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The underwear Olympics are here!
On Tuesday, aspiring NFL running backs, offensive linemen, kickers and punters will arrive in Indianapolis to register and undergo orientation at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine. And there’s plenty of intrigue surrounding this year’s fascinating draft class.
To prepare you for the upcoming combine, we took the top eight players from Bleacher Report draft guru Matt Miller’s latest big board*, added the consensus top two quarterbacks from this year’s class and came up with one prevailing question that each potential star must address in Indy.
* Excluding Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons, who will miss the combine with a knee injury.
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How does he look after a long hiatus?
There’s little doubt former Ohio State pass-rusher Nick Bosa has the skill set and pedigree to become an NFL star, but the potential No. 1 overall pick hasn’t played in a game since September 15. Soon after that, he underwent core muscle surgery before eventually announcing he was withdrawing from school to focus on his rehab ahead of the draft.
“I’m training full-go now,” he said. “I get sore every once in a while—that’s just part of it—but training-wise, I’m full-speed right now.”
Seeing as Bosa missed most of the 2018 season, his participation at the combine could be critical. NFL decision-makers may be worried about how he looks in the wake of his injury, so he’ll have a chance to quash those concerns.
“I don’t want to leave any doubt,” Bosa added. “I want them to see me at my best, and I think I’m at my best, or I’m gonna be at my best, and I’m working towards it right now.”
Will he be rusty, or will the long layoff have had no noticeable impact? This draft features a number of other top-notch front-seven defenders, which puts more pressure on Bosa heading into the combine.
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Is he ready?
With a strong showing in Indianapolis, Alabama nose tackle and projected NFL three-technique Quinnen Williams could potentially leapfrog Bosa on draft boards.
The 2018 unanimous All-American has the speed, power, athleticism and pass-rushing repertoire of a three- or four-year college starter, which is why he should be a top-five pick in April’s draft. But he isn’t a three- or four-year college starter; instead, he has only one strong college season under his belt.
It isn’t easy to find flaws in Williams’ game, but he was a redshirt sophomore in 2018 and he just turned 21 at the end of December. There’s bound to be some concern that he’s a one-year wonder, or at least that he will need time to adapt at the NFL level.
Williams’ tape indicates he’s developed beyond his experience and should be able to physically dominate immediately, but that small sample will put extra pressure on him to deliver in drills and in interviews at the combine.
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Has he developed more moves?
If uncertainty creeps in regarding Bosa, a strong combine performance from Kentucky edge-rusher Josh Allen could spring him ahead of his significantly more famous classmate.
While Allen is coming off a 17-sack season, he sometimes looked like a one-tricky pony in terms of his pass-rushing moves. Whichever team drafts him will have to be convinced that he’ll continue to develop and add to his repertoire in the NFL.
Not only must Allen hold his ground in the 40-yard dash and the shuttle runs to confirm he has the speed and explosiveness he displayed on tape, but he’ll also need to perform well in the three-cone drill to show teams he has the directional versatility, balance, body control and flexibility to move his rush inside when blockers extend outward.
In a perfect world, Allen will have been working on inside moves ever since his college career ended on New Year’s Day. We’ll have to see whether he busts some out during positional drills in Indy.
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Does he have the technique?
We aren’t done with blue-chip defensive linemen, because Rashan Gary is the elephant in the room at that deep position. The big, fast, strong Michigan defensive end has the ability to light up some of the high-profile drills, but the combine isn’t just about running, jumping and measurements.
Gary had only 9.5 sacks in three years at Michigan, and he often failed to stand out despite his physical gifts. His technique is more raw than you’d expect from someone who received plenty of playing time in college, and his footwork and hand usage still have a ways to go.
The 21-year-old was limited by a shoulder injury this season, which he’ll have to prove is a non-issue at the combine. He hasn’t played since late November, and he appeared to be favoring the bad shoulder even then.
If he’s healthy and has worked on his technical skills, Gary could put on enough of a show in Indy to move up draft boards prior to his pro day and private workouts. But that’s a big “if.”
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How fast is he?
Alabama’s Josh Jacobs is the only running back widely expected to be selected in the first round this year, but his small sample of work will force him to answer plenty of questions at the combine.
The 5’10”, 216-pound back received only 120 carries in 2018 after working as a change-of-pace option behind Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough in 2016 and 2017. He averaged a tremendous 5.9 yards per carry over his three years at Alabama, but he didn’t make much of an impression until he got hot down the stretch in 2018.
