The NFL Scouting Combine is officially underway in Indianapolis with prospects and teams gearing up for what some would call the “Underwear Olympics.” Players will be poked, prodded and interviewed for days, but all eyes will be on the drills.
From the 40-yard dash to the bench press, more than 300 of the draft’s top prospects will showcase their skills and athleticism. Some will perform better than others, which will ultimately help and hurt the stocks of both the top prospects and those currently in the Round 2 discussion.
Here are 15 players you should watch this weekend.
CB Adoree’ Jackson, USC
Jackson is a great athlete, but that doesn’t always translate to the NFL. As a cornerback, there are questions about his ability to cover receivers and hang in man coverage. What we do know is he can be an immediate-impact player as a returner, which will be apparent when he runs the 40 and tests incredibly well in the broad jump. He’s a track star.
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CB/S Desmond King, Iowa
King is a bit of a tweener. A shutdown corner at Iowa, King might be forced to switch to safety, depending on how he tests this weekend. If he’s slow in the 40 and comes in below 5-11, a switch could be in his future. He’s a physical DB who isn’t afraid to hit people, which makes him an intriguing safety. King will have to perform well to sneak into the back half of the first round.
WR Mike Williams, Clemson
Corey Davis has taken some of the limelight from Williams due to his size and speed combination, and that’s not likely to change in Indy. Williams is more of a possession receiver who knows how to go up and get the ball, better than any receiver in this class. The question is whether he has the speed to separate in the NFL. Keep an eye on his 40 time, as well as times in the agility drills. Catching passes in on-field drills won’t be an issue.
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DL Solomon Thomas, Stanford
Thomas has gotten overshadowed by guys like Garrett and Jonathan Allen, but that’s likely to change. Thomas can play inside or rush the passer off the edge, which is something teams will covet in the draft. He’s going to put up big numbers in Indianapolis and vault himself into top-5 consideration.
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QB Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
One quarterback who’s generating a great deal of buzz is Mahomes, a raw but talented player out of Texas Tech’s pass-happy offense. Against Oklahoma, he threw 88 passes for 734 yards and seven touchdowns. He has all the tools to be an NFL quarterback, as well as the mobility and arm strength, he just needs time to develop. He’ll be one to keep an eye on in on-field drills.
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RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
McCaffrey is a terrific athlete who could probably play six different positions on a football field. But is he big enough to be a three-down back in the NFL? He figures to post good times in the 40 and short-shuttle, but his strength and size will be examined closely. Additionally, teams will want to see how smooth he looks as a receiver, seeing as he’ll be a Reggie Bush-type player in the pros.
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LB Haason Reddick, Temple
Reddick had the best week of any player at the Senior Bowl last month, and he’ll look to carry that momentum into the combine. The cornerback-turned-pass-rusher-turned-linebacker can play a variety of spots and will be a Jamie Collins-type player for whichever team drafts him. He’s a lesser-known prospect to the general public right now, but that’ll change after he turns heads this weekend.
LB/S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
Is he a safety? A linebacker? No one really knows, but this weekend’s results could give us a better sense. Scouts will analyze his footwork, explosiveness, hip fluidity and speed in the 40, putting him under a microscope. If he shows out less impressively than many expect, he’ll likely fall all the way out of the first round.
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TE David Njoku, Miami
This is one of the most talented tight end classes in recent memory, and Njoku is one of a few players who could land in the first round. Njoku is a physical freak who may run in the 4.5s, which would be impressive for someone of his size (6-4, 245 pounds). If he puts on a show, he could emerge as the top tight end, sliding ahead of O.J. Howard.
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WR John Ross, Washington
Possibly the fastest player at the combine, Ross is going to run a blazing-fast 40. He won’t break Chris Johnson’s record, but don’t be surprised if he posts the fastest time of any prospect. Anything slower than a 4.39 would be a disappointment as he looks to be a DeSean Jackson-type player in the NFL.
S/CB Obi Melifonwu, UConn
Here’s a name not many people are familiar with, but will be after this weekend. Melifonwu is the latest physical specimen out of UConn, standing at 6-4. Melifonwu is viewed as a safety right now, but there are reports he could run in the low-4.4s. If he can pull that off, teams that covet big corners could look at him there, rather than safety. Seattle turned Brandon Browner into a great cornerback, and they could do the same with Melifonwu.
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S Jamal Adams, LSU
With Malik Hooker sitting out drills due to a shoulder injury, Adams will be the top safety in Indianapolis. He can do it all, from blowing up ball carriers in the hole to dropping back in coverage. He won’t be hitting anyone this weekend, but Adams can show he has the fluid hips and explosiveness to play both free safety and strong safety – much like the way Eric Berry does. Keep an eye on his potentially great 40 time.
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QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Watson is in the running to be the first quarterback taken in the draft, and he’s not shying away from showcasing his skills this weekend. Watson has said he’ll do everything at the combine, from running the 40 to going through passing drills. Watson can help his stock by making consistent throws in on-field drills and putting up a respectable 40-yard dash time for a dual-threat quarterback like him.
DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
The likely No. 1 overall pick in April, Garrett will have plenty of eyeballs on him this week. With a freakish performance in Indianapolis, he can lock up his place as the very best prospect in this class. His tape doesn’t lie, proving to be a dominant pass rusher, but everyone will be watching to see how he tests out physically. He could have a huge week in Indianapolis.
RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
Fournette checked in at the combine Wednesday weighing 240 pounds – 5 pounds heavier than LSU listed him at. That’s heavier than Eddie Lacy was at his combine, for comparison’s sake. If Fournette, who was hobbled by an ankle injury this season, can run a sub-4.5 40-yard dash, it’ll turn some heads. This is a deep running back class, so he’ll need to prove he can maintain his speed at that playing weight.