Over the past week in Indianapolis, the NFL’s executives, coaches, scouts and media converged at Lucas Oil Stadium for the 2017 NFL scouting combine. This is an opportunity for everyone to be on a level playing field when it comes to medical evaluations, physical testing and on-field drills. Every year, either a group of players makes money by having a strong week, or there are some players who fall down draft boards with a poor showing.
These are the players who helped their draft stock:
Evan Engram: A player who dropped everybody’s jaw is a name very familiar to Rebel fans – Evan Engram. Coming into this week, the knock on Engram was his smaller frame for a tight end at 6-feet-3-inches and 234 pounds. However, matchup players are becoming vital in the evolving passing game at the professional level. Engram compares physically to NFL Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Reed with the same height and weight, as well on the field as an off-the-line tight end who cannot be covered by corners, safeties or linebackers. Engram did not let a ball touch the ground during the receiver drills and ran the fastest 40-yard dash of all tight ends at 4.42 seconds. Engram is in the conversation for a late first-round selection. He fits perfectly with the Green Bay Packers at 29 and the New England Patriots at 32.
Alvin Kamara: SEC fans should be thrilled this player was underused at Tennessee. Alvin Kamara is a three-down back with the ability to run between the tackles, off tackle and catch the ball out of the backfield and in the slot as a wide out. His jumps were what set him apart from the rest of the running backs. He had a vertical jump of 39.5 inches and a broad jump of 10-foot-11. These numbers coming from a 5-foot-10 frame are rare. The talk for running backs hovers toward Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey, but Kamara should be a first round pick. At a position that is the victim of constant abuse, Kamara’s lack of carries could be a plus for teams comparing him to the heavy workload of the top three.
Obi Melifonwu: The game is seeing passing numbers that are unprecedented. The answer to that is having a secondary full of shutdown guys and versatile skill sets. Obi Melifonwu of UConn represents this perfectly. He turns heads when he walks in the building, measuring at 6-feet-4-inches and 224 pounds. Those numbers scream safety, but not so fast. He posted a 4.4-second 40-yard dash and noteworthy jumps of a 44-inch vertical and a broad of 11-foot-9. That athleticism paired with above average ball skills will allow him to play as a cover one single-high safety, play press man coverage as a corner and serve as a matchup safety against tight ends. A player like Melifonwu is the answer to hybrid tight ends and running backs who can play as receivers. His range in the draft is anywhere from pick 20 to pick 40. His physical presence fits best with the Baltimore Ravens and the Seattle Seahawks.
John Ross: The big news coming out of Indianapolis happened on Saturday when John Ross of Washington broke Chris Johnson’s 40-yard dash of 4.24 seconds. Ross posted a time of 4.22 seconds. Already viewed as one of the best receivers in the draft, this number only helps him as a prospect. The slight on Ross is he fits the Brandin Cooks mold at 5-feet-11-inches. Before the combine, most viewed Ross as a fringe first-round pick who might get overlooked because of the elite defensive talent. Now, with documented record-breaking speed, he is almost a lock for the first round. The Philadelphia Eagles, Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers could use a deep threat receiver for their young quarterbacks. Teams must still be wary of his history with injuries to both ACLs and soon-to-be-had shoulder surgery.
Haason Reddick: The one defensive group that seems to be thinnest is linebacker. One prospect pushed his way into the conversation as the best in this draft with his workout. Haason Reddick from Temple is the new prototype in between defender. In college, he played both with his hand in the dirt and standing up as a linebacker to rush the passer. However, at 6-feet-1-inches and 237 pounds, he should play outside linebacker at the next level. He demonstrated elite quickness, posting a 4.52-second 40-yard dash. His hips were fluid during linebacker drills, which will lead to more teams seeing him at that position. In a 4-3 system, he can be a weak side linebacker, and in a 3-4 system, he can play as an edge rusher with the ability to drop in coverage. His freakish athleticism and toughness that all Temple players play with will almost guarantee him as first-rounder. Teams like the Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers could use his services to get younger and faster at the linebacker position.
Not all players were able to solidify or improve their status in this year’s draft.
The All-American linebacker from Alabama Reuben Foster’s game tape and track record for the Crimson Tide defense makes him one of the 10 best players in this draft. However, he has an injured shoulder. On top of that, he was sent home from the combine before his workout for an altercation with a hospital worker during the medical evaluations. Without these questions, he has been projected as high as the second pick to the San Francisco 49ers and is essentially a lock for the top 15. With the injury questions and the questionable choices made at the combine, this could cause the draft day fall similar to that of Laremy Tunsil.
Three positions have dominated the first pick in recent memory: quarterback, defensive end and offensive tackle. With Myles Garrett being a generational talent, he will be the choice for the Cleveland Browns. Even if he was not the sure thing, the other two positions present no threat to that coveted spot. In a projected historically deep draft, high-end quarterbacks and offensive linemen will not be found.
The top four quarterbacks as of now are Mitchell Trubisky of North Carolina, Deshaun Watson of Clemson, DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame and Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech. All four have an edge in some area. Trubisky is the most accurate. Watson is the most proven. Kizer has the desired frame and stature of a franchise quarterback. Mahomes has one of the strongest arms ever seen coming out of college. However, none of them are viewed by scouts as ready to step in and start right away. That does not mean there will not be quarterbacks taken in the first 10 picks. Less than a third of the league has a franchise quarterback. The rest is looking for one. That need places high priority on grabbing a rookie and hoping for production. Do not expect a quarterback from this class to perform to the level of Dak Prescott.
The offensive line is usually the deepest position. This year, I do not see a guy who is a lock to be great. Last year’s draft gave us Tunsil, Ronnie Stanley and Jack Conklin, who will all be pro bowl-level talents for many years. The top of this year’s class is Ryan Ramczyk of Wisconsin, Garrett Bolles of Utah and Cam Robinson of Alabama. Ramczyk and Bolles only have one year of experience starting at the Division I level. Robinson is an established run blocker with inconsistent production in the passing game. Bolles is athletically superior with a high ceiling. Ramczyk is the most talented, but he is sidelined currently after hip surgery. Robinson’s inconsistencies combined with a gun and drug charge have people questioning him. The lack of a sure thing at offensive tackle has allowed guards like Dan Feeney and Forrest Lamp to enter the first round conversation. There are many teams between picks 20 and 32 of the first round including Denver, Detroit, the New York Giants, Houston and Seattle. At least two linemen will be picked in this range.
Overall, this is a fun group of prospects. There are at least 40 players who are worthy of a first round pick. This surplus of talent will overflow into the second day of the draft. Do not be surprised if the rookie of the year is a player drafted in the second round or later. With free agency beginning this week, team needs will become clearer and that will start to shape how the draft will go. There are a lot of possibilities that will take place between now and April 27.