The Most Anticipated Athletes of the 2014 Scouting Combine
One of the more anticipated events leading up to the draft, giving us just enough football to not go crazy, is the drama-filled media circus known as the NFL Scouting Combine, held in Indianapolis each year.
This is the event where 300-plus of the most impressive college football prospects in the world come together with the hopes of showing they belong on the big stage as NFL general managers, coaches and scouts gruel these players in every way possible for three days.
The results and outcomes teams walk away with after these critical few days could make or break a prospect’s draft status. So anyone who wants to downplay this event, go ahead—just know that they do it in vain.
Michael Sam, DE/OLB, Missouri
As the world descends upon Michael Sam and every detail of his life, those who care about what he does on the football field will also be eyeing his chances of becoming the first openly gay man ever to play in the NFL. It’s still unknown the type of NFL talent Michael Sam is at this point.
What we do know about him is that he’s undersized, he understands the game, and he knows how to make plays against top-level talent.
What we need to know now is whether or not he’ll make an undeniable case later this month for drafting him. Those rooting for him, like myself, will be hoping for Michael Sam to make a huge splash in Indianapolis. If he can showcase his athletic prowess on the national stage, it could help show the world that his ability speaks much louder than his sexual preference.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
According to guys like Rotoworld’s Josh Norris and NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah, Brandin Cooks has the potential to be a fringe first-round draft pick based off his speed and explosiveness from film review. If he wants to remove the fringe component from his consensus label, he needs to flash big at the combine.
According to NFL.com's Mike Huguenin, Cooks expects to fly past radar guns when it comes time for his 40-yard dash.
This whole thing fascinates me because even if Brandin Cooks runs a fast 40 time, I don’t see much of it translating onto a football field. I know there are several respectable opinions out there of people who see Cooks totally different than I do, and this is what makes draft talk so enjoyable.
A collective community of people trying to predict the future of individual careers—this is truly my favorite time of year.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The first point of interest for Johnny Football will be his official measurements. This polarizing prospect is unofficially listed at 6’1”, 209 pounds but will probably measure smaller in Indianapolis.
He better learn to start hanging upside down in preparation for the combine if he plans on retaining his listed height.
Another element of intrigue will be Manziel’s 40-yard dash time. On film he looks like one of the quickest guys out there, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Manziel will disappoint in his straight-line speed. If you watch the tape, Manziel is best at tricking guys with his speed, using change of direction and deception.
In a straight line, I would be shocked if Manziel posts a sub-4.5 in his 40.
For the record, I watched a ton of Manziel tape about a month ago, and I bought into his game immediately. For the longest time, my concerns had been about his recklessness with his body and his diminutive stature. But the more I learn about his confidence, the more I’m convinced that this guy has everything it takes to push past momentary failure. He is committed to greatness.
He plays with such arrogance not because he has always been the favorite but because he knows he grew up perpetually perceived as the underdog, at least at first glance. His attitude is a mockery at our own shallow attempts to predict and assess football talent. However, this mockery is geared more toward his opponents than his critics. He can see the doubt and surprise in their eye as well, and he lives to pull it out of them.
For those hoping to see Johnny Football throw in Indy, don’t get your hopes up. According to Manziel’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, per Daniel Kim of NFL.com, Manziel will not be throwing at the combine. Instead, he has elected to throw for scouts at his March 27th pro day.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Taylor Lewan gave Michigan fans a pleasant surprise when he announced that he would bypass the chance to be a first-round pick in the 2013 draft in order to return to Ann Arbor for his senior year.
The three-year starter's decision to stay in school was surprising considering he really didn't have much left to prove at the collegiate level, especially after an All-American campaign in 2012.
At this point in his development, the imposing 6'8'', 308-pound senior may not be as polished as his highly touted predecessor at Michigan, Jake Long. However, he does have all the physical attributes that personnel guys look for in an elite left tackle prospect.
He’s one of the better athletes for a guy his size and should post some impressive measureables in Indy.
A big week at the scouting combine should make up for an up-and-down senior season that may have hurt his draft stock more than aided it.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney could likely be the most anticipated of all the NFL prospects to enter the combine this year. The explosive 6'6'', 272-pound edge-rusher is largely considered to be a bigger athletic freak than Mario Williams, who ended up going first overall to the Houston Texans.
