, he has the ability to be the best NFL player in the draft.
I’m curious to see just how good this kid is and I want to see how he tests out this weekend. If he can demonstrate athletic ability and speed anywhere near Patrick Willis (who many say Miller reminds them of), he will assuredly be a top 5 pick or better and he will become one of the most coveted players in the draft. With the right defensive system in the NFL, this guy could be a perennial All-Pro. I can’t wait to see him run this weekend.
8. Jimmy Smith, CB:
Smith measured in at 6’2″, 205 pounds at the combine which is enormous for a CB. He is projected as having the ability to run a sub 4.4 40 which would put him in rare company with players like Antonio Cromartie. For a CB in the NFL to have the incredible size at 6’2″ and to be able to run step for step with the fastest WRs in the NFL, it places them in high demand.
Smith isn’t just a freakish athlete, he was a standout at Colorado and with a great showing this weekend at the combine he could jump into the first round. While there is likely nothing he can do to jump Patrick Peterson or Prince Amukamara, he can position himself to be the 3rd CB selected and you never know, there’s a chance that someone like the Raiders could be so enamored with his rare size and speed that they reach for him early in the 1st round. If he runs a 4.5, he’s a JAG (just another guy), but if he can run a 4.35 as many believe he can, he becomes one of the incredible freaks and most intriguing prospects in the draft.
7. J.J. Watt, DE:
The monster DE from Wisconsin measured in at 6’5″, 290 pounds at the combine. He was an absolute beast on the field for the Badgers and while he isn’t getting the hype that the other DE’s and defenders are, he has tremendous potential in the NFL. He is eerily reminiscent of Jared Allen in terms of size and ability and while it would be foolish to say that he will be the same player that Allen is at this point, he has great potential.
If Watt is able to perform favorably to the other top DE prospects in Quinn and Bowers, he could jump into the top 10. Some already project him in the top 10 but a great weekend will move him up draft boards all across the NFL.
6. Patrick Peterson, CB:
Peterson is considered by all to be among the top 5 to 10 prospects in the draft and is projected to be at worst, a top 10 pick. There have been questions by some NFL scouts, however, that while Peterson is an elite talent, that he is best suited at safety in the NFL. Peterson is listed at 6’1″, 211 pounds according to the combine results which reminds many of Pro Bowl CB, Nnamdi Asomugha.
The issue for Peterson, though, is if NFL teams select him with intent to play safety, there is a significant difference in contracts as opposed to cornerback. Who knows how the new CBA and potential rookie wage scale will affect this, but all things being equal, Peterson wants to demonstrate that he can be an elite CB in the NFL.
To do this, he will need to perform well over the weekend and run well in the 40. Recent history shows us that the 40 doesn’t necessarily make or break the draft for CBs. Look to Joe Haden’s sub-par 40 time in the combine last year which was thought to scare off some teams. He was selected at #7 overall by the Browns and had an outstanding rookie year. Peterson will not want to leave anything to chance, however, and if he’s able to run in the low to sub 4.5 range, he will secure his position as the #1 CB selected and will likely be a top 7 pick at the very least.
5. Cam Newton, QB:
I list Newton only because of the ridiculous level of intrigue and interest and not based on his ability to help or hurt his stock. Sure, an absolutely awful showing at the combine wouldn’t be good for the QB from Auburn, but it wouldn’t be a deathblow. The biggest and most important part of Newton’s combine experience is the interview process and the way he handles the media. He has already mis-stepped significantly with some of his comments leading up to the combine. As you may have already heard, Newton displayed diarrhea of the mouth by saying that he not only wanted to be a good athlete, but he wanted to be an “entertainer and an icon”.
With that said, however, if Newton is able to run a ridiculous 40 in the 4.5 or 4.4 range, the ridiculous hype surrounding him will only grow. He has already jumped up many mock drafts into the top 5 and in some instances in the top 3 and an incredible showing over the weekend will only help to feed the hype machine. His official measurables from the combine were 6’5″, 248 pounds which puts him in rare company as far as pure physical size and athleticism.
4. Mark Ingram, RB:
Ingram had an incredible collegiate career winning a Heisman and a national championship, but he is rarely thought of as a great prospect. The fact that he’s not flashy or considered a ‘game-breaker’ causes the media to neglect him nearly completely. I doubt NFL scouts are forgetting about Mark Ingram though. While not flashy, he is an uber-talented, durable running back. Ingram is a little undersized, however at 5’9″ and 215 pounds, but he compares favorably to current players like Rashard Mendenhall.
Even without a great weekend, I believe Ingram will be just fine in the draft and have a great NFL career. But if he’s able to dispel some of the perception that he can’t run and get into at least the mid 4.5 range, I really think he will skyrocket in the coming weeks heading into the draft. If, on the other hand, he runs a 4.8 like Maurice Clarett, it will scare off at least some NFL scouts and executives.
3. A.J. Green, WR:
I’m not listing A.J. because he needs to perform well in order to solidify his status or draft position, but he is one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft. Some consider him the best overall player in the draft and at 6’4″, 211 pounds with the ability to get separation and attack the ball in the air, I see why. Regardless of his combine tests, Green will be a top 5 pick, but if he’s able to put together incredible times in the 40, the shuttle and in the vertical, he will solidify himself as one of the most coveted prospects in the draft. For Green, if he’s able to run anything in the 4.4 range, he will be one of the most hyped WR prospects in recent years.
He’s roughly the same size as Randy Moss, but he is said to lack the breakaway speed of Moss or Calvin Johnson. Hell, everyone lacks the breakaway speed that Moss possessed coming out of college, but if Green can demonstrate that he can flat out run by NFL defenders, he automatically becomes one of the most dangerous and coveted weapons in the draft.
2. Da’Quan Bowers, DE:
While Bowers is already projected by many to be the #1 overall pick, he has the opportunity this weekend to solidify that position. Bowers measured 6’3″ at the combine, a full inch shorter than he had been listed previously. Perhaps not that big of a deal big picture, but we all know that NFL scouts pick every single thing apart when evaluating talent. At 280 pounds, the Clemson standout has shown rare athleticism and speed for a man of his size.
If he’s able to run in the 4.6 or even 4.5 range and demonstrate great agility over the weekend, scouts will continue to swoon over the monster DE. If he doesn’t run well, however, and with questions about his drive and dedication starting to sprout up, there is a chance that he could fall. Bowers needs a great showing to maintain his position on NFL draft boards.
1. Robert Quinn, DE:
Robert Quinn entered the NCAA season as one of the most talented, ferocious, and coveted NFL prospects in all of college football. Unfortunately, he missed the entire season due to NCAA violations (yet Cam Newton was allowed to play and thrive). Because he was absent for the entire season, players like DaQuan Bowers, Von Miller, and Nick Fairley stole the spotlight and catapulted to the top of the draft.
As we approach the draft, however, Quinn is gaining more attention and scouts are remembering what makes this guy special. Quinn is projected to run in the 4.6 or better range and possess an incredible vertical leap. He should perform very well in the agility drills and if he’s able to test as well as he’s projected, he has the ability to make the biggest move in the draft.
Yes, Quinn is already projected as a top 7 pick by all accounts (and that’s the worst case). But with his size (6’4″, 265) and athleticism, coupled with his incredible production on the filed, he has the ability to jump to top of the draft. With no consensus #1, players from Bowers to Fairley, to Newton. Quinn has a rare combination of size, speed, and power and he could demonstrate incredible versatility with the right system in the NFL. While much of the hype has gone to Cam Newton, Quinn has a real shot at stealing the show over the weekend and for years to come.