Later this month, Marquis Haynes, Breeland Speaks, Jordan Wilkins and Rod Taylor will go in front of NFL coaches and scouts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis as they attempt to impress scouts at the 2018 NFL combine. Kicking off Feb. 27, the combine will last until March 5 and will consist of extensive drills, interviews and measurements.
The four Rebels will be competing against hundreds of other players from around the country in hopes of catching a team’s eye and eventually earning a selection in April’s NFL draft. While Haynes and Speaks are largely thought to be safe bets for the draft, an impressive combine can help players make final NFL rosters and give them a leg up in the never-ending contest to earn playing time.
For Taylor and Wilkins, who are both projected to go undrafted, the combine will serve as a chance to raise eyebrows and remind potential suitors of their skill and athleticism. While most projections leave Taylor and Wilkins off the draft board, a player’s fate is rarely sealed before April. Scouts will be paying special attention to the players’ on- and off-field demeanors as they attempt to sort out future contributors from those college heroes destined for Europe or worse.
Haynes – a defensive end who led the team in sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles in 2017 – may lack the size to play as a defensive end in the NFL. However, his talent on the pass rush is undeniable, and he is projected as a third-round utility pick. He will need to demonstrate to NFL personnel that he has the speed and explosiveness to make the switch to outside linebacker, pass rushing in a 4-3 system.
At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, the dynamic defensive lineman Speaks has the size to play at either nose tackle or on the edge at the professional level. He did both during his collegiate career but finally settled in on the edge for the final seven games of his career in Oxford. As a tackle and edge rusher ‘tweener, Speaks will have to demonstrate his speed and strength to scouts if he wants to hear his name called in April.
Running back Jordan Wilkins flew under the radar in 2017. With that said, he probably should not have. While battling a nagging ankle injury, Wilkins posted the school’s first 1,000-yard rushing season since the days of Dexter McCluster. His 1,011 rushing yards are the fifth-most all-time for the Rebels. Among SEC rushers last year, Wilkins was fourth in yards per carry and finished the season with nine touchdowns. Wilkins, who also presents significant threat as a receiver, could work himself into a roster space with impressive showings at the shuttle run and 40-yard dash.
Taylor, who started every game of 2017 at right tackle for the Rebels, may have a slightly tougher path to the pro level. His quick feet and impressive agility make him a tantalizing prospect on the line, but questions remain as to his ceiling in the NFL. After earning limited minutes in earlier seasons, the former Under Armour All-American locked down a coveted position on an SEC team that led the SEC in passing yards. Coaches rave about his energy off the line, and a strong performance at the combine could land him a late-round selection or even an undrafted contract.