2014 NFL Scouting Combine: Draft Prospects with the Most to Gain in Indy

Dan HopeContributor IIIFebruary 16, 2014

2014 NFL Scouting Combine: Draft Prospects with the Most to Gain in Indy

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    Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy is among the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine's projected stars.
    Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy is among the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine's projected stars.Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, which will be held Feb. 22-25 in Indianapolis, will give 335 draft prospects a common setting to impress scouts and make names for themselves.

    While the workouts of elite prospects like South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins will likely get the most attention, those players—already safe bets to be first-round picks—probably have the least to gain from this year’s event.

    For players whose draft stocks are more in flux, the combine is a legitimate opportunity to improve one’s draft stock. Along with impressing in positional drills and in interviews with NFL teams, running fast, jumping high and/or dominating the bench press is a sure-fire way a prospect can make scouts take second looks.

    While that opportunity is present for every prospect who chooses and is healthy enough to be a full participant, the following 10 NFL hopefuls are among the most likely to take advantage of the stage and improve their draft positions.

     

    Note: All results from previous combines courtesy of NFL.com.

Dri Archer, RB/WR, Kent State

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    G.M. Andrews/Associated Press

    Dri Archer is not nearly as highly regarded as 2013 No. 8 overall pick Tavon Austin was going into last year’s combine, but he is a similar prospect who, like Austin, could send his stock soaring with an explosive combine workout.

    One of the most important aspects of Archer’s combine will come before he even takes the field at Lucas Oil Stadium. Listed at just 5’8” and 175 pounds during his Kent State career, Archer’s lack of size is a concern, and it will have scouts keeping a close eye on his weigh-in result.

    That said, when he gets to the field, he has a chance to be one of the weekend’s biggest stars. Archer has shown exceptional speed and quickness throughout his collegiate career, which he could use to be among the combine’s top performers in the 40-yard shuttle, 20- and 60-yard shuttles and three-cone drill.

    After a 2,577-yard junior season for the Golden Flashes, Archer’s role diminished greatly in his senior season. With only 982 all-purpose yards, he fell out of the early-round draft conversation.

    Nonetheless, if he puts up the workout he is capable of Sunday, Archer could very well end up being a Day 2 draft selection. Despite his lack of size, inconsistent production and issues with drops, he has the ability to turn any play into a big play, and he can entice teams to take a chance on his explosive athleticism.

De’Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon

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    Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

    De’Anthony Thomas—and perhaps many of those who decide to make prop bets on who will be the combine’s fastest man—will have money on the line when he runs his 40-yard dash next Sunday.

    Thomas never became a consistent source of offense in three seasons with the Ducks, but he was always an electrifying big-play threat. Whether he is taking a handoff from the quarterback or catching a pass, Thomas accelerates like a cannonball and can leave defenders in the dust with his speed.

    Like Archer, the weigh-in will be an important start to the week for Thomas, who was listed at 5’9” and 169 pounds during his Oregon career. On the field, Thomas’ prime objective will be to play up to the mantra that speed is unteachable and run a historically fast time in the 40-yard dash.

    Thomas, who was also a sprinter on Oregon’s vaunted track and field team for two years, is one of the few players at this year’s combine with a legitimate shot at running his 40 in less than 4.3 seconds.

    Should he do that, his stock would undoubtedly rise. He is a far better athlete than he is a football player, but so was Marquise Goodwin, who ran a 4.27 40 at last year’s combine and then ended up as a third-round selection by the Buffalo Bills.

L’Damian Washington, WR, Missouri

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Even in a draft class loaded with talent and depth at the wide receiver position, there is always a place for a wide receiver who can make outmatch his opponents with both his size and speed.

    L’Damian Washington isn’t among the top prospects in this year’s draft class, even though he could easily be. If he weighs in around his listed measurements of 6’4” and 205 pounds and lives up to his potential as a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash runner, he can prove himself at least worthy of a mid-round selection this year.

    Washington is an unpolished route runner with inconsistent hands, but he showed no shortage of big-play ability in a senior season in which he led a talented group of Missouri wideouts in receiving yards.

