INDIANAPOLIS – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – Now that the 2017 NFL Combine is officially in the rear view mirror, let’s take a peek into the future with these questions about the top prospects on both sides of the ball. We start with the offense.
–Was NFLDraftScout.com’s top-rated QB Mitchell Trubisky, indeed, the top passer at the Combine?
Not necessarily. From measuring in at a solid 6-foot-2 (and an 1/8) and 222 pounds (with 9 1/2-inch hands) to impressing with his poise on the podium and during athletic drills, Trubisky checked all of the boxes necessary to remain as the top quarterback. He impressed with his speed during the 40-yard dash (4.67 seconds) and delivered strikes during the throwing session, showing the velocity and accuracy to project as a future NFL starter despite only starting 13 games at North Carolina.
–If it wasn’t Trubisky, then who stood out the most?
Just as he did the past two years in national title showdowns with Alabama, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson showed off his remarkable ability to raise his level of play when the lights shine brightest. Scouts knew he could run (4.66 in the 40-yard dash) but few expected that he would look as polished as he did in the five- and seven-step drops and be the most accurate passer during passing drills.
–Could Watson’s performance at the Combine earn him a spot in the top 10?
It certainly might. Watson remains a polarizing player in the scouting community. His 30 combined interceptions over the past two seasons led the country and no NFL team will overlook that fact. The QB-needy clubs in the top 10-12 picks, however, could be dazzled with his poise and upside.
–Was Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer as bad during his position workout as some suggest?
It was pretty bad. There is no denying Kizer’s arm talent but his inaccuracy during drills was frightening. The redshirt sophomore looked like he had never taken a five- or seven-step drop before, and the reality is that in Notre Dame’s shotgun-heavy attack, he rarely did during a game. Some longtime NFL evaluators after the workout asked me pointblank, “What has he been working on all this time?” After all, remember, the 4-8 Irish did not qualify for a bowl game.
–If this QB class is supposed to be so bad then why are as many as five being projected as first-round picks?
In a word, desperation. Potential free agents Mike Glennon (Tampa Bay), Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo) and Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco) are likely to earn big contracts in free agency despite coming with more questions than answers. With the rookie wage scale (and possible five-year contract that comes with it), teams could see investing a first-round pick as a much more palatable solution to their quarterback needs.
–Is too much being made about Dalvin Cook’s “pedestrian” workout?
Yes. Cook is a proven talent who plays quicker and faster than he times because he anticipates defenders. The stopwatch did not reflect that. If Cook falls on draft day, it will be due to medical or off-field concerns, not because his 40-yard dash or shuttle drills weren’t up to par.
–So, if we are to overlook Cook’s poor performance, the same is true for Leonard Fournette, right?
Not necessarily. I’ve been as big a Fournette fan (he was my No. 3 overall prospect heading into the Combine) as anyone, but I have to question how seriously he is taking this process after coming in at 240 pounds. Prospects should be in the best shape of their life at the Combine. I remain convinced that Fournette is as gifted as any back since Adrian Peterson, but what made AP great is not just his size, speed and power but his grit. Fournette’s stock is falling … and fast.
–Could concerns about his speed push Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams out of the top 20?
Yes. Williams, of course, did not run at the Combine, citing Clemson’s long season, but he did participate in positional drills and his lack of juice was alarming. For much of the process, many thought that Williams was the star who helped Watson look good. Following their respective Combine performances, it is worth wondering whether the opposite is, in fact, true.
–After setting a Combine record with a 4.22-second 40-yard dash, Washington’s John Ross is a first-round lock, right?
No. Athletically-speaking, Ross is clearly among the top 32 prospects and quite possibly the top receiver in the class. However, scouts already knew that Ross was fast. What they don’t know (yet) is his medical grade. Ross has undergone surgeries to both knees, including for a torn ACL (left knee) and meniscus (both knees), with a shoulder surgery (labrum) coming up. Ross “should” go in the first round but with his injury-marred past and narrow-shouldered 188-pound frame, there are many who question whether he can hold up to a 16-game NFL season.
–Who is an under-the-radar wide receiver whose Combine performance deserves more attention?
Take a peek at Northern Illinois’ Kenny Golladay. The 6-foot-4, 218-pounder was officially clocked at 4.50 in the 40-yard dash, had a 35.5-inch vertical jump and had a more than respectable 4.15-second short shuttle time. Even better, he looked terrific during the position drills, showing impressive body control during the gauntlet drills to haul in a pass thrown behind him, while maintaining his momentum.
–When is the last time a tight end class was this talented?
The 2002 draft saw three tight ends (Jeremy Shockey, Daniel Graham and Jerramy Stevens) go in the first round, and that may wind up being the case this season for the first time since then, with Alabama’s O.J. Howard, Miami’s David Njoku and Mississippi’s Evan Engram all deserving of top-32 consideration. That 2002 class saw 24 tight ends drafted, the most since 25 were drafted over 17 rounds in 1975. NFLDraftScout.com currently has draftable grades on 20 tight ends and I see two below that mark (Oregon’s Pharaoh Brown and Louisville’s Keith Towbridge) hearing their name called on Day Three, as well.
–Will there be a consensus on the top offensive tackle in this draft?
Probably not. The most gifted tackle in the draft is Utah’s Garett Bolles but he will turn 25 years old in May and has only one season of experience at the FBS level, as does Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk. Alabama’s Cam Robinson is a classic mauler in the running game but is not the dancing bear teams want at left tackle and comes with significant off-field concerns. The only consensus about this year’s tackle class is that it might be better to wait.
–Which player on offense has the most riding on his Pro Day?
It is hard to look past Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon, who might have everything riding on Wednesday’s workout in Norman. Not only does he need to show his contrition for his well-documented mistakes off the field, Mixon must dazzle scouts with his athleticism. It is worth noting that poor workouts from Cook and Fournette (among other running backs), may have opened the door a little wider for Mixon, who is clearly among the draft’s most gifted athletes.
–Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed in partnership with The Sports Xchange, Sports Direct and CBSSports.com to Digital Sports Desk.