Friday, March 3, 2017

On The Clock, NFL Draft Combine: Back To Indy #NFLDraft #NFLCombine

By Alex Hale, @ThatCLESportGuy

Once again, teams diverge onto the city of Indianapolis and Lucas Oil Stadium for the NFL Combine, the next step in the NFL Draft process.  Throughout the weeks teams will interview, measure, and scout a couple hundred prospects in this year’s draft.  This draft already has factors that we haven't seen in previous years which has played perfectly to the way the game has evolved.  There's a lot of uncertainty at the QB position, where in the NFL currently outside of the top 5-7 QBs, the rest you don't know what we're getting.  But on the flip side, the RB position, which is once again coming back to relevance after 4-5 years ago where the game was primarily a "passing league", this year's draft offers one of the deepest RB classes in recent years.  To go with that, the Pass Rushers and Secondary positions are among some of the best in recent years.  The NFL has changed and once again we turn to Indianapolis to see what players from the next generation of stars is going to set themselves apart for this year's draft.

Top Prospects to Watch

The Top 3 QBs- We all know that as it stands, the Top 3 QBs from a consensus are Deshaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky, and Deshone Kizer.  The question on everyone’s mind in Indianapolis is that if there is a QB who will stand out from the rest.  In terms of interviews, I expect Deshaun Watson to thrive in interviews and gain momentum through those alone.  In terms of physical ability, Deshone Kizer can leave the combine as a Cam Newton type by his measurables alone.  Mitch Trubisky looks to be the best of both worlds, a QB with good knowledge, good athletic ability, and good passing ability.  The big knock on Trubisky is his size and if his size has been over exaggerated.  It’s going to be interesting as the QBs from last we heard were all going to throw at the combine.  This is must watch TV for football fans this week.

Solomon Thomas and Taco Charlton, DEs- In terms of the top edge rusher, the best in this year’s draft is clearly Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett.  After him though, there seems to be a scramble to see who the next edge rusher will be.  Solomon Thomas is currently the favorite to be the next edge rusher to go off the board after Garrett.  Thomas is going to shine in the interview process because of his knowledge of the game, but more importantly the passion for the game that every coach loves to have.  He was a menace at Stanford, seeming wrecking havoc every week.  The question is really his measurables, he has good but not great athletic ability.  Although he’s one of the most polished defensive prospects, the upside might not be viewed as high.
  As for Michigan’s Taco Charlton, he could be viewed by teams as a “poor man’s” Myles Garrett.  Taco has the measurables and showed the consistency last year to potentially warrant himself as a Top 10 pick.  The question with him really is that consistency, he struggled at Michigan to be a consistent pass rusher until the 2016 season so teams might think he might take plays off or gives up when he struggles.  In terms of potential, Charlton has more than Thomas, but a strong combine by Solomon Thomas may eliminate any debate between the two.  This is something to keep your eye on very closely.

OJ Howard, TE, Alabama- The NFL has become a game where offenses rely heavily on the TE position.  OJ Howard is coming off an extremely strong Senior Bowl week and could emerge out of Indianapolis as a Top 10 pick getting compared potentially to Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski.  Teams already know his size as a TE is legit (6’5’’ 250), the question is how good is his straight line speed.  While I’ve been against grading a guy specifically on their 40 time, OJ Howard has proven himself in almost every aspect to begin with.  All he really has left is showing off his speed.  I can see Howard clock in the high 4.5 area, but low to mid 4.6 area is probably much more realistic.  But if he can blow people away in his 40, the physical traits and talent he’s already showcased will have him as an easy Top 10 pick in the draft.

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson- Mike Williams seemed to be a lock as the #1 WR in this year’s draft after his amazing National Title game performance, especially after making clutch catches down the stretch.  Since then, Williams has faced scrutiny since then, especially over his lack of elite speed to separate at the next level.  While plenty of others have faced and overcome this in the past, it leaves Williams in a situation where he has to perform at the combine.  He must do well in all of his speed/agility drills in order to stabilize his draft stock.  If he struggles in those, it wouldn’t surprise me if teams moved him down their boards, potentially making him available top teams in the 20s come April.

Potential Fast Risers

Pat Mahomes II, Texas Tech, QB- Pat Mahomes is the wild card of this entire draft.  Mahomes is for most the #4 QB behind the consensus Top 3, but he’s picked up a lot of momentum by evaluators as the QB who might shake everything up.  Mahomes did come from the Air Raid Texas Tech offense, where a lot of the reads were simplified, but his ability to throw the ball is unlike anything I’ve seen in a positive way.  Reminds me of a mixture of Brett Favre and Johnny Manziel (WITH the Work Ethic and Dedication).  The combine will be an opportunity to show them in the passing drills that he can throw with the best in this class, but also the agility drills where he can showcase his ability as an athlete.  If he can do well in Indianapolis, I wouldn’t be shocked if Mahomes goes in the top half of the 1st Round.

Haason Reddick, Temple, LB- This year’s draft really doesn’t have a lot of true LBs in it.  Reddick is extremely intriguing as a prospect.  He’s undersized at around 6’1’’-6’2’’, 230 lbs, what is going to make Reddick’s stock rise is his athletic ability.  Reddick is more than likely going to shine in the agility drills, as he was a RB/S back in High School.  His explosiveness and ability to run all over the field on his film will translate over in his drills.  He does lack the bulk needed for the position, so that might hurt him in the combine process.  What to really keep an eye on are the drills that focus on his reacting ability.  With his athletic ability, he can keep up with TEs, so these drills can really boost his stock.

Alvin Kamara, Tennessee, RB- We all talk about Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook, but some have forgotten about Alvin Kamara.  Maybe it’s because he was playing for an underwhelming Tennessee program, but Kamara needs to be talked about near the top of the RB board.  He started at Alabama, had some, “behavioral issues” and left for Hutchinson Community College, won conference player of the year and then finished up at Tennessee.  Watching some of his highlights he’s a boom or bust RB, but his explosiveness is among the top in this class.  He can be a 3 down back and with a strong combine, could easily be projected as the 3rd RB off the board.

Cooper Kupp and Zay Jones, WR- This year’s draft looks to have good depth at WR, especially in the middle rounds.  This is highlighted by 2 small school WRs who stood out at the Senior Bowl.  Cooper Kupp is a small, yet explosive WR from Eastern Washington.  Kupp looks to be a bit like a young Julian Edelman to me, so shifty on his routes, yet has the ability to separate from defenders.  It wouldn’t stun me if he had a strong combine that he somehow rose into the 1st Round with that 2nd tier of WRs up for grabs.  Zay Jones comes from Eastern Carolina and has the size and ability to catch the ball to succeed, but doesn’t have the ideal athletic ability.  Teams will be looking at his agility drills to see if he does have the speed teams like to have in a WR.  I can see him going in the 2nd-3rd round in April.

The Combine is again only another step on the road to the draft.  After this we will have the College Pro Days followed by the Team Visits.  This is when things are really going to escalate for players stocks.  On top of that we will find out about players medical history, the infamous Wonderlic test, and lastly the “Idiot Test” where we find out if any prospect was dumb enough to have drugs in his system at the combine.  Players are going to separate themselves at the Combine this weekend, teams are going to have a better idea what their boards are going to look like and start to close in on the prospects they will target in the NFL Draft.

With that said next week we finally unveil Mock Draft 1.0 and I strongly suggest you don’t miss it.  We’re less than 2 months away from the NFL Draft and trust me the craziness is only getting started.

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