Dynasty Rookies: Top 10 Players to Watch at the NFL Scouting Combine
Are you ready for some upside?!
The annual NFL Scouting Combine starts Feb. 22 and runs through Feb. 25. There will be drills, workouts, interviews and buzzwords galore. "This young man has tremendous length!" or "Look at that incredible burst!" I hope you all have your thesauruses ready because there are only so many ways you can say someone is really good at something.
2013 was considered a down year for draft prospects, but the early reports all suggest this could be a big year. Key positions such as quarterback, running back and wide receiver all run deep with talent. That said; don't forget about the defensive side of the ball where there are a number of special athletes who will make an instant impact in the NFL.
Let's take a closer look at ten players who are worth monitoring this year at the combine.
1. DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
We've heard the hype now for well over a year. What's so special about this guy? Well, it's a combination of a few things. First of all, Clowney was a very highly-coveted high school recruit who garnered dozens and dozens of college scholarships. Everyone knew he was a blue-chip from the beginning. At 6'5" and 270 pounds, there's a possibility he runs a 40-yard dash in the 4.4s, something that has not been done by a DE since 2006 when Manny Lawson blew away the competition with a 4.43. Lawson ended up at OLB in his NFL career, but Clowney is a true defensive end with brute strength, length, pass-rushing moves and difference-maker written all over him.
2. RB De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
A former track star, Thomas could wind up being the player with the fastest 40-yard dash time. Back in 2010, he ran the fastest 200 meters by a high schooler with a 20.61 time. Injuries derailed what was supposed to be a true breakout year for the speedy running back. Look for him to make up for lost time at this combine with a 40 time in the high 4.2s or low 4.3s.
3. WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Cooks is another athlete with a track history. This slot-receiver phenom caught everything in sight while with the Beavers and his explosive burst and speed will be on display at the combine. Last year, former Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton made a name for himself at the combine and multiple reports are suggesting Cooks will test even better in the drills.
4. WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Last year when former Clemson WR DeAndre Hopkins was receiving a ton of hype both in the draft and then later in some fantasy football conversations, I always made a point to remind people Hopkins wasn't even the best receiver on his own team. That distinction belongs to Watkins. In terms of untapped, raw talent, Watkins is up there with any of the big-name receivers to come out in recent years like A.J. Green, Michael Crabtree or Justin Blackmon. While that may sound like a mixed bag of talent, each of those players is supremely talented in their own right and Watkins could go toe-to-toe with any of them.
5. G/OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA
Let's not forget about the big boys in the trenches. Su'a-Filo has already participated in the bench press (25 reps) and has an interesting combination of quickness, power and lean bulk. He could easily add another 10 or 15 pounds of healthy mass and not miss a beat. He has experience playing offensive tackle and will likely make the permanent switch over to guard. Going against the thicker and shorter guards, he will stand out with his athleticism and fast feet.
6. DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota
A former tight end and basketball player in high school, Hageman has since bulked up and then some. This guy passes the eye ball test or what some refer to as "the first guy off the bus." Hageman is a beastly-sized man at 6'6" and over 310 pounds. Incredible length and wingspan. A natural athlete. Hageman is still green at the position and learning the finer details. He has only played defensive line for a few years, but with the right coaching, he could become a superstar interior defensive lineman.
7. QB Blake Bortles, UCF
The margin between Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater as the Top 3 QB prospects in this draft class seems to fluctuate every single day. Bortles though has the most to prove. Everyone knows about Johnny Football and Bridgewater has had hype building in his favor for more than a year. Bortles though is the odd man out, which may not be deserved. He is surprisingly quick for a guy pushing 230 pounds. He is thick, strong and can make all the throws. Manziel and Bridgewater, despite all their strengths, they are both a bit frail in comparison. Bortles could make a serious push for the No. 1 pick. Remember though, what makes for a good QB is not usually measured at the combine's drills.
8. QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
On the flip side of the QB argument, there is the uber-athletic Manziel who will be expected to dominate most, if not all the drills. The fleet-footed playmaker should have the best 40-yard dash time or close to it. That may not help his draft status at all, but it'll certainly make headlines regardless. Manziel must also show good footwork and timing on his throws. He already improved this aspect of his game in 2013; however he must continue to put good film on tape. Bummer, Manziel will not throw at the combine.
9. QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
My personal frontrunner for the No. 1 pick, Bridgewater must walk the line between Manziel's athleticism and Bortles' winning ways. There are serious concerns about his thin frame, yet really, what this all boils down to is whether Bridgewater can sling it better than his peers. From everything we've seen in games, Bridgewater should be the heavy favorite between the three. He has been the far more prolific passer and can make every throw in the playbook. Bummer again. Bridgewater will not throw at the combine.
10. RB Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona
Only one RB makes my list and that is a slight knock; not to the many terrific RB prospects in this class but this is more of a critique on where the position ranks in today's NFL. RBs are a dime a dozen these days. If a guy like Alfred Morris (4.63 40-yard dash), who has average speed and average burst, can run for a ton of yards with relative ease, it doesn't really matter whether a RB is athletic or explosive. Where is Chris Johnson (4.24 40) now? Enough about that though, let's get to Carey. For the last two seasons, this young man dominated, posting huge rushing totals every single week. He led the nation in 2012 and finished second in 2013. The problem though is he will not wow anyone in any particular drill. He won't sniff the top 40 time. How will this affect his stock considering he is widely considered the best RB prospect this year. What makes a great back is more than pure speed, explosiveness or agility. Carey has an uncanny feel and vision for the game. He can carve through tight spaces. Accelerate and decelerate at just right moments. These skills are innate within him and cannot be enumerated. He is my favorite back in this class although there are many worth monitoring as well.