2016 NFL Draft: Players with Most to Prove After All-Star Games

Eric Galko@OptimumScoutingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 31, 2016

2016 NFL Draft: Players with Most to Prove After All-Star Games

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    Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

    The January all-star circuit for the NFL draft process has finally completed with the conclusion of the Senior Bowl. Now, NFL teams shuffle off back to their home cities to organize their scouting reports, discuss all-star game notes and begin organizing their draft boards for the NFL Scouting Combine.

    While an all-star game can reveal a tremendous amount about a prospect, it’s still only one of many ongoing pieces to evaluate a prospect. With the NFL Scouting Combine, pro days and individual workouts still looming in the draft season, these eight prospects still have plenty to prove to NFL teams and the opportunity to still display why they should be high-round draft picks.

Jacoby Brissett, QB, North Carolina State

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    Associated Press

    After Carson Wentz, the darling of the 2016 Senior Bowl coverage, Jacoby Brissett is the most intriguing upside quarterback of the senior quarterback class. While he didn’t have a strong week of practices or game, Brissett’s sheer size (6'4", 235 lbs), arm talent and Ben Roethlisberger-esque flashes on film will continue to get him second and third looks from NFL evaluators.

    The Senior Bowl would have been the best opportunity to establish himself as a top-100 prospect, but he will have other opportunities over the next few months. He should test well at the NFL Scouting Combine in speed drills for a passer of his size, and his interviews should be strong. But it’ll be the individual team workouts in March and April that will truly be indicative of how high he goes. Don’t be surprised if he draws some EJ Manuel comparisons as a late-rising quarterback.

Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State

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    Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    By opting to not attend the 2016 Senior Bowl, Connor Cook did more harm than good to his NFL draft value. Had he attended, he would have given Carson Wentz a run for his money as the most impressive passer in Mobile, Alabama.

    However, lingering off-field and attitude concerns persisted among NFL teams, and he’s slowly become more of a second or third-round prospect than one that NFL teams want to invest in early in the draft class.

    He’ll get the opportunity to rehab his draft stock at the NFL Scouting Combine, where NFL teams will expect him to perform all drills, along with team interviews. While his college resume speaks for itself and his on-field anticipation and footwork may be considered the most NFL-ready of the 2016 quarterback class, Cook has plenty of explaining to do in Indianapolis in a few weeks.

Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Arguably the most polished of any receiver in the 2016 draft class, Sterling Shepard had a quiet yet impressive Senior Bowl, showcasing consistent route separation and finishing ability on the perimeter. As he did in college, Shepard wowed teams with consistency and refinement during the week of practices, and he solidified himself as one of the most NFL-ready receivers in the 2016 class.

    But for Shepard, playing a position that’s somewhat reliant on speed and quickness, the NFL Scouting Combine will play a major role in just how high he goes during draft weekend. His fundamentals and refinement are why NFL scouts are excited, but running in the 4.6s or testing in the bottom half of the other speed/explosiveness drills won’t secure a top-50 selection.

    Unless he can exceed expectations in Indianapolis, Shepard may remain in the second- or third-round discussion despite all the optimism about his ability to transition to the NFL game.

Darion Griswold, TE, Arkansas State

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    Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

    Darion Griswold is a highly athletic tight end prospect who has played in both the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl. Fitting the basketball-type prospect mold that NFL teams appear excited to develop in the NFL, Griswold’s upside gives pro teams optimism for his development.

    But he still needs to prove his athleticism is on par with the NFL’s elites to be a worthwhile project. He’s done plenty of impressing at back-to-back all-star games, and in a lackluster tight end class, Griswold has a real chance to go higher than a tight end of his college experience would indicate.

Le’Raven Clark, OT, Texas Tech

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Entering the 2016 Senior Bowl with optimistic second-round grades, Le’Raven Clark all but secured his top-four-round draft selection by measuring in with 36.5" arms, the longest of any prospect at the three major all-star events. With that length and his experience playing both tackle and guard in college, he merits a high grade.

    But Clark struggled during the Senior Bowl, and it’s clear that, despite being a four-year starter, he’s still in need of ample coaching at the next level. He’ll need some patience from NFL front offices, and he’ll likely end up on a team that has a strong offensive line coach who is confident he can develop Clark. On Clark’s end, he needs to do just enough, whether that’s at the combine, the interview process or private workouts, to win over enough offensive line coaches to earn his pre-Senior Bowl top-100 grades.

Jihad Ward, DE, Illinois

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    One of the biggest winners of the 2016 Senior Bowl practices, the long, lean Jihad Ward became a household name after excelling in practice despite not entering with high expectations. Built the part of an NFL 4-3 defensive end, Ward needs to build off a strong week of practice and continue momentum toward a top-100 draft selection. 

    For pass-rushers like Ward, NFL combine testing plays a major role in the evaluation. Ward, who’s a longer defensive end and has to add strength to his frame at the next level, needs to display flexibility and lower-half explosion at the combine and in team workouts. But after a strong Senior Bowl, don’t be surprised if Ward emerges as an early-round sleeper in the process.

Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor

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    Michael Chang/Getty Images

    Despite slimming down to 269 pounds for the Senior Bowl weigh-ins, Oakman is still among the most impressive physical specimens in the 2016 NFL draft. The long, wide and cut defensive end continues to look the part of an elite defensive end, but he’s struggled to show it on the field during his senior season and during the Senior Bowl practices.

    Oakman remains a “project pass-rusher” for NFL teams to consider despite being a three-year contributor at a major program. His issues appear to be effort and mindset, and there should be a question as to whether he’ll ever want to be great enough to work toward that goal. 

    He’ll be expected to, and should, post one of the best NFL Scouting Combine collections of scores for a defensive lineman prospect, but he’ll need to impress most importantly in a different area: the interviews. He needs to sell to NFL teams that he’s worth developing, because he hasn’t shown that over the last 12 months.

Victor Ochi, OLB, Stony Brook

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    One of the top small-school prospects in the 2016 draft, Victor Ochi highly impressed at the Shrine Game, showing off his edge quickness, strength from his lower-half, explosiveness and relentlessness as a pass-rusher.

    The still-developing edge prospect will take time to translate from project edge player to situational rusher to, hopefully, NFL starter. But before he can begin that development, he needs to continue to prove to NFL that his ceiling is enough to warrant the time needed.

    How he tests at the combine and how quickly he adjusts to an NFL defense in private workouts will go a long way in determining how high Ochi goes during draft weekend. Based on where he’s at as a prospect after just seven years of playing football and the quality of his character and work ethic, Ochi has every chance to thrive in time at the NFL level.

    Unless otherwise noted, all player measurements and practice observations acquired firsthand.

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