The 2017 NFL Scouting Combine will take place February 28 – March 6. Which prospects have the most to prove?
Each year, the NFL Scouting Combine solidifies, propels or tanks the draft positions of prospects with dreams of playing in the league. It’s a grueling multi-day event that sees college football’s best compete in basic measurements of athletic ability and football drills. It also gives NFL teams that are hoping to invest in them a chance to see them up close and personal, both during drills and interviews. Every player in attendance has the opportunity to impress and those few days are generally, up to this point, the most important of their football lives. Some of the over 300 prospects have a lot more to prove than others, however. Let’s take a look at 7 players with the most to prove at the NFL Combine.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Fournette is, without a doubt, one of the most talented running backs we’ve seen enter the NFL draft in the past decade. His combination of size (6-1, 235), speed, agility, power, hands and work ethic are supreme. However, Fournette was limited by an ankle injury during the 2016 season that caused him to miss 6 games — including LSU’s Citrus Bowl win over Louisville. He was only able to muster 20+ carries twice –although he only needed 16 caries to amass 284 yards against Ole Miss. Teams will want to see how the ankle has healed in medical checks and also see how well Fournette is moving on the field. If he’s at full speed, Fournette should solidify himself as a top-10 pick come April.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
All Deshaun Watson has done is win at Clemson. He’s guided that program to 2 National Title Game appearances, winning one. He’s been a Heisman finalist twice. He’s also shown up big in the biggest games. Still, he’s in Indy to answer more questions. Questions about his size, arm strength, accuracy, decision-making (I can keep going, but I won’t). Watson has stated that he’ll “do everything” at the combine, so this will be a huge moment for him. If history is any indicator, Watson will perform at his best, as the lights will be brightest.
Derek Barnett, EDGE, Tennessee
Derek Barnett is one of the most prolific pass rushers in all of college football. Barnett racked up 13 sacks in 13 games during the 2016 season. Impressive, to say the least. He’s polished with his hands and has defined pass-rush moves.However, doubts still linger about Barnett’s explosion, length and ability to beat NFL caliber offensive tackles. Listed at 6-3, 265, will Barnett show up lighter to improve his movement skills? We shall see. He’s a natural leader, by all accounts and a hard worker. So,he should impress teams during interviews.
Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech
Hodges is the prototypical modern, pass-catching tight end. At 6-7, 240, he’s on the tweener list of “Big WR” and “Slight TE”. Teams will have to decide, based on Hodges performance, if he has the suddeness to be a big wideout or if he can bulk up and become a true tight end. Another option is for teams to ask Hodges to stay put and utiize him in the same fashion as a Jimmy Graham or Ladarius Green.
Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina
Jones is the NCAA all-time leader in career receptions. He backed that up with an impressive week of practice and game during this year’s Senior Bowl. Jones is a polished route runner with excellent hands. With all of that said, there is the question of Jones long speed. He wasn’t featured as a deep threat often at East Carolina and doesn’t appear to be a burner. So, the 40 will be extremely important to Jones, as teams will find out of he’s a really good possession receiver or if he has the speed to stretch the field at the next level.
Tim Williams, EDGE, Alabama
Tim Williams checks all the boxes teams look for in a pass rusher. He’s long, explosive and flexible. Williams is also an effective hands user, with multiple pass rush moves and counters. He posted 9 sacks and 16 tackles for loss in 2016. So, the bulk of questions won’t arise from on-field work for Williams. The questions will come during interviews. Williams was arrested for carrying a handgun without a permit in Sepember 2016. During the arrest, there was also marijuana found in Williams parked car during the arrest. There have been reports that Williams has failed and missed several drug tests at Alabama and that his drug issues could be similar to those of Cowboys’ pass rusher Randy Gregory. Drug issues pushed Gregory out of round one and has landed him on the suspended list as a pro. These are issues Williams will have to address — and address with confidence — if he is to remain a first round prospect.
Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
Another Alabama prospect to round out this list. Robinson was a 5-star recruit and a 3 year starter at ‘Bama. He was projected to be a top-10 pick heading into the 2016 season. However, after and up-and-down year and after being outplayed by the elite pass rushers in the SEC, scouts have found all sorts of holes in Robinson’s game. Some have even started to project him as a guard, or even worse, the dreaded “RTO” (Right Tackle Only) label. Therefore, his stock has been plummeting lately, in some cases as a second-rounder. Robinson has the length, drive and strength to be an effective run-blocker. However, he must show the feet and agility to inspire teams that he can be a left tackle in the NFL.