Texas Football: What Each Longhorn Invitee Must Prove at the 2014 NFL Combine
For three of them, it is a great chance to improve their draft stock.
The group is headlined by star defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, who is looking to ride a stellar senior season into a first- or second-round selection. To do that, he must prove he has the durability to be an every-week player at the professional level while also showing the ability to play outside linebacker.
Thanks to a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, wide receiver Mike Davis has already gotten a head start on improving his draft stock. After surprising many with his polish at the position, he will look to follow in former Texas receiver Marquise Goodwin's footsteps in using the combine to vault his way into an early-round selection.
Rounding out the crew are defensive tackle Chris Whaley and kicker Anthony Fera. Whaley will be an interesting story, given his recent ACL injury. Fera, on the other hand, will simply be along for the ride as his teammates look to impress the scouts in Indianapolis.
DE Jackson Jeffcoat
WHAT HE MUST PROVE: Durability; Ability to play OLB in 3-4 scheme
Jackson Jeffcoat needed a transcendent senior campaign to reenter the discussion as one of the nation's top defensive end prospects. He delivered, but must continue to prove his worth in order to earn a high selection in this year's draft.
After a sterling 2013 campaign, the Ted Hendricks Award winner and consensus All-American is one of the most polarizing prospects in this year's draft. Once considered a first-round pick, Jeffcoat's draft status has been thrust into limbo due to his injury history, most specifically a season-ending torn pectoral in 2012. Without that, the former 5-star recruit would be projected way higher than his current third-round status.
At 6'5" and 245 pounds, Jeffcoat has the potential to sneak back into the first round with a strong showing in Indianapolis. A day of working out won't show much in the way of durability, but a big performance on the bench press would alleviate concerns of any lingering pectoral issues.
The other question teams will have about the former Longhorn is whether he can play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Late last season, defensive coordinator Greg Robinson moved Jeffcoat around in his hybrid "Viper" role, allowing his best player to make an impact at linebacker as well as defensive end. That helps on tape, but Jeffcoat will have to run faster than his projected 4.8 40, while impressing in both the 3-cone drill and the pass-rush drill, to up his stock at the position.
It may not be enough to earn him a first-round selection, but look for Jeffcoat to use his athletic ability to wow some scouts at this stage of the pre-draft process.
WR Mike Davis
WHAT HE MUST PROVE: Overall consistency at the position; Breakaway speed
One of the biggest surprises coming out of the Senior Bowl has to be the rave reviews thrown Mike Davis' way. He can solidify his third-round status with a solid showing at the combine.
Last month, Davis did himself some major favors in Mobile, Alabama. Despite working with guys like Jordan Matthews and Cody Hoffman, it was he that stood out for the South thanks to his sharp route-running and quickness, a sentiment echoed by the Dallas Cowboys' Ryan Broaddus. Even more impressive is that, according to B/R's Matt Miller, Davis has outshined the likes of Marqise Lee during their workouts together.
If you're a Texas fan, you're either feeling happy for the former Longhorn or wondering where this was during his four years on campus. While he graduated fourth on the program's all-time yardage list, Davis was prone to inconsistency as a route-runner and pass-catcher. He totaled five receptions for 26 yards in his last two games as a Longhorn, dropping a gorgeous 55-yard bomb in the Alamo Bowl.
Scouts will pay close attention to Davis' receiving skills at the combine as well as his measurables. He is listed at 6'2", but will probably end up closer to the 6'0" mark. Because of that, he will have to impress in the 40-yard dash and show that he has added some weight to his slight 195-pound frame.
DT Chris Whaley
WHAT HE NEEDS TO PROVE: Progress from injury; strength to handle NFL linemen
Just three months removed from an ACL tear, defensive tackle Chris Whaley is facing an uphill battle to even get drafted.
That said, whatever he can do at the combine will help his case.
Whaley began to pop up on NFL radars during a breakout senior year. Even at 6'3" and 295 pounds, he possesses rare agility for a defensive tackle and it allowed Greg Robinson to use him in a variety of ways. Whether it was dropping back on a zone blitz or using his quickness to beat double-teams, the ex-running back became a disruptive force in 2013.
Unfortunately for Whaley, his season was cut short due to a ligament tear suffered against West Virginia. The injury curtailed most of the NFL attention his play was attracting, and it's surprising that he was able to receive an invite to the combine.
There is no official word on what Whaley will be able to do in Indianapolis, where his athletic gifts would have done him some big favors. Doing anything with his lower body would be risky to both his health and his stock if he can't go full speed, so bench press and interviews seem like the most he will be able to do.
Whether it be the draft or in free agency, a team will take a shot on Whaley because his career arc is a cut out to follow that of former Longhorn and Pro Bowler Henry Melton. He can make that decision easier by showing he has some power in his upper body and that he is recovering quickly from his significant injury.
K Anthony Fera
WHAT HE NEEDS TO PROVE: Not much
Aside from interviews, there is not a whole lot of meaningful action for specialists at the NFL combine. Especially if you're one of the top specialist prospects, which is the case for kicker Anthony Fera.
Fera enters the draft process as one of the best kickers in the draft, according to both ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and CBSSports.com. The two-time Lou Groza Award finalist connected on 90.9 percent of his field goals in 2013, booting a career-long 50-yarder against Oklahoma. Teams might have questions about his leg strength, but he won't get the chance to showcase that at the combine.
Unless Fera wants to prove he is faster than some fat guys, there is no real need for him to risk pulling a muscle.