Projecting 10 Players Who Will Shock Scouts at the 2016 NFL Combine
With national signing day in the books and college football spring practice just around the corner, the next big event on the football calendar is the NFL Scouting Combine, which will be held next week (February 23-29) in Indianapolis.
Some of the biggest names in college football from last season—Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa, Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey—will be there to nail down their top-10 statuses for this year's NFL draft.
But what about those who are looking to raise their draft stocks to new heights? The combine is a dream destination for ultra-athletic college players who want to command more attention as the draft process continues.
Here are 10 college football players—ones who aren't projected to go in the first round by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller—who will shock scouts at next week's combine. These are the less-heralded draft prospects who could steal the show in Indy with their performances in testing and on-field drills.
Of course, this is by no means a comprehensive list. Who else do you think will shock NFL scouts at the combine? Tell us in the comments below.
Baylor DT Andrew Billings
Baylor defensive lineman Shawn Oakman's meme-worthy physique might grab a ton of attention at the combine, but teammate Andrew Billings has a great chance to steal the show with his freakish all-around physical gifts.
Billings broke Texas state powerlifting records in high school once held by former world champion and current WWE professional wrestler "The World's Strongest Man" Mark Henry.
Chase Goodbread of NFL.com believes Billings has a great chance at breaking former Oregon State defensive lineman Stephen Paea's NFL combine record of 49 reps in the bench press next week.
But world-class strength is only part of what Billings brings to the table in a combine setting. Baylor's official website claims Billings—all 310 pounds of him—ran a 40-yard dash in 4.94 seconds. If he can come anywhere near that at the combine, he'll have one of the best blends of raw strength and quickness in recent memory.
Boise State DE/OLB Kamalei Correa
In a draft that isn't deep in edge-rushing talents, look for Kamalei Correa to make himself some more money in Indianapolis with strong combine testing.
"Given that he recorded 19 sacks over the past two seasons, Mountain West fans certainly know Correa but most of the country won't learn his name (pronounced KAH-muh-lay / corr-AY-uh) until after the combine, where the 6'3", 245-pounder will create buzz with his athleticism," Rob Rang of CBS Sports wrote.
Correa isn't the most polished pass-rusher in this year's draft by any means, but his athleticism made him such a force at the college level for the Broncos. According to Miller, he has a chance to run a 4.60 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, and he'll be able to show his elite agility in testing.
While the Boise State star will have to work on his technique at the next level, Correa's pure athleticism should make him a high-potential target for an NFL franchise that is looking for an extra burst in its pass rush. The combine is his time to shine.
Florida S Keanu Neal
Another pre-combine favorite of Miller's, Keanu Neal was the ball-hawking centerpiece to a Florida secondary that was loaded with elite talents such as Vernon Hargreaves III on the corner. Neal should grab the attention of plenty of scouts at the combine.
"Keanu Neal is the best player in the draft that no one is talking about yet," Miller wrote. "He's a heat-seeking missile coming down from his perch at safety, and with the drills in Indy designed to highlight burst and flexibility, Neal should dominate."
Teams should already love Neal's physical nature at safety, and his athletic gifts should take him to the next level on draft boards. He showcased great closing speed at Florida, where he had 96 tackles during the 2015 season.
According to Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net (via the Philadelphia Eagles' website), some NFL teams believe Neal is the "best-looking safety" in this draft. If Neal wows like he's capable of doing at the combine, then he'll have even more franchises singing his praises.
Indiana OT Jason Spriggs
One of the more interesting areas to watch at the NFL combine each year is the big offensive tackle who soars up the draft boards with his surprising quickness and strength, much like Greg Robinson did in 2014.
Indiana offensive tackle Jason Spriggs fits that bill this year. The 6'6", 305-pound Hoosier is being talked about as a potential late entrant into first-round discussion after blowing away scouts at the Senior Bowl last month with his quickness and power.
"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," Bleacher Report's Luke Easterling wrote. "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."
As a first-team All-American in 2015, Spriggs was one of the most productive offensive linemen at the college level, although he didn't get a ton of mainstream media attention at Indiana. He's shown the physical traits that teams desire from a future cornerstone on the offensive line, and the combine could seal a first-round deal for him.
Louisiana Tech RB Kenneth Dixon
Kenneth Dixon left Louisiana Tech as one of the highest-scoring playmakers in FBS history, and now he has his sights set on becoming a breakout star at the next level.
Dixon isn't a traditional power back, but Bleacher Report's Eric Galko believes he could shine in the NFL thanks to his "elite stop-start as a runner, coupled with his shiftiness at the second level." In addition to his agility, this small-school back has also made it his mission to shock scouts at the combine with his improved speed.
"Coming in I was probably around a 4.57 [in the 40-yard dash], but I just want to shock people at the combine," Dixon told John Machota of the Dallas Morning News. "I'm not going to say my time but I definitely improved my 40 time. I'm just ready to go out there and show people that I can run fast."
