13 NFL draft prospects with something to prove at combine
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For NFL hopefuls, the scouting combine is all about making a case.
Every player who attends the annual event in Indianapolis looks to leave a lasting impression on teams, whether that’s by confirming positive sentiments or quelling previously held concerns. And while the fallout from the event might not be clear even after the draft is complete, there’s no question that the combine helps shape critical decisions.
Testing and on-field drills have been placed in the spotlight, with the workouts moved to a prime time slot this year. And while the numbers gleaned from those performances are typically only one small piece in a larger evaluation puzzle, they can carry weight for some prospects. The medical assessments and team interviews can play an even larger role for players who make a particularly strong or problematic impression.
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With that in mind, here are 13 players who have something to prove next week at the combine:
Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
This should be the kind of showcase fit to amplify buzz on Love, who offers tantalizing traits as a downfield passer. Even if he thrives in workouts, however, the 6-4, 225-pound quarterback will have to answer for a 2019 campaign in which he threw 17 interceptions, a Football Bowl Subdivision high. NFL teams will likely grill him in whiteboard sessions, and Love will be pressed to convince evaluators he can speed up and improve his decision making.
AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College
Weigh-ins might set the tone for Dillon, as he would be the heaviest pure running back in the NFL if he tilts the scales at the 250 pounds he carried in college. The more important area for him to look a little lighter, however, will be in the shuttle and three-cone drills. Without a little more quickness to his game, he might be boxed into a short-yardage specialist role. And with only 21 career catches, Dillon will be under pressure to show some potential as a pass catcher during on-field work.
Zack Moss, RB, Utah
How long can Moss sustain his violent running style at the next level given his medical history? A meniscus injury that cut short his 2018 season will require close inspection. The 5-10, 222-pound back typically prefers to plow through or bounce off defenders rather than evade them, which could exacerbate durability concerns. Showing a bit more long speed and quickness in and out of his cuts would also help his cause.
KJ Hamler, Penn State
At 5-9 and 175 pounds, Hamler will be one of the smallest and slightest receivers in the NFL. While his speed has evoked lofty comparisons to Chiefs all-purpose threat Tyreek Hill, Hamler has had repeated struggles with drops, which could considerably limit his game-breaking ability. Showing a larger catch radius while completing a clean run in drills would help assuage worries that he’ll be an all-or-nothing player.
Jauan Jennings, WR, Tennessee
Being dismissed from the team for criticizing the coaching staff might end many players’ chances of turning pro, but Jennings found his way back to the Volunteers after a blow-up with the previous regime in 2017. Even after coach Jeremy Pruitt’s advocacy for the 6-3, 208-pound target, Jennings will still have to answer for his tirade on social media. And though he proved in a strong Senior Bowl week that he can consistently win at the catch point, agility drills will be key as Jennings tries to show he can create separation as a big slot receiver.
Collin Johnson, WR, Texas
Returning for his senior season didn’t work out as Johnson likely envisioned. A hamstring injury forced him to miss six games, and he recorded just 38 catches for 559 yards and three touchdowns. Johnson said he doesn’t regret his decision not to declare last year, but a number of underclassmen pass catchers now are on track to hear their names called before him. Though his size (6-6, 220 pounds) and jump-ball prowess will make him an attractive red-zone threat, Johnson hasn’t demonstrated he can consistently break open from man coverage. Poor times in the 40-yard dash and agility drills could further sink his stock.
Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Michigan
One of the most touted recruits to sign with Michigan in the last several years, Peoples-Jones didn’t make quite the impact many expected of the former five-star prospect. Though the blame for the shortage of production doesn’t rest fully with him given the caliber of the Wolverines’ quarterback play, the 6-2, 208-pound target has to build a case at the combine that he’s capable of more than his résumé shows. And unless he flashes more explosiveness, he might be saddled with the possession receiver label.
Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado
Durability questions have followed Shenault to Indianapolis, though his agent said last week the receiver’s groin injury would not require surgery. If cleared and able to perform at his best, the multi-purpose threat could emerge as one of the combine’s best overall athletes with a rare blend of strength and speed. But even if Shenault impresses, there will be a strong focus on his health after he missed several games in the last two years due to multiple injuries. Evaluators will also want to see crisper route running given his lack of development in that area while serving as a gadget player.
Trey Adams, OT, Washington
Seen as a potential early draft entrant more than two years ago, Adams now faces an uncertain outlook in the pros after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in 2017 and undergoing back surgery the following season. Though there are also questions about his flexibility, his medical outlook may shape his draft fate more than anything. There’s still intriguing potential, however, for a team willing to invest in a 6-8, 314-pound left tackle with many of the physical tools necessary to handle top NFL pass rushers.
Saahdiq Charles, OT, LSU
Operating at his best, Charles resembles an upper-echelon blindside blocker capable of walling off even the most athletic edge rushers. Yet there’s little consistency to his play, as he frequently lunges or gets knocked off his balance. While Charles would benefit from displaying a more refined technique at the combine, the most pressing concern for Charles’ stock is coach Ed Orgeron’s decision to hold him out of six games last season for disciplinary reasons. Making the right impression on teams during interviews will be imperative for avoiding a draft-day freefall.
A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa
In the Big Ten, Epenesa had little trouble rag-dolling offensive tackles or snaking into the backfield, racking up 22 sacks and 30 1/2 tackles for loss in the last two years. Those tactics will be considerably more difficult to pull off in the NFL, where the 6-6, 280-pound defensive end might have to generate better burst in order to disrupt consistently. The three-cone drill should be revealing in how Epenesa’s explosiveness measures up relative to his peers.
Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia
Taking part in testing and drills might be off the table for Hall after a broken leg and dislocated ankle suffered in October prematurely ended his senior season. Evaluations on his recovery, however, could go a long way toward establishing teams’ comfort in selecting him. An early slot on Day 2 is within reach, but any issues could push him down considerably.
Julian Blackmon, S, Utah
A non-contact knee injury suffered in the Pac-12 championship game surely will warrant further examination. If Blackmon is able to participate in workouts after bowing out of the Senior Bowl, his recovery speed will be a focal point for many teams. The former cornerback might not have the desired range to serve as a single-high safety, but he should carve out a spot as a versatile defensive back who can match up with tight ends and make plays against the run.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 13 NFL draft prospects with something to prove at 2020 scouting combine
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