The first in a two-part round table feature that previews next week's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Part two can be found here and my own personal preview will go up early next week. Enjoy.
With the NFL Scouting Combine now just a week away, the Bleeding Green Nation round table continues to chug along. Here are the three participants for part one: Kunal (@KSIXI / BBV -- Invictus XI), Vince (TheWooderCooler.com), Brian (BGN -- shady54).
1) Here's the official Combine invite list: http://www.nflcombine.net/players/official-invite-list. What are your initial reactions? Which names, aside from the obvious, jump out at you and pique your interest? Who are you most excited to see? Which players are you surprised not to see invited/feel should have been invited?
Kunal (@KSIXI / BBV -- Invictus XI): My initial reaction, as it is every year, is one of anticipation. Scouts and GMs will tell you that the combine will end up as a very small part of the overall evaluation, but as guys who don't have exact measurements and don't have thousands of hours of film, this ends up a whole lot more significant for us. As far as guys that jump out and pique my interest, a high rounder would be Arthur Brown, out of KSU. He's started as an ILB for the Wildcats, but he's listed at 6'2", 228 lbs, and looks like a safety. After missing the Senior Bowl, Brown's stock as a potential 1st rounder depends on whether he's added bulk, is actually 6'2" (doubtful), can maintain his speed so that he can be considered as an ILB, or whether he'd be a weakside guy only.
Another prospect that piques my interest is Tyler Bray of Tennessee. He's got an enormous draft range. Preseason rankings had him as a possible #1 overall pick. That's likely not going to happen, but he is listed as a throwing QB, so scouts will get a great look at his arm strength and mid-range accuracy, both of which are question marks at this point. We won't hear anything about it, but interviews are really important for him, as he has character concerns as well.
As far as who excites me, it's got to be the big name freaks like Dion Jordan, Ezekiel Ansah, Barkevious Mingo and Sheldon Richardson. We expect them to test through the roof, but still it is exciting and amazing to see an Ezekiel Ansah run a 4.6 @ 265 lbs, or a Barkevious Mingo perhaps running in the 4.4s. They won't do much in terms of their draft stock (Editor's note: I don't know about that), but hell, it's fun and what the combine is about.
One guy who excites me as well is CB Xavier Rhodes. He's 6'2", 217 lbs. That's massive. I want to see how well he flips his hips during the drills, along with the 40 time. He could raise his draft stock based on his height/weight/speed to a top 10 pick if he runs a 4.4. If he looks tight hipped or doesn't run well in and out of his breaks, he could be ticketed for the 2nd round.
There were definitely a few snubs that left me scratching my head. Kenny Tate, OLB/S Maryland was originally a high round player, but has had production and injury issues. He needed the Combine to get back into a draftable range, because he is very athletic. Michael Williams is the well known TE out of Alabama, who I suppose was not invited because he was more of a blocker than anything else. However, he was tremendous in that regard, and did open up in the receiving game late in the season. Williams could have helped his draft stock a round or two if he could show that he can run routes and have good hands. A player that the Eagles might have been interested in was Travis Howard, CB out of Ohio State. He's 6'0", 198 lbs, didn't have a bad season, showed good speed, and is from a school that's known for sending out DBs. How the hell do you leave him off?
Vince (TheWooderCooler.com): The first thing that stuck out to me when looking at the list was that 60 defensive backs will be in attendance. The Eagles obviously need to remold the entire back half of the defense, and taking a closer look at that many guys is nothing but beneficial.
As a result, I can't help but be excited to see Dee Millner. At 6'1" 196 lbs., Millner is a very physical player that isn't afraid to make a tackle. He would be a fantastic addition to the team and possibly pair with DRC to make a complimentary duo. I'm looking for Millner to be very impressive during the combine and solidify his status as an elite prospect.
For a bolder selection, another guy that I'm looking forward to viewing is Jonathan Jenkins of Georgia. At 6'3", 359 lbs. Jenkins is a great candidate to play nose tackle alongside Fletcher Cox and would come with a bevy of other picks that the Eagles would get for trading down. I expect him to impress with his quickness and strength at the combine, which will improve his stock to the middle of the first round. Athletic big guys are hard to come by.
Brian (BGN -- shady54): A couple guys that interest me in this year's combine are Montee Ball and Matt Barkley. I realize these are big college names, but they certainly aren't guys who have commanded much attention over the past month or so. Montee Ball, at 5'11" 215 lbs, has prototypical size for a RB and just finished what I would consider one of the greatest college careers for a RB; yet he is projected to be a 2nd or 3rd round pick. I realize this is certainly not a position of need for the Eagles and is actually one of the lone bright spots on our roster, but Montee Ball is a player who I think will be a steal for whoever drafts him. The Combine will be a huge opportunity for him to showcase his athletic ability. The next player who I find intriguing is Matt Barkley. This is a guy who before the 2012 season started was projected to be the hands-down number 1 overall pick. I realize he struggled in 2012, but he's obviously shown enough over the years to warrant that initial first overall pick projection. It'll be interesting to see how he performs at the combine and even more interesting to see who drafts him and how his game translates to the NFL.
