10 Players Who Can Earn a Combine Invite at the Senior Bowl

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2013

10 Players Who Can Earn a Combine Invite at the Senior Bowl

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    The NFL Scouting Combine is just around the corner, but before the official invite list is posted, 104 seniors—and for the first time, a pair of four-year juniors—will have one last opportunity to impress pro scouts. The 2013 Senior Bowl is an opportunity for a few players to secure their draft positions, but others will be using their last on-field display to earn that coveted combine invite.

    Players like Oregon's Kenjon Barner and Florida State's E.J. Manuel don't need help finding their way to the combine. But what about the lesser known talents around the nation? Don't forget about the talented seniors from the lower divisions (seven FCS and two Division II players will participate).

    Which of these unlikely stars can earn a trip to the combine with standout performances in the 2013 Senior Bowl?

    We're glad you asked!

Zac Dysert, QB, Miami U

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    Zac Dysert is just one of the players from the MAC looking to hone his skills one last time before awaiting word on whether or not he's been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in February.

    Dysert finished the season with an impressive 290.3 passing yards per game (16th in the FBS) in a surprisingly good conference in 2012. But with a completing rating of just 62.9 percent, Dysert will need to show great command of his throws at the Senior Bowl to join a combine field already clogged with great quarterbacks.

Kyle Juszczyk, FB, FCS Harvard

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    It's always nice to see a Harvard football player getting an honest shot at glory in the NFL. With so many academically questionable college football players out there these days, it's refreshing to see an NFL Draft prospect with unchallenged credentials. Not only did Kyle Juszczyk earn admission to Harvard, he—like all Ivy League athletes—received no athletic scholarship money nor any consideration of physical talent in the admission process.

    But like so many athletes from the FCS, he'll need to find a way to slide into the NFL, even if it means changing positions.

    Juszczyk spent his career playing tight end for the Crimson, but he's listed as a fullback for the 2013 Senior Bowl. At 6'3" and 245 pounds, he might be a good physical fit for the position, but we'll have to see how he adapts to a position change on the fly.

    Juszczyk has scored 22 career touchdowns at Harvard, all though the air. If he can record a rushing touchdown as a fullback in the Senior Bowl, that may be enough to convince the pro scouts they need to see more.

Ryan Otten, TE, San Jose State

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    Ryan Otten was very Tyler Eifert-like in 2012, racking up 742 receiving yards as a tight end of the San Jose State Spartans. But unlike Eifert, Otten didn't have the benefit of a weekly national television audience to gin up draft hype.

    Otten scored just as many touchdowns as Eifert (four) in 2012, and topped Eifert's yardage by nearly 60. But perhaps most importantly, Otten outpaced Eifert in yards per reception by nearly two full yards.

    If he can show similar big-play ability in the Senior Bowl, he should be given every opportunity to showcase his skills right along side the nation's top tight end at the combine next month.

Brian Winters, OL, Kent State

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    By any measure, Kent State was one of the more impressive teams this past season, winning 11 games for the first time in program history and earning its first bowl trip since 1972. Were it not for an overtime loss to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game, it would have been the Kent State Golden Flashes making the trip to Miami for the Orange Bowl.

    One of the interesting things about Kent State's run was the fact that there were no great individual offensive stars. Notre Dame had Manti Te'o, Texas A&M had Johnny Manziel, Kansas State had Collin Klein, and even Northern Illinois had Jordan Lynch. But who led the way for Kent State? Everyone contributed to the Golden Flashes' success.

    But no team can be successful without a big, powerful offensive line. When it comes to Kent State's front five, there definitely was a leader there, and it was Brian Winters.

    Winters has the size every NFL team wants—6'5", 310 lbs—and he's surprisingly quick on his feet for a big guy, with enough lateral moves to stay with blitzing linebackers or pressuring ends.

    If he can make a few impact blocks in the senior bowl, he may be invited to join fellow MAC and Senior Bowler Eric Fisher (Central Michigan) at the combine.

