In light of this weekend’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, here is a list of the top six stories to keep an eye on:
1. The Quarterbacks - Everyone knows about the big guns at the top. Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, and Blake Bortles all appear to be vying for the number one overall pick. But there are plenty of other well accomplished college quarterbacks in this draft who are hoping to hear their names called on draft day. Alabama’s A.J. McCarron is a two time National Champion starting quarterback, and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd is both a school and ACC record holder in multiple offensive categories.
2. Michael Sam - I wish this wasn’t such an intriguing story, but it is. One day we will live in a world where a prospect saying he is gay will not be news, but for now, all eyes will be on Michael Sam. Sam, the co-defensive player of the year in the SEC last season, is said to be a mid round prospect. With a lot of general managers and front offices perhaps weary of bringing a gay player into their locker room, it will be interesting to see how Sam performs. If he posts high numbers in all of the drills, there is no reason why Sam will fall beyond the fourth round in May’s draft.
3. Jadeveon Clowney - A lot of people, myself included, want to see which Jadeveon Clowney will show up. We’ve all seen and heard about the hype with Clowney. He was a beast at South Carolina when he wanted to be, but took a lot of plays off. He was often non existent in games, and appeared to be badly out of shape much of the time. Tack on two egregious speeding tickets recently, and there are plenty of doubts surrounding Clowney. One thing that can’t be argued though is his pure athleticism, speed, and size. Clowney is a nightmare matchup as a defensive end…if he wants to be.
4. Talent In The Trenches - This draft appears to be extremely deep, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines. I’ve already mentioned Clowney on the defensive side. He’s joined by defensive ends Dee Ford (Auburn) and Kony Early (Missouri), defensive tackles Louis Nix III (Notre Dame), Timmy Jernigan (Florida St.), and Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh), and outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid Anthony Barr (UCLA). The offensive line is not only deeper, but it may be the deepest offensive line class we’ve seen in years. Jake Matthews (TAMU) is a likely top five pick, while Greg Robinson (Auburn), Taylor Lewan (Michigan), Cyrus Kouandijo (Alabama), Zack Martin (Notre Dame), and Antonio “Tiny” Richardson (Tennessee) are all likely first round picks. Additionally, players like Clemson’s Brandon Thomas and Virginia’s Morgan Moses are projected to go a few rounds later, and possess the talent to impact an NFL team right away. Oh yeah, and this is just the offensive tackles. Very deep in the trenches this year.
5. Wide Receivers - As deep as the offensive and defensive lines are, the wide receiver talent in this year’s class may be even deeper. It all starts with Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, and continues on down to USC’s Marqise Lee, Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, and even LSU’s Jarvis Landry. Others to watch include Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews , LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr., and Clemson’s Martavis Bryant. Oh, and don’t sleep on 2013 Biletnikoff winner Brandin Cooks (Oregon St.) either. Like I said, lots of depth at WR.
6. The 40 Yard Dash - Of course. What else would be in this spot? The 40 yard dash is the bread and butter of the NFL Scouting Combine. Does it mean all that much? Probably not. Running full speed for 40 yards in a straight line is never really asked of a player in a game, let alone without pads on; but it is an absolute thrill to see some of these guys run. The big name to look out for in this years 40 is Clemson WR Sammy Watkins. Watkins has been extremely vocal on social media about how fast he is running in his training runs. He has been rumored to touch the 4.2 second range, which only a handful of players have ever done before. If he does that, he will assure himself a top 10 pick, if not top 5. Another player to watch will be Clemson’s other explosive receiver, Martavis Bryant. Bryant reportedly beat Watkins in a 40 yard dash this season in practice, proving just how fast the Tigers’ receiving core was this past season. I don’t think Bryant will beat Watkins in Indianapolis though, as Sammy seems to want to prove to everyone that he is far and away the best (and fastest) wide receiver in this year’s deep pool of talent.
The NFL Scouting Combine is this weekend, February 22-25, in Indianapolis, IN and will be airing on the NFL Network. We’ll have a full break down of how these story lines played out after the combine.