Every year, there are approximately 255 players selected during the NFL draft. 335 players are invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, which means there will be at least 80 combine invitees who won't get drafted.
I say "at least" because if you look at the history of the draft, there are usually 30-35 players who were not invited to Indianapolis who also get drafted.
In the past, some of these kids have been drafted as high as the second round. In the 2004 draft, San Francisco selected Pittsburgh corner Shawntae Spencer with the 26th pick of the second round. Of course, that is not always the case and the usual rule of thumb is most non-combine draftees usually start coming off the board in about the fourth round.
This year's draft will be no different, as we will again see at least 30 non-combine participants get drafted in May. I do a lot of tape work and two players that stand out to me as easily being draft-able are nose tackle Wade Keliikipi from Oregon and quarterback Brett Smith from Wyoming.
Wade Keliikipi, Nose Tackle, Oregon
I haven't done any tape since midseason on Oregon's defensive players, but up until then, I felt that Keliikipi was easily a third-round pick. He is a fifth-year senior and started for the Ducks for three seasons.
He missed three games this year because of an injury, but came back strong to get seven tackles in the team's bowl game versus Texas.
Keliikipi is a big, wide body with an estimated size of 6'3", 310 pounds. Like most nose tackles, he is not an elite athlete, but he has a very good base, excellent balance and is seldom off his feet. He has the bulk and strength to occupy blockers at the point of attack and not give ground.
He has quick hands and shows the ability to shed blockers and consistently stop inside running plays. He has the power and quickness to get penetration and be disruptive versus the run.
He is mainly a tackle-to-tackle player, but will hustle in pursuit and take good angles.
The thing that jumps out to me on tape is that Oregon will occasionally play him on his feet and drop him into coverage. While we don't see this happen often, just the fact that the Ducks do this shows us that their staff has a lot of trust in his instincts and short-area quickness.
Keliikipi is mainly a run-down player. He does not possess top pass-rushing talent. Still, he got two sacks in the Washington game that I viewed. In that game, he showed good initial quickness, stayed low and was able to use a counter move. He has an adequate burst off of a block to close on the quarterback.
The fact remains that Keliikipi only had 5.5 career sacks.
Good nose tackles are a special breed. They have to have a tough play-after-play mentality because they are constantly double- and sometimes triple-teamed. I feel Keliikipi has the mentality.
Because he missed time with injuries, I'm sure clubs will bring him in for a medical. If everything checks out well, he has the talent to be a good rotational player for most clubs that run a 3-4 scheme. Don't be shocked to see him drafted in the fourth round.
Brett Smith, Quarterback, Wyoming
In late December, I got a call from an agent asking me if I had done any work on Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith. I told him I had not, so he asked me to do a few games and let him know what I thought. The reason he wanted to know is that there was a strong chance that Smith was going to declare for the draft.
When I started watching the tape I was pleasantly surprised. I watched four games and what I saw was a player who had the traits to become an eventual starter in the NFL.
Smith is a third-year junior and has been starting since his freshman year. He has adequate quarterback size at about 6'2.5" and 215 pounds. He is a good athlete with good play speed. I would estimate that he will run the 40 in the high 4.6's to low 4.7's.
Smith plays in the pass-happy, no-defense Mountain West Conference. He put up very good numbers this year, completing 293 of 467 passes for 3375 yards, 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. For his career, he threw for over 8800 yards with a 62 percent completion rate and 76 touchdowns.
Other than receiver Robert Herron, who will be drafted, the supporting cast Smith had was not that good. A lot of what Wyoming did on offense this year was because of Smith's talents.
When I evaluate a college quarterback, I seldom use his completion percentage as a guide for accuracy. The reason is that most college passing systems are designed to complete a high percentage of throws.
What I look at instead is ball placement. I always look to see if the quarterback can complete a pass in a tight area. Does the receiver have to make an adjustment? Is the ball placed where the receiver has a chance to make a a play after the catch? This will tell real accuracy.
Smith is an accurate passer. He can throw the ball with velocity from both the pocket and when on the run. He shows patience and can go through a progression to find the open man. I have seldom seen him force throws and he is a good decision-maker.
Smith does not have a "cannon" arm, but it is good enough. His mechanics are usually good and he has a quick release. I did notice that he does change his release at times and does not consistently set his feet. When he does set his feet and is balanced, the ball comes out of his hand nicely.
Smith can make all the throws necessary to play in the NFL. He can throw the deep out, slants, posts and fades. He shows he can put zip on the ball when he has to, but can also throw with touch.
The one area where he does need improvement is putting too much air under the ball on deeper throws. He will have to drive the ball better at the next level.
Overall, Smith is not a finished product, but what he lacks can easily be corrected with coaching. He needs to be more consistent with his footwork and throwing mechanics. He has the talent to be a starter in the league by at worst his third year.
I can see Smith being drafted somewhere in the middle rounds.