Burning Questions Heading into the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistFebruary 23, 2019

Burning Questions Heading into the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine

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    On Tuesday, aspiring NFL kickers, punters, running backs and offensive linemen will arrive in Indianapolis and embark on a process they'll never forget. The next day, tight ends, quarterbacks and wide receivers will follow. Defensive linemen and linebackers enroll on Thursday, and defensive backs register on Friday. 

    It's the NFL Scouting Combine, and it's as weird—and as important—as ever. 

    Between Tuesday and the following Monday, college stars hoping to be drafted in April will voluntarily become science projects for powerful people who can make or break their careers. 

    No pressure, though. 

    Here are a dozen burning questions looming over this year's event. 

           

Is Kyler Murray Tall Enough to Ride?

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    When quarterbacks are poked, prodded and tested on Thursday, the football world will be anxiously awaiting an official report on Kyler Murray's height.

    We know that the two-sport star and Heisman Trophy winner out of Oklahoma is short and that Sooners assistant athletics director for strategic communications Mike Houck says Murray is 5'9⅞" in socks. But we also know that if the 21-year-old comes in well below 5'10", there will be significant concerns about his NFL prospects. 

    According to Pro Football Reference, Doug Flutie is the only quarterback in modern NFL history who has thrown even a single touchdown pass despite being 5'10" or shorter. And Flutie was never really a star. 

    Sure, Russell Wilson is only about an inch taller than Flutie was during his playing days, but the Seattle Seahawks star quarterback is built like a brick house and weighs in at 215 pounds. Oklahoma has Murray listed at 195, which is why it'll also be interesting to see what he weighs in Indianapolis. 

    Murray might have the mobility and the vision to excel in the NFL despite his height, but will his overall lack of size make him vulnerable? That's a big question considering he has a hell of an alternative in baseball. 

    The point is Murray will be the center of attention at the combine, even if he decides not to throw

Is Dwayne Haskins QB1 Material?

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    With Murray still a complete wild card, there's a chance Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins will be the first quarterback to go off the board on April 25. But to some, that's an indictment on this class of signal-callers. 

    "Haskins scares me," an NFC area scout recently told Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, "but he has the most traits to work with. Still, he's not [Jared] Goff or anything. He would have been QB4 in last year's class."

    "He's probably QB1 in this class," added an AFC scouting director, per Miller, "but that doesn't mean he's a good quarterback. This is a bad draft for passers, but he's still going top five. It's just how the league works now."

    B/R's Brent Sobleski has Haskins going off the board sixth overall to the New York Giants, and there are no concerns about the 21-year-old's size (listed by Ohio State as 6'3", 220 pounds). He finished his college career with a strong run against some talented defenses, but now he has to maintain that momentum in Indy. He has just one season as a college starter under his belt, which could give a poor combine performance more more weight. 

Where Will the Other Quarterbacks Fall?

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Of course, all eyes are basically always on those who throw the footballs, so there'll be plenty of questions next week about those jockeying for draft position who aren't named Dwayne or Kyler. 

    There's Drew Lock, who threw 1,553 passes during his four years as a starter at Missouri but managed to bolster his stock during Senior Bowl week, per Miller. He might look to show off his howitzer in Indy. 

    There's also Daniel Jones, who has the height and mobility you want and a strong resume after a three-year starting run at Duke. But he struggled late in 2018 and "missed too many easy throws and was inconsistent across the board" during Senior Bowl week, according to Miller. 

    Those two are considered potential first-round picks, but they and Haskins and Murray possess weaknesses that could be exploited in Indianapolis by perceived second-tier quarterback prospects like Will Grier and Ryan Finley. 

Who's the Best Defensive Player in This Draft Class?

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    Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

    While the quarterbacks naturally hog most of the attention, this draft class appears to be special when it comes to quality defensive linemen, with as many as dozen defensive ends and tackles jockeying for first-round draft positions. 

    Who'll wind up leading the pack at that position? It's becoming an intriguing debate, and the combine could lead to more clarity regarding who might emerge from a deep position group to be chosen as high as first overall on April 25. 

