Mon, Mar 06, 2017
By Patrick Woo
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana -- 330 NFL hopefuls will descend to Indianapolis for the annual National Football Scouting Combine. On-field workouts will begin on Friday, March 3 and run through Monday, March 6. Leading up to that, players will be put through the rigorous interviews process, medical tests and we can’t forget about the random 4 a.m. drug tests.
For most players, it’s the start of the NFL Draft process. For the Reese’s Senior Bowl players who took advantage of the opportunity to make their lasting impression on the field and first impression off of it, this is an opportunity to continue the momentum in the process and cultivate relationships with NFL teams.
The off-field story leading up to the Combine has been who’s not going to be there – most notably Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon and Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly. Fortunately, Kelly was able to meet with most teams during his week in Mobile but was hoping to throw in Indianapolis but will now wait until his pro day on April 3 while he continues rehabbing and training at EXOS Pensacola at the Andrews Institute. Mixon will have to wait until his March 8 pro day but evaluators are losing the chance to see him side-by-side the other top running back prospects.
Running back and tight end are two of the deepest position groups in this year’s NFL Draft. For the Reese’s Senior Bowl, there was more than a dozen senior running backs and tight ends that were considered for invitations, which was rare because those are two positions where the top players usually leave as underclassmen. From the top running backs to other names to watch like North Carolina A&T’s Tarik Cohen and Coastal Carolina’s DeAngelo Henderson, there are backs that will help teams all throughout the Draft. Henderson broke the NCAA Division 1 record with his 29th consecutive game with a touchdown in September at Jacksonville State, at a game I attended.
The NFL Combine will always shine on the quarterbacks and it’s a hot topic that there is not a clear-cut No. 1 quarterback in this class. But none of those quarterbacks will get a chance to win their own private island. Our Reese’s Senior Bowl apparel partner, Adidas, made headlines with its announcement that it will buy a private island for the player who breaks the NFL Combine 40-yard dash record. It’s not likely to happen but let’s take a look at some of the candidates.
John Ross, WR/KR, Washington – Ross is going to get the most attention as one of the fastest big-name players. As Emily Kaplan of the MMQB wrote, Ross ran a 4.30 laser-timed 40 in his training.
Joe Williams, RB/KR, Utah – Williams is a great story after revealing why he left the team mid-season and then returned. Heading into the 2016 season, it was widely reported that Williams was a 4.3 speed guy.
USC's Adoree Jackson
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State – Cook’s burst and long speed is exciting to watch but we will find out truly fast he is. He reportedly ran a 4.46 in the spring and Vegas has his over/under 40-time at 4.40 with Leonard Fournette’s at 4.43.
Adoree’ Jackson, DB/KR, USC – Jackson suffered a leg injury in the Rose Bowl but should be 100 percent by now. The track star is a two-time Pac-12 champion in the long jump and attempted to qualify for the Olympics. He ran a 10.38 100-meter for USC’s track team.
Shelton Gibson, WR, West Virginia – Gibson is an exciting junior receiver who also has a track background. He’s explosive and has an extra gear with the ball in his hands. Another receiver like that is Louisiana Tech’s Carlos Henderson.
KD Cannon, WR, Baylor – Cannon could have benefitted from going back to school for his senior season but his workout in Indy should validate leaving. Running track at Baylor, he posted a 10.58 100-meter dash.
Jabrill Peppers, LB/DB, Michigan – Peppers doesn’t have a defined position yet but his speed is defined by Jim Harbaugh as in the 4.3s. We shall see.
Kermit Whitfield, WR/KR, Florida State – This might be the winner. While Cook gets all the attention in Tallahassee, people there will tell you that Whitfield is the fastest player on the team. Whitfield could be the only player that breaks the 4.3 mark.
Other candidates: Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey, Ohio State WR/RB Curtis Samuel, Minnesota CB Jalen Myrick
Another deep position group in this year’s class is defensive back – both at corner and safety. But with some teams trending to the taller, longer corners, this year’s class has more 6-foot-2 or above corners than any other in recent memory.
Brian Allen, Utah
Jeremy Clark, Michigan
Treston Decoud, Oregon State
Rasul Douglas, West Virginia
Kevin King, Washington
Channing Stribling, Michigan
Ahkello Witherspoon, Colorado
Their measurements will be verified in Indy at the weigh-in, which will also be important to two notable players, North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who reportedly is under 6-foot-2 and Washington safety Budda Baker, who’s looking to crack the 5-foot-10 threshold.
If you participated in an all-star game, the NFL Draft process is like the “Triple Crown” – all-star showcase, NFL Combine, pro day.
Here’s a group of players that starred in Mobile at the Reese’s Senior Bowl that should keep the momentum going raising their stock in Indianapolis:
ECU's Zay Jones
Eastern Washington WR Cooper Kupp & East Carolina WR Zay Jones – these may have been the two best players during the week on the North squad coached by the Chicago Bears. Kupp won the top practice player award for the week at his position while Jones wowed all week and made spectacular plays in the game. Talking to NFL folks who originally projected Jones as a product of his system, his stock his soaring.