    Despite his raw skill set, Washington’s measurables should allow his big-play ability to translate. He just needs to prove in Indianapolis that he has those measurables.

    And though the most attention will go to his 40 time, his positional work next Sunday might actually be more important. If he shows improvement in his route running and catches the ball consistently, he can alleviate some concerns about his game and improve his draftability.

Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Despite an incredibly disappointing career at Miami in which he was suspended three times and played underwhelmingly as a right tackle, Seantrel Henderson’s upside is among the highest of all offensive linemen in this year’s draft class.

    Henderson wasn’t ranked as the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit by Scout.com coming out of high school for no reason. His exceptional combination of size, strength and athleticism didn’t always lead to great play on the field, but if he comes to Indianapolis in his best shape, it should show up at the combine.

    The most important parts of Henderson’s combine will actually come far away from the field.

    Passing his drug test is a must but no foregone conclusion, as he told reporters and NFL representatives at the Senior Bowl, according to a report from Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel, that his suspensions were due to marijuana. Given his troubled past, it is also imperative that he makes a good impression in interviews with NFL teams.

    The rest of the week, nonetheless, should all play into Henderson’s favor.

    The Hurricanes product measured in at 6’6.875” and 331 pounds with 34.25-inch arms at the Senior Bowl, so he should impress in weigh-ins, while he has the strength to be among the bench press’ top performers. On the field, Henderson should prove to be among the offensive line group’s most athletic players.

Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida

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    Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

    Aaron Lynch never seemed to settle in during his college football career. He only played one season at Notre Dame before transferring to South Florida, where he only played one season before declaring for the NFL draft, and his production never lived up to his potential.

    That potential, nonetheless, could push Lynch into emerging as an early-round selection in May. If he is going to do so, however, he needs to start performing up to his potential in the scouting combine.

    Lynch has the ability to shine in his on-field workout. He is an explosive athlete who displayed tremendous burst in his college football career, and he can help himself by displaying that not only in his 40-yard dash, but in positional drills.

    Weigh-ins and the bench press will also be important for Lynch.

    He has an impressively long frame, but his lanky build was far too noticeable last season at USF, so scouts should be looking for him to display added muscle mass in weigh-ins. Partially due to his frame, strength is also a concern for Lynch; his long arms won’t do him any favors in the bench press, but that will still be an opportunity for him to address doubts in that area.

Ethan Westbrooks, DE, West Texas A&M

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    Jim Cowsert/Associated Press

    It can be tough for a small-school product to land a combine invite, but it’s not hard to see why West Texas A&M’s Ethan Westbrooks did. In just two seasons at the Division II level, Westbrooks was dominant, compiling 42 tackles for loss (23.5 sacks).

    Despite his dominance, however, Westbrooks goes into the combine as a relative unknown from playing at a lower level of competition. He has the physical attributes to make a name for himself in Indianapolis.

    A big factor in Westbrook’s dominance, including a standout performance at the East-West Shrine Game, has been his terrific first-step quickness and closing speed. Those traits might have been exaggerated by weak competition, but the combine will be his chance to prove his athleticism alongside the draft’s top defensive line prospects.

    Having already measured in at the Shrine Game at 6’3” and 264 pounds with nearly 33-inch arms, according to Kyle Crabbs of NFL Draft Tracker, weigh-ins shouldn’t hurt Westbrooks’ stock. His key to a good week will be standing out on the field, and he has the ability to do so both in measurable drills and in position work.

    A relatively fast 40-yard dash time, a strong set of overall measurables and an impressive display on the field should allow Westbrooks to establish himself as a solid Day 3 draft choice.

Caraun Reid, DT, Princeton

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Another small-school defensive lineman to stand out against big-school competition in a postseason all-star game setting, Princeton’s Caraun Reid is looking to carry the momentum of a strong Senior Bowl week into an impressive combine.

    Considering the explosive athleticism Reid displayed as a penetrating defensive tackle in Mobile, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if the Ivy League product makes a name for himself on a bigger stage once again.