Jacobs isn’t a speed demon, and it appears as though he bulked up during his time with the Crimson Tide. Teams figure to be curious how he fares in the 40-yard dash and the shuttles.
Does he have the breakaway speed to become the complete package in the NFL? If he can’t run a 40 in the 4.5-second range, teams might have second thoughts.
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How does he handle contact?
Watch Devin White’s tape from 2018, and you’ll find it hard to believe he spent the entire season as a 20-year-old. The LSU linebacker is surprisingly polished, in part because he became a key member of the Tigers defense midway through his freshman year.
He’s now set to be a first-round pick, and there’s little reason to believe he won’t excel right away.
However, White often had trouble shedding blocks and securing tackles at LSU. The consensus All-American is a big hitter, but he often overcommits and loses leverage and balance during his pursuit.
Even if he’s been working on those traits, it won’t be easy for White to flash those improvements in Indianapolis. But talent evaluators will likely be watching for that during position drills.
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Is he big enough?
Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver must answer a two-part question at the combine. First, is he big enough to function as a three-technique defensive lineman in the NFL? And if he has packed on some pounds, will he still be as fast and explosive as he often is on tape?
Per Pro Football Reference, only two NFL defensive tackles weighed less than 285 pounds last season. Oliver’s school bio listed him at 292 pounds last season, but Houston’s staff “thinks that 285-290 pounds is too heavy for Oliver,” according to Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com.
If the three-time first-team All-American weighs in at 285-plus, it bears watching whether he’s still as nimble as he was at Houston. But if he comes in below 275 pounds, teams will have questions about his ability to go toe-to-toe with NFL offensive linemen.
Oliver can make evaluators overlook those concerns if he dominates key interior defensive line drills like the broad jump, the bench press and his 40-yard dash 10-second splits.
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Can he compensate for a lack of length?
When offensive line prospects report for measurements Wednesday, Alabama offensive tackle Jonah Williams may have shorter arms than the 34-35 inches typically expected of a pro-level left or right tackle.
Teams will need to know precisely how much Williams is lacking when it comes to his reach. Then they’ll have to see what the reigning unanimous All-American can do to make up for that potential shortcoming.
Good technique helps, as does sheer power. Williams is strong, and he consistently displayed that as well as top-notch footwork and hand technique during his three years as a starter at Alabama. He’s as polished as they come, he’s smart and he’s versatile.
If the 21-year-old can exhibit all of that in position drills, those evaluating him might be willing to look past arms that aren’t prototypical in size.
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Is he franchise quarterback material?
There isn’t one standout concern with Ohio State quarterback and potential top-10 pick Dwayne Haskins. Instead, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy finalist will have to prove he wasn’t a one-hit wonder and that he’s more than just an efficient passer on short-to-intermediate throws.
Does Haskins have the ability to consistently locate and hit receivers outside the numbers? Can he stretch the field? Has he improved on his problematic footwork? Can he make his delivery more compact? Can he learn to speed up his progressions?
There are plenty of reasons to doubt the 21-year-old, but he’s one of the best quarterbacks in a weak class. General managers and other team personnel will be praying he can quiet his critics in Indianapolis, because there are plenty of flaws in his game.
The good news is that Haskins will indeed throw when quarterbacks take the field Saturday, according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson.
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Will his height be a problem?
Oklahoma product Kyler Murray is undoubtedly the most intriguing quarterback prospect in this draft class, but he also faces several major questions entering the combine.
Since the Heisman Trophy winner only recently decided to enter the NFL draft rather than join the Oakland Athletics at spring training, interviewers will have plenty of questions regarding his commitment to football versus baseball. But a more tangible question has to do with Murray’s height, or lack thereof.
Sooners assistant athletics director for strategic communications Mike Houck says Murray is 5’9⅞” in socks. That could be a problem. According to Pro Football Reference, only one quarterback in modern NFL history (Doug Flutie) has thrown a touchdown pass despite being 5’10” or shorter.
The football world will be anxious to learn Murray’s official height and weight when he and his fellow quarterbacks undergo that process Thursday, while all of his potential employers will be curious to see how he can compensate for that shortcoming when signal-callers take the field Saturday.
Granted, it’ll be tough for Murray to answer that if he declines to throw.