    Right now, the best-known defensive player in this class is almost certainly former Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa, who has NFL genes on his side and looks primed to make an immediate impact as a relentless pass-rusher at the NFL level. 

    But there's also Josh Allen, who was a 3-4 edge-rusher at Kentucky and is coming off a ridiculous 17-sack senior season in the SEC. And there's a hell of an interior presence in Alabama product Quinnen Williams, whose stock has been rising. A scout told Miller last month that Williams could be a top-five pick, but the 3-technique defensive tackle has just one year as a starter under his belt, so his combine performance might carry extra weight. 

    And beyond Bosa, Allen and Williams, Michigan's Rashan Gary, Houston's Ed Oliver, Clemson's Clelin Ferrell, Mississippi State's Montez Sweat, Michigan's Devin Bush and LSU's Devin White will all be looking to prove in Indy that they're worth top-10 picks as front-seven defenders. 

    Those guys will all be on the field together on Sunday, March 3. 

Is Ed Oliver the Next Aaron Donald or Just Another Undersized DT?

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    According to Pro Football Reference, only two NFL defensive tackles weighed less than 285 pounds in 2018. That might not bode well for Houston product and potential top-10 pick Ed Oliver, who weighed 292 pounds as a junior with the Cougars, per his Houston bio page, but is listed by the Draft Network at 274 pounds. 

    Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com reports that the Houston staff "thinks that 285-290 pounds is too heavy for Oliver."

    The good news is one interior defensive lineman in that weight range is 2018 Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, but the 280-pound Donald is a rare product. 

    The issue with Oliver is that while he's tantalizingly fast, explosive and athletic, the three-time first-team All-American was rarely dominant as a pass-rusher in the American Athletic Conference, let alone as a run-stuffer. 

    Safe to say he has to test well in Indy. Otherwise, there'll just be too many questions plaguing him. And at a deep position, that could easily cause him to slide out of the top 10. 

Is Rashan Gary a Workout Warrior or Legit Top Prospect?

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    Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

    Another highly touted interior defensive lineman trying to make a statement at the combine in an attempt to gain ground on guys like Bosa, Allen and Williams is Michigan product Rashan Gary. 

    Like Oliver, Gary is a tad undersized, but he plays bigger, he's taller and he's probably better-suited to shift to a 5-technique position. His issue is that he was severely limited by a shoulder injury during his final year with the Wolverines, and he was held to just 6.5 sacks in 23 career Big Ten games. 

    That only accentuates the importance of his performances at the combine, at his pro day and in private workouts. 

    Miller noted recently that Gary's "untapped potential and athleticism give him the edge" over Oliver, but that could change between now and the end of April, and there's a lot of room to slide at such a deep position. 

Will Greg Little Show Why He Was a 5-Star Recruit?

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Former Mississippi offensive tackle Greg Little looks the part. His measurables make him an exceptional prospect and explain why he was a 5-star recruit out of Allen, Texas.

    The problem is Little lacked consistency and frequently failed to live up to the hype during his three years as a starter at Ole Miss. And that could put extra pressure on him in Indianapolis.

    Scouts and team personnel will look closely at the 21-year-old's 10-yard splits in the 40-yard dash as well as his vertical and broad-jump results, in hopes that they'll be off the charts to such a degree that his college-level underachievement can be overlooked. 

    It won't be easy. An NFC pro scout recently told Miller that Little is "just bad."

    "I don't know what to tell you," the scout added. "He doesn't move well enough to play left. He's too lazy. I laugh every time he's in the first round of a mock draft." 

    That mentality could make it tough for Little to gain ground on fellow potential first-round offensive tackles Jawaan Taylor, Cody Ford and Jonah Williams. 

Does Jonah Williams Have the Arms?

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    Michael Woods/Associated Press

    Speaking of Jonah Williams (6'5", 301 lbs), he too faces questions despite being widely viewed as a potential top-10 pick after three seasons as a starter on both the right and left side at Alabama. 

    Williams is not a standout athlete, he's not overly powerful and his arms appear to be shorter than the ideal length for a franchise left tackle. So if he doesn't dazzle athletically in Indianapolis and his arms measure shorter than the 34-35 inches typically expected of an elite tackle, teams may view him as a guard. 

