NFL Draft Sleepers Who Will See Stock Rise at the Combine
With the NFL Scouting Combine quickly approaching, we are bound to see some stocks rise.
It happens every year.
Little-known players emerge as stars through the combine and rapidly move up in mock drafts.
While players are tested in their speed, verticals, lifting and shuttle, scouts eyes are opened as these players pursue their dream of landing in the NFL.
This year will be no different. Prospects will come in and show exactly the type of players they can be.
Some of these players are proven college athletes, but will rise in the draft with solid combine performances; others are full-fledged sleepers who could come out of nowhere to impress.
With that, let’s look at some players whose stock will rise with good combine performances.
Keenan Allen WR—California-Berkeley
Keenan Allen is a highly touted prospect who is well-known among NFL scouts.
His problem lies with the left knee injury (PCL) that forced him to miss the last three games of the season, which is the only reason he’s a sleeper for this combine.
At 6‘3” he has all the tools to be an early selection, but his speed is a concern. While his athletic ability enables him to get in good positions to catch the ball, his breakaway speed could alter his NFL production.
Allen recorded the most receptions in Cal history with 205, including 98 as a sophomore. He has tremendous vision, and when he finds a hole, he can accelerate for a big gain.
He can line up in the slot, wide or even in the backfield and could be a dangerous Wildcat weapon on the right team.
His versatility is a strong point as he has potential to be a No. 1 receiver. With great hands, he could be the most dynamic receiver in the draft.
To separate himself from the likes of Cordarrelle Patterson, Terrance Williams and Quinton Patton, Allen needs to show his knee is healthy at the combine.
If he can do that, he has the potential to be a mid first-round selection.
Logan Ryan CB—Rutgers
Logan Ryan had a stellar career at Rutgers, compiling 94 tackles and four interceptions last season.
He was the only player in the country with at least 90 tackles, four picks and 18 passes deflected.
A two-time All-Big East selection and Pro Football First Team All-American, Ryan enters a draft that is deep with cornerbacks.
His press coverage is one of his bright spots, making an underneath pass difficult to a receiver in his area. That was evident with the deflected passes he had.
Ryan is known for his ability to get in the middle of every play. He stuffs the run and is a tough, disciplined player.
He can turn his hips and stick with the receivers in man coverage while displaying quickness on his feet.
What could work to his advantage is his pre-combine training. According to Tom Luicci of the Newark Star-Ledger, Ryan worked out with Darrelle Revis in Arizona. Ryan told Luicci,
I feel like I’m training with one of the best defensive back coaches in the country in Will Sullivan and this is where Darrelle Revis is rehabbing. I’m learning a lot from him, just being around him every day and picking his brain. So I have that and the guy who trains Darrelle Revis, among many other great defensive backs, working with me.
What Ryan needs to do at the combine is have a good 40-yard dash time. If he puts on an impressive effort, he could see his name called in the first round.
Montee Ball RB—Wisconsin
Montee Ball has a chip on his shoulder. He’s not being given any respect by the draft experts and NFL scouts.
Ball had 83 touchdowns in his college career, an FBS record. He rushed for over 1,800 yards in each of the last two seasons.
Yet, he’s projected to be a middle-round pick. With those statistics, he should be up there with the top running backs in the class.
He has seemed to improve each year and is a downhill runner, attacking and using his strong upper body to shed tackles.
He has a knack for the end zone and would excel in a zone running scheme.
His stiff arm can leave defenders on their backs, and he has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Nobody is questioning what he accomplished at Wisconsin, but his 5’11”, 215-pound frame leaves him in an awkward area where he is too small to be the feature back and too big to be a speed back, according to ESPN's Pat Yasinskas.
According to Bob Wolfley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mike Mayock of NFL Network had this to say about Ball:
He showed toughness, balance, vision. He's a one-cut, north-south runner. I think he fits most of the offenses in the NFL. I see him as a late two (second round) to early three (third round).
Scouts are concerned about the amount of games he’s piled up and the wear and tear on his legs.
This draft isn’t deep at running back, and if Ball can show scouts he can be a complement to their feature back, they shouldn’t hesitate to make the pick.
He needs to have a good 40-yard dash time and a good 20-yard shuttle. If that happens, I see him getting drafted on the first day.
Robert Lester S—Alabama
Robert Lester is a projected fifth-round pick. He has had a solid career and is coming off a 48-tackle, four-interception season.
His inconsistencies have caused his draft stock to drop.
Lester, at 6’1”, is a tough, hard-nosed safety. He’s able to stuff the run and has the speed and strength to take down receivers.
He has long arms enabling him to hawk the ball and force interceptions. He can get up on underneath routes quickly and is able to come off the edge and get to the quarterback in blitz situations.
Opposing offenses thought it best to not throw the ball his way in 2012, which is part of the reason his overall numbers weren’t that great.
What he needs to work on is his routes. He’ll take the wrong route in his defense and end up getting beat. Most of the time, he can’t recover.
He needs to have a solid combine to get his name back in the discussion. His size and build could excite some teams in the second or third round, where Lester could be a steal.
Quanterus Smith DE—Western Kentucky
Quanterus Smith is a skilled pass-rusher who can get to the quarterback in a hurry. He recorded three sacks last season against the best team in college football, Alabama.
His 6’5”, 250-pound build can get past the offensive lineman in the blink of an eye. He swats away the blocks and doesn’t get touched.
He’s coming off an ACL injury, but recorded 12.5 sacks in 10 games this past season.
The area he needs improvement in is his run stopping. He can get to the quarterback, but has trouble with the run. If he can polish that part of his game, he could be a solid NFL player.
He is great coming off the edge, and his hands have gotten faster each year.
At the combine, he needs to show he still has the quickness factor in him. Coming back from ACL surgery, it could be tough for him to get that quick first step.
With a huge upside, a good showing at the combine could improve Smith’s draft stock immensely. Any team could use a quick, versatile defensive end.
The most important thing is to prove he can still compete after the injury.
Rogers Gaines OT—Tennessee State
Rogers Gaines comes from little-known Tennessee State, but with his invite to the combine, he could see his draft stock skyrocket.
At 6’7” and 335 pounds, he makes himself a presence on the offensive line. He didn’t give up a sack all year.
His offensive line helped Tennessee State lead the Ohio Valley Conference in rushing with 175.7 yards per game.
Another player coming off injury, Gaines underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, but began training for the combine in December.
TSU coach Rod Reed told Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean,
I thought he really put his time in and worked hard to turn into the player he’s become. …And (scouts) found him. If there are 32 NFL teams, 29 teams have been in to look at him.
His size alone should cause some uproar at the combine. Coupled with the fact that, according to The Tennessean article, he is 100 percent healthy and put on 15 pounds of muscle, he could be the biggest surprise at the combine.
He has to show he has more than size and that he can compete with the top prospects. Gaines is going to participate in every drill to persuade a team to call his name.