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NFL Combine Preview: Top prospects to watch

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Florida State at Florida Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NFL Combine kicks off on Tuesday! The annual meeting in Indianapolis is a great chance for NFL teams to get an up-close look at the top NFL Draft prospects and an opportunity for the players to show off their athleticism and skills.

Worth of the Combine

The worth of the Combine for NFL teams is going to be slightly different than what analysts and fans can get out of the event. Front office staff and coaches get unique access to players through interviews, medical assessments and conversations with teammates. Add this to the basic collection of athletic data, and it is easy to see why this is the most important chapter of the draft cycle.

Those outside of NFL teams get a bit less access, but what happens in Indy is still valuable to overall analysis of players. An athletic profile should not make or break a prospect, but should seek to give context to what they did well in college and where they could improve. If you have a college deep threat run in the 4.4 range, it is clear that his speed was his main asset. If he runs slower, you go back to the tape and see the ways that helped the player win as a big play threat. Or if a player doesn’t read as athletic on tape, but blows up the Combine, there are whole different factors to consider why on-field performance did not reflect tested athletic ability.

The Combine is important. Don’t let anyone tell you it is not. Just remember that testing is a tool of understanding the ways a player thrived in college and how much more they can succeed in the NFL. Testing can paint a picture of a player’s ceiling and teams looking to swing for the fences on a prospect will likely look for the most athletic among the top players.

Players to watch

Jordan Davis, Defensive Tackle, UGA: There is a wide gap between how the NFL and top media analysts see Jordan Davis and how fans see the UGA defender. Davis was the engine in the Bulldogs defense, taking up so much space and attention that his teammates could easily flow to the ball. Popular perception of Davis is that he is a run-stopping defensive tackle with not much upside beyond that, but there are those in the league that consider him an elite defensive prospect. His size, strength, and movement skills are rare at the defensive tackle position and teams will always value rare athletes in these positions. Expect Jordan Davis to test very well for his size.

David Bell, Wide Receiver, Purdue: This is yet another strong wide receiver class and it will take quite a bit for any pass catcher to separate themselves from such a a talented group. David Bell dominated the Big 10 in 2021, posting legendary games against Michigan State and Iowa. At 6’2” and 200 pounds, Bell has great size for the NFL, but this week he will get to show what kind of athlete he is. Bell is a fringe first round player and a strong showing in Indy could put him over the top.

Breece Hall, Running Back, Iowa State: Breece Hall has as impressive a resume as any running back in this class. The bruising back has been a touchdown machine the last two season, making big plays as a rusher and receiver. Hall looks like an old school back standing at 6’1” and 220 pounds, and he has moments running through defenders where you see him use all that size. But Hall was a three down back at ISU, constantly showing value as a pass catcher and regularly outrunning and maneuvering defenders. Hall should surprise with his athletic ability at the Combine.

Trent McDuffie, Cornerback, Washington: Trent McDuffie has gotten quite a bit of hype as a first round cornerback prospect. McDuffie was an excellent cover corner at Washington, but he might measure in a bit smaller than NFL teams tend to want in an outside cornerback. Of course, the thing that can assuage size concerns is high level athletic ability. McDuffie can put a lot of NFL teams at ease with a strong week.

The Pass Rushers: The Eagles are going to need reloading along the defensive line and this is the class to do that with. There is a bevy of edge defenders this year and the best ones will be putting on a show in Indianapolis. While the Eagles will likely be out of reach of drafting Kayvon Thibodeaux or Aidan Hutchinson, keep an eye on Jermaine Johnson, David Ojabo, George Karlaftis, and Travon Walker. These pass rushers should test very well and get Eagles fans excited about potential draft picks.

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