    And the reality is that'd likely hurt his draft stock. 

    Scouts and general managers are likely begging to be convinced that Williams can flourish on the blind side at the NFL level, but that might not happen at the combine. 

Just How Big Is D.K. Metcalf?

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    Thomas Graning/Associated Press

    Reigning Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman is 5'10", 198 pounds. He's crafty, and he knows how to get open. Receivers like that—and those who simply have the speed to separate downfield—are in vogue right now. 

    What does that mean for Ole Miss wide receiver D.K. Metcalf? 

    The 21-year-old isn't just a physical marvel. He has gotten so jacked that his shirtless pictures are going viral

    Ole Miss lists the 6'4" Metcalf at 230 pounds, but it looks as though he's bulked up. Per Pro Football Reference, only Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin weighed more than 230 pounds in 2018, and Evans was only a single pound above that mark. 

    Metcalf probably could have used another year with the Rebels, as his production the last three seasons left a lot to be desired (1,228 receiving yards, 14 touchdowns in 21 games) . Now, he could be a combine hit, but he also runs the risk of scaring away teams if he weighs too much and/or can't run a decent 40-yard dash. Plus, he's coming off a neck injury and will have to prove that isn't going to linger. 

    Oklahoma's Marquise Brown is the antithesis of Metcalf, and he looks like the safer choice at the moment.

Can Josh Jacobs Make His Case to Be the Next Highly Drafted RB?

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    First-round running backs are cool again!

    After Trent Richardson scared everyone away from using premium picks on backs in 2013 and 2014, Todd Gurley delivered as a top-10 pick in 2015, Ezekiel Elliott delivered as a top-five pick in 2016, Christian McCaffrey came through as a top-10 pick in 2017 and Saquon Barkley won Offensive Rookie of the Year as the No. 2 overall pick in 2018. 

    Could that allow Alabama's Josh Jacobs to sneak into the top half of the first round this April? 

    Last month, Miller called the speedy and powerful 21-year-old one of the biggest risers in this draft class, and Miller's latest big board lists just four prospects above Jacobs. It's hard to find any obvious flaws in his game, and the 5'10", 216-pounder has the versatility to excel as an every-down back at the NFL level. 

    One potential concern is that Jacobs carried the ball just 251 times in three seasons with the Crimson Tide, and he only became a centerpiece late in 2018. The sample is small, which will make his combine performance that much more crucial. 

Who Will 'Win' the Combine?

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    Ohio State wide receiver Parris Campbell
    Ohio State wide receiver Parris CampbellJamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Last year's combine "winners" might have been Saquon Barkley and Josh Allen. Sometimes, the speed demons win. That was the case with Chris Johnson in 2008 and John Ross in 2017, when Ross broke Johnson's 40-yard dash record with a time of 4.22 seconds. In 2016, former Houston Cougars cornerback William Jackson III was arguably a surprise winner. 

    Who'll steal the show in 2019? 

    It could be Kyler Murray if he decides to throw. It could be Ed Oliver, Rashan Gary or D.K. Metcalf if any of them live up to the hype physically. Or it could be another potential 40-yard dash champion. In that respect, keep an eye on wide receiver Parris Campbell and defensive back Kendall Sheffield, both of whom burned rubber at Ohio State in 2018. 

    Regardless, one or two prospects will probably make themselves millions of dollars by standing out in Indianapolis. 

Who'll Get Traded?

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    The combine isn't just about 335 prospects in various forms of underwear. It's also somewhat of a football convention, where general managers, coaches, scouts and agents all coalesce. 

    That convenience could expedite trade talks involving draft picks as well as active players. 

    We already know Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is on the block, so you might want keep an eye out for any huddled conversations involving Steelers GM Kevin Colbert. 

    Other trade candidates include Justin Houston, Donald Penn, Jalen Ramsey, Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Ryan Tannehill, Blake Bortles, Case Keenum, Jordan Howard, Jerry Hughes, Malik Jackson, Devin McCourty, Olivier Vernon, Gerald McCoy, Jordan Reed and, of course, Odell Beckham Jr.