I can only imagine the number of people around the stadium and on TV watching his every move with their jaws suspended in midair. This could be a record-breaking performance for a guy of his physical stature.
In terms of just physical gifts, Clowney could end up being on a level of dominance similar to that of LeBron James.
Clowney used his tremendous physical tools to his benefit, racking up 16 sacks and 34 tackles for loss in his final two seasons. However, 13 of those sacks came during his sophomore season in 2012. Clowney’s junior year was disappointing—riddled with injuries and missed games.
Will Clowney really show the world that he can be the next superstar athlete? One who can make Julius Peppers and Mario Williams seem like mere mortals?
Well, he certainly has the potential if anyone ever did.
Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Ryan Shazier is getting a lot of acclaim this offseason for his ability to run sideline to sideline on a football field and make some athletic plays.
This athletic and fluid 6'2'', 226-pound outside 'backer possesses impressive ability to either rush off the edge or drop into coverage with equal effectiveness. However, skills such as physicality, sure tackling and a relentless motor are not exactly strengths of the star Ohio State linebacker.
In three years at Ohio State, he totaled 45.5 tackles for loss, 15 sacks and nine forced fumbles. This kid is one of the better playmakers in college football, and yet he could be slipping right out of the first round as some, including myself, believe that Shazier will struggle at the point of attack in the NFL.
It should be fun to watch and see if Ryan Shazier can catapult himself up in the draft with a great showing at any of the timed events.
De'Anthony Thomas, Offensive Weapon, Oregon
De'Anthony Thomas came with plenty of hype and high expectations to live up to, especially after putting together a fantastic freshman performance in his debut season at Oregon in 2011.
The elusive and explosive speedster was never quite able to duplicate his enormous rookie season, but he did make the nation stand up and take notice.
The 5'9'', 173-pound junior possesses the rare speed to be an incredible game-changer. He’s fully capable of creating a home-run play any time he touches the ball.
Thomas will have to answer concerns at the combine regarding his durability, given very few players as small as Thomas ever get drafted very high, if at all.
A blazing-fast time in each of the timed categories would likely do wonders for his draft stock. Besides, Thomas is also a guy to watch as one who could potentially break Chris Johnson's all-time combine record of 4.24 in the 40-yard dash, set back in 2008.
Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU
Before arriving at BYU, Kyle Van Noy was considered one of the more physically gifted prospects of the 2009 recruiting class. As a result, he had Pac-12 schools such as Arizona, Arizona State, California, Stanford and UCLA all courting him rather intensely.
Despite interest from bigger schools, Van Noy opted for BYU.
The former 4-star recruit followed up a breakout sophomore season with an even better campaign in 2012. He totaled 13 sacks, 22 tackles for loss, eight quarterback hurries and six forced fumbles.
Many draft experts expected Van Noy to declare for the draft as a junior. But instead, he decided to return for his senior year where he saw a significant drop in his production, and ultimately his draft stock plummeted right out of first-round contention.
It should be interesting to see if Van Noy is capable of wowing the scouts and coaches at the combine with incredible athleticism.
One event I'm not expecting a whole lot out him in is the bench press. Van Noy has never come across to me as an overly strong linebacker on tape. If he does have a big showing on bench, it will probably make scouts feel better about his functional strength.
Depending upon what he shows at the combine, his second-round status could rise or fall an entire round in either direction.
Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
For those worried about Aaron Donald’s size at the next level, I completely understand. Listed at 6’0”, 270 pounds, Donald is one of the smaller interior guys to be considered for the draft in a long time.
There will undoubtedly be a great deal of GMs looking to see how much Donald will weigh at the combine.
Teams will also be interested in seeing how he carries his weight during drills and other timed events.
In his last three seasons at Pittsburgh, Donald tallied 63 tackles for loss, 27.5 sacks and six forced fumbles. From just a film standpoint, this undersized playmaker is the best interior pass-rusher in the 2014 draft. With that said, teams will have a hard time seeing past his egregiously undersized frame.
Can Donald squeak his way into becoming a top-50 selection? That will certainly depend on what happens in February.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and currently writes for Bleacher Report.
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