It happens at every party: Someone doesn't get invited, and that's when feelings are hurt. In this case, it can hurt multi-million-dollar careers. For the NFL Scouting Combine, hundreds of college kids were hoping to attend and showcase their skills in advance of the NFL draft, but many worthy players were left off the list.
The omission of Wyoming QB Brett Smith left many evaluators scratching their heads, but these are the four biggest snubs from the combine, which all involve players at top programs who have the talent to make the leap.
Denicos Allen, Linebacker/Safety, Michigan State
Denicos Allen was a stalwart on one of the nation's best defenses. A four-year player and three-year starter, Allen recorded 278 tackles and 19.5 sacks in his career. According to the school's website, he finished third in MSU history with 46 tackles for loss and was a three-time All-Big Ten selection. For 2013, SI.com named him a second-team All-American, and the Associated Press had him on their third team.
As noted by Dane Brugler of CBS Sports: "Allen played mostly linebacker at Michigan State but projects to more of a hybrid safety role at the next level. His 'tweener' skill-set creates some concern, but he has the mental make-up and tenacity to play the run and drop in space."
Let's see: a guy from one of the nation's best defenses who can play as a speedy linebacker or an enormous safety. He needs to be at the combine!
James Franklin, Quarterback, Missouri
Mizzou enjoyed a sensational season in 2013, but much of that success was attributed to the defense. Hence, signal-caller James Franklin got left out in the cold for the combine. A shoulder injury robbed him of four games in the middle of his final season, but he ended the campaign with a bowl victory, and his team ranked No. 5 in the nation.
Franklin played four years for the Tigers and piled up 51 touchdowns on 62 percent passing. He did throw 25 interceptions in his time there, but much of that is owing to his 11 picks in 2011. He has also flashed some dangerous mobility through 21 rushing TDs in his college career, including 981 yards and 15 scores on the ground in 2011.
Franklin and Missouri came up short against Auburn in the SEC title game, 59-42, but he threw for three touchdowns and 303 yards in the losing effort; he also added 62 yards rushing with a TD on 15 attempts.
In the Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma State, however, Mizzou prevailed in spite of Franklin as he misfired on 25 of his 40 passes and threw a pick without finding the end zone once.
Brendan Bigelow, Running Back, California
Brendan Bigelow is just one of several Golden Bears bolting early for the draft and understandably so. He probably wants to get out of college and hit the pros before anything else happens to his knee.
According to SI.com's Gabriel Baumgaertner, Bigelow "first tore his ACL during a playoff game his junior year. Then, seven months later, he tore the ligament again on his first snap of a preseason scrimmage his senior year."
While such setbacks might have been enough to derail the average youngster's hopes of being drafted, Bigelow remained focused and has emerged as a potent player on the other side of rehab, as shown by his 107-yard, two-touchdown performance at Colorado on Nov. 16.
As Bigelow told Baumgaertner: "When you first get injured, you don't want to push it too hard. It is really sensitive to doing anything to it because it is hurt. It got tough at times. I've gotten through it and (my knee) has gotten a lot stronger."
He rushed for 421 yards on 105 attempts in 2013 and added 34 receptions as well, but the lasting image of Bigelow's college days will be his 81-yard rumble for a score against Ohio State in 2012. While the knee issue will ding his draft stock and has cost him a combine invite, he will find some team willing to take a chance on him.
Ben Gardner, Defensive End, Stanford
Ben Gardner had his season derailed in October by a pectoral injury, an especially devastating setback for a lineman. Despite still managing to crack the All-Pac-12 team, he was not contacted by anyone from the NFL regarding the combine.
As he told ESPN's Kyle Bonagura, "Who knows if injury had something to do with it. It's a little disappointing, but the thing for me is that it's just another hurdle."
Initially, Gardner's injured pec was slated to keep him out through April, but he is expecting to participate in the pro day for Stanford on March 28. His rigorous training is what keeps him ready for each new challenge, and he appears to have the dedication to reach the NFL. Per Bonagura:
He spends his mornings training at California Strength in San Ramon with Stanford teammates Tyler Gaffney, Shayne Skov, Josh Mauro, Ryan Hewitt and USC defensive end Morgan Breslin, who also didn't receive a combine invitation. When he's done there, Gardner drives back to Stanford for more rehab.
While they won't see him at the combine, NFL teams should be able to tell that his work regimen is befitting of a dedicated professional.