Brandon Williams, DL, D2 Missouri Southern State

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    It wasn't all that long ago that Division II was the place for guys who were a few inches shorter and a few steps slower than those in the FBS and FCS. Those days are fading into history.

    We're not about to call D2 a NFL talent factory, but with a number of programs producing some pro talent that actually pans out, the ever-increasing willingness of scouts to give players from D2 a shot is noticeable.

    Brandon Williams is one of two Division II players competing in the Senior Bowl this season, and both of them are linemen. Williams, on the defensive side of the ball, is a big guy tipping the scales at an eye-popping 341 pounds. He also stands just 6'1".

    But he's not just another “fat guy” on the defensive line. While you might expect such a stout lineman to post 40 speeds somewhere in the mid to even upper fives, Williams has impressed everyone by recording a 4.92.

    He was a consensus All-American in 2012, and was named the D2football.com Defensive Player of the Year. Williams finished 2012 with 68 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, a safety, and set Missouri Southern State's career sack record with 27.

    And just one burst of speed on a big play in the Senior Bowl should leave scouts and GM's wanting to see more.

T.J. McDonald, DB, Southern California

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    T.J. McDonald may not have been the standout star for USC this past season, but that doesn't mean he can't make some noise at the Senior Bowl—or in the upcoming draft if everything goes his way.

    McDonald led the USC Trojans in tackles in 2012 with 110 (54 solo). He also added two interceptions, but he surprised many with his 6.5 tackles for loss, including a sack this past season.

    Clearly, McDonald can do whatever defensive coordinators need him to do; that versatility is the key for unheralded players to earn a coveted roster spot at the next level.

Jamar Taylor, DB, Boise State

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    Boise State didn't really wow anyone this season, and the Boise State Broncos had to settle for yet another trip to the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas. And while the team was without any national hype or superstars this season, there were still a number of very solid performances worthy of mention. Defensive back Jamar Taylor had one such season.

    While his numbers (51 tackles, 3.5 TFL, nine passes broken up, 2.5 sacks, four interceptions and three forced fumbles) aren't huge, he certainly has a wide range of abilities on defense.

    If we've said it once, we might as well say it again: Versatility is the name of the game for these previous unknowns. If Taylor can showcase some of his speed and awareness in the Senior Bowl, he may start to get a few nibbles of interest.

Garrett Gilkey, OL, D2 Chadron State

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    The second of two Division II players to find themselves at the 2013 Senior Bowl is Chadron State College's Garrett Gilkey, another consensus D2 All-American.

    Again, Gilkey is a D2 player that possesses FBS size. Whether he was a diamond in the rough or was just passed over by FBS and FCS may forever remain a mystery, but Gilkey is 6'7" and weighs in at 320 pounds. Even a decent performance could earn him a combine invite.

    And he'll have fellow Chadron State alum and New England Patriot Danny Woodhead cheering him on.

J.J. Wilcox, DB, FCS Georgia Southern

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    J.J. Wilcox earned his spot at the Senior Bowl as just one of seven players from the FCS to participate.

    What's remarkable about Wilcox's inclusion on the roster is that he had just one season of experience at safety before earning the honor. Wilcox was a slot receiver for Georgia Southern through his junior year before being moved to defense. As a receiver, Wilcox had nearly 1,000 yards rushing (seven yards per carry and 13 touchdowns) while racking up nearly 900 receiving yards (and four more touchdowns).

    This season at safety, Wilcox recorded 84 tackles and two interceptions. He also returned kickoffs for the GSU Eagles, averaging 25.5 yards per return on 30 attempts.

    Talk about versatile.

Ryan Allen, P, Louisiana Tech

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    Yes, we're including a punter, and why not?

    Louisiana Tech's Ryan Allen is one of the best in the business, and even the guys who actually put the “foot” in “football” should get a chance every now and then, right?

    On 45 punts this season for the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Allen averaged nearly 50 yards per kick. Punting is such an important, yet overlooked, part of the game, but when you have a guy who can reliably pin an opponent deep in their own territory, it can make a massive difference in terms of wins and losses.