2016 NFL Scouting Combine: Small-School Names with Something to Prove

Ryan McCrystal@@ryan_mccrystalFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2016

2016 NFL Scouting Combine: Small-School Names with Something to Prove

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    MIKE STONE/Associated Press

    The final major step in the predraft process is nearly upon us, as the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine is set to begin February 23 in Indianapolis.

    The combine workouts have become a major TV event for the NFL, but the most critical portions of the process (interviews, medical checks) still occur behind the scenes.

    For small-school prospects, however, the workouts are an opportunity to prove they belong.

    For the sake of this article, we're going to skip over North Dakota State's Carson Wentz and Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence. Both prospects have already established themselves as first-round locks and potential top-10 picks.

    Instead, we'll look at the next tier of FCS prospects who are likely to get drafted but still have something to prove in Indy in order to improve their draft stock.

Deiondre' Hall, CB, Northern Iowa

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    Deiondre' Hall (right)
    Deiondre' Hall (right)David Purdy/Getty Images

    Deiondre' Hall already created some buzz this offseason at the Senior Bowl when his wingspan measured just over 82 inches, according to Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke.

    Typically, your wingspan is equal to your height, but somehow, this 6'1" cornerback has the wingspan of an NBA center.

    It's not hard to imagine how that would intrigue NFL coaches.

    The combine weigh-in will undoubtedly generate more buzz for Hall, but the key to the event for him will be how he performs in the agility drills.

    Hall looked a little shaky in coverage at times and may not have the fluid athleticism to play cornerback in the NFL. If he flops in the combine, it may necessitate a move to safety, and his stock would take a hit.

Harlan Miller, CB, Southeastern Louisiana

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    Michael Chang/Getty Images

    Harlan Miller may be battling Deiondre' Hall to be the first small-school cornerback off the board, but the two are very different prospects.

    The 6'0", 182-pound Miller lacks Hall's wingspan but makes up for it with his quickness.

    In terms of NFL comparisons, Miller plays like a taller version of 5'9" New York Jets cornerback Buster Skrine.

    Like Skrine, Miller lacks the strength to match up with physical receivers at the line of scrimmage, but his speed and quick-twitch athleticism allow him to run with just about anyone.

    At the combine, Miller should perform well in the 40-yard dash, but NFL teams will be more interested in his vertical leap. Since he lacks elite length, a strong vertical could help answer questions about his ability to handle bigger receivers in the NFL.

Miles Killebrew, S, Southern Utah

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    Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

    Miles Killebrew could emerge as one of the stars of the combine—and not just among the small-school prospects.

    At 6'1", 219 pounds, Killebrew is built like a small linebacker and could play that role at the next level.

    Arizona Cardinals linebacker Deone Bucannon is a former safety with a remarkably similar build (6'1", 211 lbs) and skill set to Killebrew.

    In Arizona, Bucannon recently began playing the "Moneybacker" position, which is essentially a hybrid safety/linebacker role. It's similar to the "Rover" position used more frequently in college defenses. 

    In recent years, many NFL teams have been favoring speed over size on defense, which is opening up new spots for prospects like Killebrew.

    With a standout performance at the combine, the Southern Utah product could put himself in line to become the NFL's next Moneybacker.

Joe Haeg, OT, North Dakota State

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    Bruce Crummy/Associated Press

    Carson Wentz isn't the only prospect from North Dakota State headed to the pros.

    Joe Haeg started 61 games on the Bison offensive line at both left and right tackle. He spent the past two seasons starting on the left side after replacing Billy Turner, who was the Miami Dolphins' third-round pick in 2014.

    At the combine, teams will be interested to see Haeg's strength.

    While he clearly has NFL size at 6'6" and 307 pounds, Haeg didn't always dominate as a run-blocker—which scouts expect to see from future pros playing at the FCS level.

    If Haeg can show he's already making progress in that area, it will be easier for NFL teams to project his strength development at the next level once he's in the care of their coaches and trainers.

    Due to these concerns about his strength, Haeg is a developmental prospect, but his technique is strong enough to be viewed as a potential future starter.

Cole Toner, OT, Harvard

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Harvard's Cole Toner is at a similar stage in his development as Joe Haeg.

    Like Haeg, Toner's primary concern is adding strength so he can hold up against NFL pass-rushers, who are more physically imposing.

    Toner held his own at the Senior Bowl—a key step for a small-school prospect—but was clearly exposed against the elite defensive prospects, such as Noah Spence.

    It's only been a few weeks since scouts saw him in Mobile, Alabama, but seeing his strength at the combine will at least allow them to gauge what type of progress he's making.

    Toner won't be ready for a starting role as a rookie, so scouts will simply be trying to determine if he has the ability to develop the strength necessary to contribute in the NFL.

Victor Ochi, DE/LB, Stony Brook

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    Mike Carlson/Getty Images

    Victor Ochi was a dominant pass-rusher at the FCS level and carried that momentum into the East-West Shrine Game, where he was one of the standouts.

    One of the exciting aspects of Ochi's game is how he flies off the line of scrimmage.

    The 40-yard dash is far down the list of important events for a pass-rusher, but the 10-yard split could be a strong indicator for Ochi. His explosiveness off the snap could show up in that event in Indianapolis.

    Ochi is undersized for an NFL pass-rusher, weighing in at just 6'1", 244 pounds at the Shrine Game, according to Optimum Scouting. For this reason, it will be critical for Ochi to show off his athleticism at the combine.

Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Javon Hargrave doesn't look like much. He's short and squat (6'1", 309 lbs), and he certainly doesn't have the body of an athlete.

    Hargrave looks like the type of player who would be nothing more than a space-eater on the interior defensive line. However, he showed off an ability to penetrate the backfield and get after the quarterback during his week at the Shrine Game.

    At the combine, teams will want to see him show off that athleticism once again.

    If Hargrave can prove during the agility drills that he's more than just a guy who can take up space, he'll rise up some draft boards.

DeAndre Houston-Carson, S, William & Mary

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    Associated Press

    DeAndre Houston-Carson was a four-year starter in William & Mary's secondary, spending his first three seasons at cornerback before switching to free safety for his senior year.

    The switch was significant because he probably lacks the speed to play cornerback in the NFL. But after turning in a dominant year at free safety, Houston-Carson has eliminated the need for teams to project a position change for him.

    At the combine, it will still be important for Houston-Carson to run well.

    As a small-school prospect likely to come off the board no higher than the third round, he probably won't be drafted to fill an immediate starting role. So as a prospect who will be drafted for depth, if he tests well enough at the combine to make teams believe he can also play cornerback, it will give a nice boost to his stock.

    Franchises will also be interested to see how much weight the 197-pound Houston-Carson has added this offseason. On the field at William & Mary, he looked skinnier than most NFL safeties, which may lead to teams questioning his ability to help out in run support against pro running backs. 

    Heights and weights provided by NFL.com's draft tracker, unless otherwise noted.


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