2016 NFL Draft: Prospects Who Will Shine at This Year's Combine
The 2016 NFL draft is fast approaching, and with the Senior Bowl in the rearview mirror, teams, prospects, media and fans alike have all set their sights on this year's scouting combine, which begins Feb. 23.
The annual event is less about what happens on the field and more about what happens behind closed doors—medical evaluations and team interviews—but draft hopefuls can still raise eyebrows with their performance in both positional and timed drills, for better or worse.
Every year, there are a handful of players who use the opportunity to show off their rare athleticism. Some hope their raw physical tools show their potential to perform at a higher level than their college film may suggest, while others simply want to confirm what scouts have already seen on tape.
Either way, here are five prospects who could dominate the conversation next week in Indianapolis with impressive displays.
Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU
NFL teams are always looking for athletic cornerbacks with the size and length to match up against the league's bigger, more physical receivers. LSU's Rashard Robinson brings those traits to the table, but he'll face some challenges in convincing NFL teams he's worth taking a chance on.
Robinson hasn't played organized football since 2014, when he was suspended indefinitely by head coach Les Miles following multiple violations of team rules. Robinson was then arrested in June 2015 for unauthorized entry into a former teammate's apartment, per Ross Dellenger of the Advocate.
Listed at 6'3", 177 pounds by the LSU website from his sophomore season, Robinson has the size reminiscent of New York Jets corner Antonio Cromartie, with speed and ball skills to match. He'll have to put on quite a show during team interviews when it comes to his off-field issues, but his athletic ability should turn plenty of heads during the week.
Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State
Heading into this year's Senior Bowl, Ohio State's Braxton Miller was viewed by many as more of a mid-round project; a gimmick-type player who could make an impact as a slot receiver or return specialist.
But he proved in Mobile, Alabama, he's way more than that. The former Buckeyes quarterback looked more refined as a receiver than expected, showing smooth, quick routes and reliable hands along with the same explosiveness he was known for throughout his career in Columbus. He also measured in at 6'1", 204 pounds, giving him legit NFL size for a starting pass-catcher.
Miller should shine in positional drills and shouldn't have any issues in the interview process, and an impressive 40-yard dash time could firmly plant him in the first-round conversation.
Shawn Oakman, DL, Baylor
On film, Baylor defensive lineman Shawn Oakman leaves plenty to be desired on a regular basis. But at 6'7", 269 pounds and more closely resembling a chiseled statue than a football player, the "Underwear Olympics" should be Oakman's show.
While he's extremely raw when it comes to the finer points of the game, Oakman's combination of size and athleticism is undeniable. He'll look explosive in certain drills and most likely time well in the 40-yard dash while using the event as another opportunity to show off his meme-inspiring physique.
Oakman is a top-heavy athlete who lacks the technique and consistency to make an immediate impact at the next level. But if he maximizes his opportunity to impress in other areas at the combine, he could easily end up enticing an NFL team to take a chance by spending an early pick on the opportunity to develop his natural athletic ability.
Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana
From Greg Robinson to Lane Johnson, offensive tackles with rare athleticism have turned impressive combine performances into top-five draft slots. Indiana's Jason Spriggs isn't likely to rise quite that high this year, but a strong showing in Indy could make him the third player off the board at the position after Mississippi's Laremy Tunsil and Notre Dame's Ronnie Stanley.
After weighing in at nearly 6'6" and 305 pounds at the Senior Bowl, Spriggs was easily the most impressive tackle all week in practices, showing great quickness to handle outside rushers and plenty of power to go with it.
Spriggs has room on his frame for a little more bulk, but he has everything an NFL team needs from a plug-and-play starter at left tackle. If he puts his athleticism on display at the combine, he could cement himself in the first-round conversation and challenge for top-20 consideration from teams like the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts.
Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State
Florida State's Swiss army knife of the secondary, Jalen Ramsey is already widely considered one of the top overall prospects in this year's draft. But his rare athleticism should be on full display at this year's combine, and he could easily vault himself into the conversation for the top overall pick.
Ramsey has starting experience at both safety and corner, proving to be a big-play magnet at both positions. His instincts and ball skills are among the best in this year's class of defensive backs, and he could easily stake claim to being this year's best prospect at either spot.
NFL.com's Lance Zierlein quoted one NFL front-office executive earlier this month who said Ramsey is expected to "win the combine" and generate even more buzz for himself heading into the home stretch of the predraft process. With four of the top five teams in this year's draft needing help somewhere in the secondary, don't expect Ramsey to last long on draft day.
*All observations obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.