Dixon was also a valuable pass-catcher for Louisiana Tech, which gives him more skills that should stand out to scouts in drills. He's a true do-it-all running back, so look for him to garner more spotlight with an all-around strong performance in Indianapolis.
Ohio State WR Braxton Miller
The NFL combine is seemingly made for skill players such as Braxton Miller. The Ohio State quarterback-turned-wide receiver is one of the best athletes that college football has seen in quite some time, which means he'll have a chance to blow up on a big stage in Indianapolis.
All eyes should be on Miller for the 40-yard dash, where he told reporters he's gunning for a time under 4.3 seconds. As Goodbread noted, Miller quickly slimmed down from the end of his college career to the Senior Bowl to "facilitate even more explosiveness."
On top of his blinding speed, Miller should dominate in other tests of his athleticism. When it comes to positional drills, he will show scouts that he's made a smooth transition from life as a dual-threat quarterback to an instant-impact receiver, as he took over at the Senior Bowl.
Miller's raw athletic numbers will grab teams' attention at the combine, and he should be able to combine that with impressive work as a wide receiver—easing concerns about how he'll perform after making the position switch less than one year ago.
SJSU RB Tyler Ervin
Tyler Ervin might be an undersized running back at 5'9" and 192 pounds, and he might have been overlooked in his college career at San Jose State. But he's a sleeper pick to watch out for at the combine thanks to his incredible speed.
"I’d expect him to be one of the fastest players at the 2016 Scouting Combine," Bryan Perez of Draft Breakdown wrote. "He has loose hips and excellent change of direction ability. ... Once he gets by the second level, he’s gone. Simply put, he has game-changing open-field speed."
As Ervin guns for the 40-yard dash title at the combine, he'll also be able to show scouts his versatility. He was second only to Stanford star Christian McCaffrey in all-purpose yards per game last season. He had a 300-yard rushing performance and a 263-yard outing, and he averaged nearly 24 yards per kick return.
Ervin doesn't project to be an every-down back in the NFL, but his athleticism and ability to impact the game in several areas should make him a valuable playmaker in the later rounds.
South Carolina WR Pharoh Cooper
South Carolina's Pharoh Cooper didn't get to showcase his full skill set effectively in his final season with the struggling Gamecocks. However, the combine will give him a chance to make up ground in the draft process by showing teams that he's the total package as a playmaker.
Cooper is a shifty weapon who isn't out of place in the backfield, out wide or in a special teams capacity. Agility, quickness and lower-body strength are his strong suits, and he's working on his overall speed in preparation for the next level.
"[My goals are] just to get better and faster and learn more in the film room and interviewing-wise," Cooper said, per the State. "Really getting fast at the 40-yard dash is a key part of the NFL Combine. Catching and making sure my hands are getting better every day and just trying to be as fast as I can when I run the 40."
If Cooper can add an improved level of speed to his versatile repertoire as a game-changing skill player, then he'll climb even higher in draft boards. Plenty of NFL teams could use someone like him in a number of ways on offense and special teams.
Temple CB Tavon Young
Football fans might not know Tavon Young right now, but there's a good chance they'll hear a lot about the Temple defensive back during the combine. He has the potential to be a steal in this year's draft thanks to the skills he'll flash in Indianapolis.
"At the NFL Scouting Combine, Young should post one of the better numbers in the 40-yard dash, broad jump and vertical jump among cornerbacks," Galko wrote. "He not only has the athletic testing numbers to prove he can make up for his lackluster size and length, but he displays his explosiveness on film naturally."
Although the NFL is starting to favor big cornerbacks more and more each year, Young's numbers will be tough to ignore for any team that is looking for a defensive back who can play right away. He was a track star in high school, and he has great strength for someone who is currently listed at 5'9" and 180 pounds.
As the old saying goes, big things can come in small packages. Young is a small package at cornerback, but that won't stop him from putting up big numbers at the combine.
Utah RB Devontae Booker
A late-season injury to Utah running back Devontae Booker might have knocked him down on some draft boards, but he could provide great value in this year's draft.
Scouts will want to see how well Booker has bounced back from injury. According to Tyler Dunne of the Buffalo News, Dennis Erickson, his position coach at Utah, says Booker is back at full speed as he trains in Arizona for the combine. He's been clocked in the high-4.4 to low-4.6 range in the 40-yard dash.
As Erickson told Dunne, Booker's hands in receiving drills could separate him from a lot of other running backs in this year's draft. Not many workhorse backs like Booker—he averaged more carries per game than any other player in college football last season—can add value out of the backfield as a receiver.
If he truly is close to 100 percent again after his knee injury, Booker could command a ton of attention in Indianapolis with his combine numbers. He has the speed, strength and versatility to be one of the best-looking backs in attendance this year.
Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.