2) Which players on the Combine list do you think will have the best performances and blow everyone away? Who's going to be that "workout warrior"? Who do you think will run the fastest 40-yard dash? Feel free to expand upon this as much as you want -- who'll put up the most reps on the bench, who will have the best shuttle time, who will have the best 3-cone drill time, who'll have the best broad jump, who'll have the best vertical jump. Which talented players will bomb their interviews, and which player with average talent/tools will do really well in his interviews? You don't HAVE to answer each of the questions, just throwing out suggestions to give you ideas.
Kunal (@KSIXI / BBV -- Invictus XI): As I said, the freaks like Barkevious Mingo, Sheldon Richardson, Dion Jordan, and Ezekiel Ansah all figure to do really well. You can add Margus Hunt and William Gholston to that list as well. Ansah, as a former track star, will probably be the most impressive in terms of pure speed when taking into consideration height. In terms of explosiveness, look for Sheldon Richardson and Shariff Floyd as two DTs to dominate not only the 40 yard dash, but also the 10 yard split, vertical and long jump, which measure lower body strength and explosiveness. They have some of the fastest first steps in the nation.
I'd put Margus Hunt, William Gholston, and Jesse Williams as guys to beast out at the bench press. Hunt is built like an Adonis, and shows incredible upper body strength. Gholston, unsurprisingly given his last name, might be the workout warrior that posts a great vertical, great 40, and great bench press reps. Of course, he has no concept of pad level, has no pass rush moves, and the motor of a Ford Fiesta, but he's a great ball of clay to work with for teams that can afford to put in the time. As far as the 40 time goes, popular choices are Kenjon Barner, Mike Gilleslee, and Johnthan Banks. However, I'm going with someone that isn't getting talked about that much anymore: Tyrann Mathieu. Yes sir, the Honey Badger has speed to burn, and I wouldn't be surprised if he lights up the 40 track.
The interviews will be exceedingly important for some guys. The aforementioned Mathieu for obvious reasons. He's got to ensure that he'll stop smoking when they are testing (Editor's note: How about just stop smoking, period). Also the other fairly obvious one is Manti Te'o. I think he aces the interview because he's got a believable story; he's a well-spoken, and by all accounts an intelligent and personable guy. I think if there's anyone who's going to bomb the interviews, it's Sheldon Richardson, who's gotten flak for his character based solely ON interviews that make him come off as an arrogant douchebag.
Vince (TheWooderCooler.com): This year I think the guy that is really primed to wow people is Star Lotulelei. In a way, I consider his situation to be similar to what happened with Donatri Poe last year. There were questions about Poe's effort and ability, which led to projections in the bottom of the first round. However, he bench pressed (Editor's note: and 40-yard dashed) those concerns away and ended up being taken 11th overall.
Similarly, there are mixed reviews about Lotulelei's performance last season, but there is no denying his physical ability, which will shine in Indianapolis. He also has the credentials to legitimize his performance with the 2011 Morris trophy. After the combine, he'll be a top five guy for sure, so I expect plenty of mocks tying him to Philly.
The other prediction is Denard Robinson. He will inevitably impress with his physical ability and may be picked in the fourth round or earlier by a team desperate for playmakers. However, this will likely be a mistake given the history of QBs abruptly turned into wide receivers. Armanti Edwards or Matt Jones, anyone?
In terms of team interviews, what I'm looking forward to most is the multitude of reports that will emerge accusing clubs of asking Manti Te'o if he is gay. That should be fun for the NFL's PR people.
Brian (BGN -- shady54): I think the three players whose stock is likely to be impacted the most by the combine are EJ Manuel, Manti Te'o and Ezekiel Ansah. Here's why:
EJ Manuel (QB, Florida State): I think EJ Manuel's draft stock is likely to rise provided he can make the throws, which has been one of the biggest knocks on him over the past few months. With no clear cut # 1 QB in this year's draft, a team could decide to reach for EJ Manuel after a strong Combine. It's no secret that Manuel has all the tangibles --size, speed, athleticism and a big arm. The Combine is the perfect place for him to showcase those attributes. Many mocks have Manuel going in the second to third round. I think it will be difficult for him to get into the first round without a team really reaching because the last nine teams or so in the draft are already set at QB. Perhaps the Texans, who have the 27th pick, and without any glaring holes, would be a team to reach on him. Given the NFL is a "what have you done for me lately" type of league, Manuel could make a good impression on GMs with his strong Senior Bowl performance and a strong Combine.