UConn S Obi Melifonwu and Boston College S John Johnson – both had great weeks and have position versatility. Johnson is a more fluid mover but Melifonwu surprised many with his movement skills to go along with his imposing size. Johnson is looking to follow the footsteps of BC safety Justin Simmons at the Combine while Melifonwu is expected to have a great workout in Indy like former UConn DB Byron Jones did.
Saint Francis S Lorenzo Jerome – Four interceptions in two all-star games will get you on the radar. Jerome had a fantastic career culminating with invitations to the NFLPA Bowl and Reese’s Senior Bowl in which he recorded two interceptions in each game. After those experiences, a lot of pressure is alleviated for him as he goes into Indy with an idea already of what it’s like to perform with big-time players.
Villanova DE Tanoh Kpassagnon – This two-year starter at the FCS level emerged in his final two seasons and is a big body with a long frame. Kpassagnon won the weigh-in and flashed a ton in Mobile and was very mature in interviews. Now it’s time for him to put his athleticism on display in the Combine workouts.
Temple LB Haason Reddick – Reddick was arguably the Reese’s Senior Bowl’s biggest winner during the week. His stock has skyrocketed after showing the versatility to be both an edge rusher and an off-the-line backer that can play in space. From a walk-on to one of the most athletic players in Mobile, Reddick can continue to impress with his workouts. He’s listed as a defensive end in Indy but will likely to OLB work as well.
Temple OL Dion Dawkins – Dawkins has been a stalwart for Temple at left tackle but transitioned inside to guard in Mobile and was impressive in doing so. Now he has a chance to continue impressing with his athletic ability and show his strength in Indianapolis.
Florida LB Alex Anzalone - This fourth-year junior was determined to get healthy from a season-ending injury so he could show what he can do when healthy in Mobile. The medical checks in Indianapolis will be very important for him but in a thin inside linebacker class, he’s going to continue to show that he has the instincts and movement skills to be a three-down linebacker.
Cal QB Davis Webb & Pitt QB Nathan Peterman – Both of these quarterbacks took advantage of the Reese’s Senior Bowl and showed improvement through the week with Webb ultimately being named the game’s Most Valuable Player. After getting the buzz started in Mobile, they can go side-by-side now with the underclassmen and higher-rated quarterbacks to show their worth as the process continues.
UCLA DL Eddie Vanderdoes & USC DL Stevie Tu’ikolovatu – Vanderdoes is scheme-versatile and had a really underrated week in Mobile as did Tu’ikolovatu. Stevie weighed in at 350 pounds but carried it really well and is a true nose tackle while Vanderdoes weighed in at 320 pounds but moved well too. The workouts moving forward should help these players move up.
UCLA OLB Takkarist McKinley and Michigan DE Taco Charlton were two of my favorite senior edge players all season long but neither was able to make it to Mobile, McKinley due to injury and Charlton due to choice. Both should have really good workout numbers in Indianapolis. Alabama LB Tim Williams also could not make it to Mobile with a lingering elbow issue but there are lots of off-the-field questions for him to answer in Indianapolis.
North Carolina fielded some really good individual talent in 2016 from Ryan Switzer, who showcased his ability in Mobile, to junior defensive tackle Nazair Jones and junior running back Elijah Hood who declared early but the two that no one are talking about are senior wide receiver Mack Hollins and running back T.J. Logan. Logan was a casualty of the depth of the running back class when it came to being invited to Mobile but is much more versatile and explosive than Hood while Hollins was kept out of Mobile due to recovering from his collarbone injury but he’s the first player coach Larry Fedora brought up to me at ACC Media Days in Charlotte in July. Hollins is a former walk-on and special teams ace and captain and has the get-off to be a deep threat.
North Carolina State safety Josh Jones is an underclassmen safety that declared early and I think he’s going to make some noise in the NFL Draft process as well. He’s big and can move and isn’t afraid to hit. He would have been one of the top safeties in the 2018 class had he returned for his senior season. He’s going to have show in the positional workouts that he can control his body.
Utah safety Marcus Williams might have been the top safety in next year’s senior class but declared early. He’s a ballhawking safety that had five interceptions as a junior and moves easily around the field. He missed some time with injury in 2016 but in his first game back against Arizona State in November he had an interception early in the game. It’s just what he does and he’s going to garner a lot of attention.
Ashland tight end Adam Shaheen is a name that most are starting to learn. There’s multiple tight ends that we can hype up whether it be Toledo’s Michael Roberts or Miami’s David Njoku but Shaheen is a name to watch in Indianapolis. His workout will garner a lot of attention. He is training at EXOS in Pensacola and I spent a day out there to see our Reese’s Senior Bowl players and Shaheen kept catching my eye. He has the measurables and moves easily for his size. As a non-graduated fourth-year junior, he was not eligible for an invitation to Mobile.