The NFL Combine is one of the last opportunities an aspiring NFL player has to make a good impression. In many ways, the combine represents an initial job interview with a prospective employer. While a NFL team has game film to rely upon for the bulk of its evaluation of a player, the combine provides a team an opportunity to put a prospective player through a series of drills, physical exams, and sit-down interviews to better determine if the player is a good fit for the organization.
Ohio State has several players from its 2008 team that were invited to the NFL Combine that will be held in Indianapolis February 18th-24th. Among the players invited were CB Malcolm Jenkins, LB James Laurinaitis, RB Chris Wells, WR Brian Robiskie, LB Marcus Freeman, OT Alex Boone, CB Donald Washington, and WR Brian Hartline.
Each of the players had careers at Ohio State that ranged from Notable (Jenkins, Laurinaitis, Wells) to productive (Robiskie, Freeman), with the few who could be classified as "unfulfilled potential" (Boone, Washington, Hartline). Below are some quick thumbnails on these players as to what each can do or should do to ensure that their NFL Combine experience is positive next month in Indianapolis.
Category One ~ The Notable (Jenkins, Laurinaitis, Wells): These players are projected as first round draft choices by virtually every NFL scouting service or mock draft available. Of these players, Malcolm Jenkins should be the first Ohio State player selected in the draft, possibly in the first five picks and probably in the first ten picks. James Laurinaitis and Chris Wells should also be first round selections, but probably not until the mid to later first round.
Both Malcolm Jenkins and James Laurinaitis received Senior Bowl invitations but turned them down. The Senior Bowl is another significant opportunity to impress NFL personnel with full pads and practices. While I appreciate their respective reasons for declining these invitations, both players have placed greater importance upon their combine workouts and subsequent Pro Day workout at Ohio State in March with these decisions.
I believe both players should participate fully in alltesting drills at the combine as well as at the Pro Day at Ohio State. Quite commonly, players do not run or participate in the drills at the combine and put all of their eggs in their Pro Day performance. In Laurinaitis' case, he has seemingly fallen behind USC's Rey Maualuga in the middle/inside linebacker evaluations, so he needs to demonstrate his willingness to compete in whatever drills are asked of him.
In the case of Chris Wells, Wells' productivity is often overshadowed by concerns of his durability. Similar to Jenkins and Laurinaitis, Wells should fully participate in all drills at the combine as well as his Ohio State Pro Day. Wells should also be prepared to be intensely poked and prodded during his physicals with various NFL teams while at the combine.
Category Two ~ The Productive (Robiskie, Freeman): These players are projected as first day selections in the NFL Draft (2nd-3rd round). Both players received Senior Bowl invitations and performed well in the scrutinized Senior Bowl practice week.
Brian Robiskie's biggest challenge is dispelling concerns that he lacks the appropriate speed to be an effective wide receiver at the NFL level. If I were advising Robiskie, I would encourage Robiskie to run at both the combine and the Ohio State Pro Day, as well as all other wide receiver drills. Being the son of a longtime NFL wide receiver coach, Robiskie should be well-prepared for the combine in both the drills as well as interview preparation, and I will be surprised if Robiskie's stock falls after the combine.
Marcus Freeman's challenge is atypical of most players at the combine. While many players do not test well, Freeman routinely tests out among the best of his Ohio State teammates in terms of speed or weightlifting drills. I would be surprised if Freeman does not participate in all drills.
Category Three ~ Unfulfilled Potential (Boone, Washington, Hartline): These are players who are projected as second day selections in the NFL Draft (4th-7th round), with a possibility of being an undrafted free agent. It will be extremely important for these players to participate in all drills at the combine, to perform well in these drills, and to have solid interviews with NFL teams.
Alex Boone's stock has fallen seemingly since the 2007 BCS Championship Game against Florida, when he appeared too slow against Florida's defenders. An inconsistent senior season, combined with reports of poor play in The East/West Shrine Game in January, have led most scouts to project Boone to the 4th round as a right tackle prospect. Factor in Boone's previous DUI in April 2006, and you can understand why NFL teams will be leery of investing a high draft choice on Boone.
Donald Washington gave up his last year of eligibility after a suspension-racked junior season. Washington played primarily as a nickel back, after losing his starting position to Chimdi Chekwa. I would expect Washington to participate in all drills at the combine and at the Ohio State Pro Day, and to test well. It will be important for Washington to have a solid interview about his previous indiscretions to be selected in the draft.
Brian Hartline gave up his last year of eligibility after an inconsistent junior season. With the transition from Todd Boeckman to Terrelle Pryor, Hartline's production fell as Ohio State emerged as more of a running offense built around Pryor. Hartline did not help himself with occasional drops throughout the past season, nor did Hartline help himself in the eyes of the Ohio State coaching staff for a curfew violation in the days leading up to The Fiesta Bowl. Hartline will need to ace all aspects of the combine and Ohio State Pro Day, and it still may not be enough to be drafted.
With the NFL Combine less than a month away, it will be interesting to see which of these Ohio State players excel or fall in the eyes of NFL evaluators.