The NFL combine takes a lot of heat for being an unimportant part of the draft process. Many evaluators take the workouts and make significant adjustments to their rankings. While some do overrate prospects based on the combine, this event still has a lot of value.
For the small-school prospects on this list, the combine offers them a chance to turn some heads. These are players that didn't get that much attention throughout their college career.
The best example came last season when Dontari Poe flew up draft boards after an impressive workout.
Central Michigan's Eric Fisher currently holds a top 10 grade and can do little to hurt is stock at the combine. The few areas that are important for him are the measurement of his arm length and bench-press performance.
The arm length impacts an offensive lineman's ability to keep defenders off his frame. If a pass-rusher gets into a lineman's body he has a better chance to control the action. This is why the use of inside hands and Velcro ability are always stressed for offensive line prospects.
Having natural strength is something teams look at when evaluating a players potential as a run-blocker. It takes power to push a defensive lineman off the ball and turn him from a play. A poor performance in this workout could bring in question Fisher's ability to make an immediate impact.
Defensive backs need to have the speed and closing burst to make plays on the football. Evaluators will be watching Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien to see if his workout numbers match his on-field play.
The key to Cyprien’s combine will center around his 40-yard time and 10-yard splits. Overall quickness is needed to cover ground in the back end of the defense. Safeties are also asked to play some man coverage in the slot, so they’ll need enough speed to run with both wide receivers and more athletic tight ends.
A good 10-yard split will indicate just how quick Cyprien can close on the football. This comes in play in both the running and passing game. Often times, the difference between a defensive stop and a big offensive play are a matter of inches.
The cone drill is also a very important workout for the defensive backs. This shows a prospects ability to turn their hips and adjust to the ball or target.
Playing at Bowling Green didn’t offer Chris Jones the stage to gain national recognition. However, the combine is the perfect setting for him to showcase his natural athleticism. Jones will be one of those prospects everybody is talking about after the combine workouts.
The key workouts for Jones will be his 10-yard splits, bench press and vertical jump. These are all areas of his game that standout on tape. He quickly gets off the line to penetrate the pocket, gets a push on the pocket with a power move and bats down balls at the line.
Currently, I have Jones rated as a third-round prospect. However, a strong showing at the combine could gain Jones the attention needed to rise on other’s boards.
The most effective pass-rushers in the NFL typically have an explosive first step that allows them to gain the edge. This is why it’s important for a prospect like Florida International’s Tourek Williams to have a good showing in the 40-yard dash.
His overall time will be looked at, but most will focus on that 10-yard split. This will indicate the type of explosiveness he possesses.
Williams is a bit of a tweener which might force him to transition to linebacker. If this is the case, he’ll need to look fluid when going through the cone drills. It’s usually difficult for defensive ends to make the adjustment of dropping into coverage. The cone drills will show if Williams even possesses the fluidity to make that transition.
Southern Missouri’s Brandon Williams took full advantage of his Senior Bowl invite, and is looking to continue that momentum at the combine. His main focus should be on the bench press, weigh in and interviews.
Williams is a bigger-bodied defensive lineman who is looking at a role as a space-eater in the NFL. He’ll need to show that he has the natural strength to occupy blockers and hold up against double teams.
The weigh in is important for these bigger prospects because evaluators don’t want to see a sloppy build that could raise questions about the player’s ability to maintain his playing weight.
Marshall’s Aaron Dobson has the height NFL teams look for in a top receiving prospect. He only needs a good 40 time to solidify himself as an early-round prospect. Dobson has a legitimate chance of coming off the board in the early part of the second round if he has a good showing at the combine.
His 40 time could mean the difference of teams looking at him as a possession wide receiver or a potential No. 1 target. Most teams are looking for someone who can attack the deep part of the field and consistently generate separation.
The 40 time and 10-yard splits are the best way to judge a player's ability to stretch the field.
The athleticism of an offensive lineman typically dictates where or not a prospect is seen as a guard or tackle. Being seen as a potential offensive tackle really increases the value of a prospect. This is why Kent State’s Brian Winters needs to show some fluidity.
Evaluators will keep a close eye on Winters’ cone drills to see if he has the quick feet needed to hold up in space.
On tape, Winters appears to struggle reaching the edge against quicker pass-rushers. He has a chance to change some opinions with his performance at the combine. If he looks fluid, evaluators will go back and re-look at his tape.
The combine is important to every participant, but it plays a larger role in some prospects' evaluations. Those players labeled as “tweeners” need to show that they have the athleticism to make the transition to linebacker. If someone like Western Kentucky’s Quanterus Smith looks stiff he’ll see his draft stock take a major hit.
This doesn’t mean that Smith is destined to play linebacker in the NFL, but he just doesn’t want to limit his options. Workouts like the 40-yard dash, three-cone drill and his 10-yard splits will be the key to Smith’s week.
Smith torn his ACL during the season, and it's uncertain what he'll do at the combine. If he doesn't work out, the interviews will be equally as important.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s Terron Armstead has the fluidity and natural athleticism to succeed as an offensive tackle in the NFL. However, there are plenty of questions surrounding his overall strength. He’ll need a strong performance in the bench press to maintain his momentum.
Smaller-school prospects like Armstead will be drafted based on their potential. There just isn’t enough of a sample of him playing against top-level competition. This is why it’s important for him to build positive buzz during the combine.
He has a realistic shot of working himself into the fourth-round range.
Miami Ohio’s Zac Dysert received some poor news when he found out he suffered a small tear in his hamstring while training for the combine. According to NFL.com, he’s expected to miss 4-6 weeks recovering.
This is unfortunate for Dysert, as he needed to rebound from a poor performance at the Senior Bowl. It’s never a good situation to leave a poor taste in evaluators' mouths leading up to the draft. Hype and positive moment play a role in a prospect’s draft stock.
Missing the combine means that Dysert only has his pro day and individual workouts left to impress evaluators.
The tight end position continues to grow into a more important piece of the passing game. This is why it’s important for tight end prospects like Rice’s Vance McDonald to show their athleticism. During his college career, McDonald played the role of a pass-catching tight end that spend most of his time in the slot.
He needs to show this week that he has the quickness to outpace defenders and attack the seam. His short area burst will be determined by his 10-yard splits. That burst comes into play in a pass-catcher’s ability to create separation.
If McDonald fails to test well, he could find himself as a seventh-round pick or undrafted free agent.
Stony Brook's Miguel Maysonet is a powerful runner who looks to immediately get north and south with the football. His one-cut stye of running fits in well with his physical attributes. Maysonet isn't a burner, but has enough speed to outpace defensive angles.
The key to the combine for Maysonet will be his 10-yard split, as he'll need to show the explosiveness to press the hole and quickly get through the open hole.
Outside of a surprising 40-time, it'll be difficult for Maysonet to really improve his draft stock at the combine. However, he still has a realistic shot of coming off the board in the fourth or fifth round.