    Reid should stand out as one of the most athletic defensive tackles in on-field drills, and if he even comes close to running the 4.88-second 40-yard dash that NFLDraftScout.com (via CBSSports) projects him to run, that will be a good start.

    Reid is somewhat short for a defensive tackle, having weighed in at 6’2” at the Senior Bowl, but it doesn’t seem to affect him on the field. He has good core strength, so an impressive bench press performance could also help his stock, while his Princeton education should help him shine in the interview rooms.

    Even on the interior defensive line, NFL teams are always looking for more explosive athletes. If Reid can prove he fits that criteria, he could end up being a Day 2 draft pick, as he is already a solid Day 3 choice, per CBSSports, and one of this year’s top small-school talents.

Justin Ellis, NT, Louisiana Tech

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    GM Andrews/Associated Press

    Justin Ellis has the potential to be the Dontari Poe of this year’s combine.

    That’s not to say that Ellis should be expected to run a 4.98-second 40-yard dash and put up 44 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press, like the Kansas City Chiefs nose tackle did in 2012. Nonetheless, Ellis combines a massive frame with unusual athleticism like Poe, and he could keep his draft stock rising by showing it in Indianapolis.

    The Louisiana Tech product has already had plenty of chances to show his athleticism, which he did successfully, between his participation in both the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl. The combine will give him a chance to quantify that athleticism and show why a team should take a chance on him despite an underwhelming collegiate career.

    Despite weighing in at 342 pounds at the Senior Bowl, Ellis showed impressive quickness off the line of scrimmage to go along with good strength. Even a 40-yard dash in the 5.1-second range would be impressive at Ellis’ size, while he should be among the stars of this year’s bench press.

    In a solid but far from star-studded defensive tackle class, Ellis is climbing up the ranks and could continue to do so—quite possibly into Day 2 of the draft—by displaying that he’s more than just a big body.

Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    The defensive back group is known to have no shortage of impressive combine performances year in and year out, but there might not be any secondary player in line for a better showing on the combine’s final day than Loucheiz Purifoy.

    Purifoy doesn’t quite have the footwork and technique to be a starting NFL cornerback yet. However, if draft picks were made simply on athleticism and big-play potential, the former Gator would likely be a top-10 selection.

    From the 40-yard dash and 20-yard shuttle to the vertical and broad jumps, all of the athletic measurable drills should play into Purifoy’s favor. He is an explosive athlete with terrific acceleration and speed, while he also possesses strong change-of-direction quickness.

    Purifoy has the potential to put up head-turning numbers, but the positional drills are where he can really improve his draft position. While a team is likely to take a chance on his athleticism in the draft’s second round nonetheless, the Florida product can increase scouts’ confidence by showing fundamental improvements in his combine workout.

    As NFL wide receivers get bigger and faster, so must the cornerbacks. That could lead a team to draft Purifoy, should he impress both in weigh-ins and on the field in Indianapolis early on Day 2. He isn’t as NFL-ready as some of the draft’s other top cornerbacks, but his potential is higher than most.

Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The success of the Seattle Seahawks and their “Legion of Boom” secondary should keep the NFL trending toward bigger cornerbacks. Scouts looking for defensive backs who fit that criteria might end up being drawn to Desir in Indianapolis.

    Like Justin Ellis, Desir was a full participant in both the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, and he made an impression in both settings. He displayed noteworthy measurables in Mobile, weighing in at 6’1” and 195 pounds with 32.875-inch arms, while his athleticism was evident on the field.

    The inaugural Cliff Harris Award recipient (best small-school defensive player) should already be a well-known name in all scouting circles, but the combine gives him yet another opportunity to prove how he stacks up against top competition.

    A strong 40-yard dash time, ideally in the 4.4-second range, will be a crucial part of Desir’s combine performance. That said, he has the change-of-direction quickness to also stand out in the shuttle drills and three-cone drills, while he needs to display in positional drills how his instincts and ball skills can translate to a steep jump in competition.

    As a small-school talent, the Lindenwood product still has a lot to prove at the combine, but if he can continue to show he belongs among top competition, he is likely to solidify himself as a top-100 selection.

     

    Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.