Manti Te'o (LB, Notre Dame): No player invited to the combine is more excited than Manti Te'o. After getting steamrolled by Alabama (and literally run over by Eddie Lacy) in the BCS National Title Game, Te'o can't wait to put to rest any questions about his potential to be an NFL superstar. Te'o, who was once was projected to be a consensus top 10 pick, now finds himself at the tail end of the first round in most mock drafts. Couple that with the alleged hoax, and many GMs are going to question his character and maturity. This guy absolutely needs to put on a Mike Mamula type of performance at the draft and ace the interviews to increase his draft stock value. Rest assured those interviews are inevitably going to focus on his involvement in the hoax, and I'm sure that story will be a focal point during the combine coverage.
Ezekiel Ansah (DE, BYU): The combine is tailor-made for a guy like Ezekiel Ansah. This guy is a physical specimen who has only been playing football for about three years. He's already viewed as a high character guy, so I expect him to wow talent evaluators even more in the interviews. The biggest question about Ansah is obviously his experience, and the Combine has absolutely nothing to with that. Being able to essentially "work out" for a couple days, Ansah is sure to shoot up a lot of draft boards following the Combine. I think Ansah could easily have the best Combine out of the entire group.
3) Which player(s) do you expect will do the most to boost their draft stock at the Combine?
Kunal (@KSIXI / BBV -- Invictus XI): I think the two players that boost their combine the most are Xavier Rhodes and D.J. Fluker. Why? Because while you can't tell who's going to be the "freaky freak" like Dontari Poe was; Combine risers are usually guys that had one or two glaring flaws that were able to show improvement in that area. Like I said before with Rhodes, you see some inconsistency flipping hips, but I think he shows fluidity in drills and if he runs something like a 4.45, he should be a top 15 pick. With D.J. Fluker, he's strong, aggressive, massive, accomplished, and has no character flaws of note. So what's the issue? The feet are slow. Sometimes. He's inconsistent in that regard, and while he looks cement-footed at times, one just has to pop in his game vs LSU to see him mirroring Barkevious Mingo perfectly, using wonderful footwork and active hands. So he's capable of it. And therefore, he can show it. And if he shows it at the Combine, I don't see why he can't be a solid 1st round pick. I've compared him to Phil Loadholt, and if he can show he's got smooth feet, he'll be rewarded.
For the Combine as a whole, there's one guy in particular whose stock can only go up: Tyrann Mathieu. The former LSU corner was out of football last year. However, the kid is ferocious, incredibly talented and will turn only 21 this year. If he can put together a solid combine then I think he'll gain tons of hype from the media as a reclamation project and soar up draft boards.
Vince (TheWooderCooler.com): Teams are willing to overlook personal issues for talent anyway. Consider the Rams, who just last year drafted troubled corner Janoris Jenkins in the second round. He had been playing for North Alabama (Division II) that year after being kicked out of Florida.
For Philly, I think D.J. Fluker is a name that will be all over the radio after the Combine. The Alabama tackle has good measurables at 6'6" 335 lbs, and will demonstrate the kind of quickness to reach the second level that Kelly needs. Add in the fact that Jeff Stoutland of Alabama is the new line coach, and you have a very respectable second round choice that the fans and front office can agree on.
Brian (BGN -- shady54): This is a tough question, but the guys I want to see most are the ones the Eagles could very well draft in the early rounds, assuming they don't trade up or down. Two guys I'm very interested in are Star Lotulelei and Jonathan Cyprien. Defensive players are always fun to watch at the Combine and seem to always display a ton of athleticism for their size. I can't wait to see Lotulelei (6'3" 320 lbs) run the 40 yard dash and also do the various drills where he can showcase his quickness and explosiveness.
Following a good Senior Bowl, Jonathan Cyprien (6'0" 209 lbs) could enjoy a lot of success at the Combine. I look forward to seeing him run the 40 and the various drills as well. Overall, I'm interested to see who this year's workout warrior" is going to be, as they often times are not very productive in the NFL, yet some team will take them WAY ahead of where they're valued to be drafted. From Dontari Poe to Taylor Mays to Vernon Gholston, there's a "workout warrior"-turned NFL bust in just about every daft. I realize it's a bit early to say Poe is a bust, but I vividly remember his unbelievable Combine performance last year, which led to him going from a 2nd round projection to the 11th overall pick. I haven't heard his name mentioned since the Combine outside of reading an article a while back that stated he was struggling a good bit in training camp.