The Senior Bowl has released an additional 17 accepted invites, which means that we have 17 more prospects to scout. The game is shaping up to be an exciting one already, with some great names on last week's list (including Cooper Kupp), and Vince Biegel and Florida State fullback Freddie Stevenson among this week's acceptances. Let's take a look at this week's players!--Mike B.
Biegel, Vince. OLB. Wisconsin. Vince Biegel is a player I really like. Last year, he received a 3rd-through-6th round grade from the Draft Advisory Board, and chose to return to Wisconsin for his senior year. This year, NFLdraftscout.com has him ranked as their 7th rated OLB. He's an aggressive player who pursues hard on every snap. He missed some time this season due to foot surgery, a fact which might explain his low ranking; in the right scheme, Biegel could be an NFL starter for years to come, and should be taken before Day 3 of the 2017 NFL draft provided he checks out medically. He's a guy to pay attention to at this year's game. Here are some highlights.
Dawkins, Dion. OT. Temple. Dawkins is one of the best offensive tackles in the nation. NFLdraftscout.com has him ranked as their #4 tackle in this year's draft, and at 6'5", 320 pounds, Dawkins has the size to survive in the NFL. He's also a guy that see time at guard in the NFL. Here's some game film from 2015. Here's some more film. There's starter upside, but Dawkins needs a bit of time to progress and work on his form. He's an athletic guy but he occasionally gets out of position on plays. NFL defensive coordinators will take advantage of that until he fixes it. He's also a scrappy guy who faced legal troubles with assault charges in March 2015. Teams will have questions about his NFL readiness and his character, but Dawkins has the talent and grit to develop into a very good NFL offensive lineman. There are holes in his game, but there are also things that catch your eye. He might struggle to adjust early in the NFL, but should come up to speed and emerge as a solid player.
Dunker, Jessamen. G. Tennessee State. Dunker is a player I struggle to get a really solid read on. He transferred from Florida to Tennessee State in 2013 after facing off-the-field issues, and has dominated with Tennessee State since then. He's extremely mobile and athletic, and stands out whenever you watch him with Tennessee State. Then again, he was a four star recruit for Florida, so him standing out is not overly surprising. NFLdraftscout.com has him as their 8th ranked guard, largely a knock based on his transfer I feel like. Love the kid's talent, and will be interested to see how he navigates the interview portion of Senior Bowl week. He should stand out on the field, and if he practices well and interviews well, Dunker is a guy that could rocket up drop boards heading into the draft. There's a lot of upside here if he can stay out of trouble. He won't dominate NFL talent the way he dominated in college, but he has the tools to emerge as a good NFL player. There's starter potential, but Dunker will likely start out his NFL career as a backup.
Engram, Evan. TE. Ole Miss. Engram has been extremely productive at Ole Miss. He's the best receiving tight end the school has produced. At the next level, he projects as a TE/WR hybrid; he's not a mauling blocker, but he's bigger and tougher than an NFL receiver. He is extremely aggressive and physical, but doesn't have the size to stick at tight end as a blocker. I think he could emerge as a big slot receiver in the NFL; he's a playmaker, and breaks lots of tackles. Should be an extremely productive role player at the next level, even if he doesn't have a set spot on every snap. NFLdraftscout.com has him as his 4th ranked TE, but he's not a true NFL tight end. Needs to improve on his route running to stick at the next level. Here are some highlights.
Feeney, Dan. G. Indiana. I don't always agree with pre-draft player rankings, but when I do, they have Dan Feeney ranked as the best guard prospect in this draft. Feeney has great hands and is an extremely aggressive run blocker who helped propel Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard into the NFL. Should be an every down NFL starter and a first round pick in 2017. Not much to say here; this kid is worth watching. Here's some film.
Ford, Johnathan. DB. Auburn. Ford is a productive defensive player for Auburn. Puts up a lot of tackles, and has started at safety and nickel corner. He's also returned kicks and spent time on offense. He's a solid player, but what's his ultimate role in the NFL? He's a guy that will likely be drafted in the 4th or 5th round and stick around in the NFL as a jack of all trades due to his versatility. One thing's for sure, he will stick on an NFL roster. NFLdraftscout.com has him projected as their 3rd overall free safety prospect, but even if he doesn't stick at safety, he will have a role in the NFL. Here's some film.
Gonzalez, Zane. K. Arizona State. NFLdraftscout.com has Gonzalez rated as the top kicker prospect in this year's draft. He's the all-time leader in field goals in the NCAA, and has made a 59 yard field goal this season. He'll get a chance with an NFL team this spring and summer.
Jones, Zay. WR. East Carolina. Jones is a guy who can flat-out ball. 388 career receptions (leads the FBS all-time) and 151 catches for 1,685 yards so far this season. He's had 6 games with at least 170 yards receiving this year. NFLdraftscout.com has him ranked as the 4th best receiver in this class, and that rating might actually be low. Extremely underrated receiver prospect who could be a solid NFL player. Could emerge as at a #2 in the NFL with the potential to be a #1 WR in the right system. Expect him to gain momentum heading into the draft. He's underrated right now, but that should change soon. Here are some highlights.
Kpassagnon, Tanoh. DE. Villanova. Kpassagnon is a 6'6, 285 pound pass rushing machine out of Villanova. NFLdraftscout.com has him rated as their 15th overall defensive end in this year's draft, but that's low. I think he has the ability to dominate as an NFL pass rusher; has all the tools necessary to thrive, even if he ends up being used as a DE/OLB hybrid EDGE rusher. His highlights show a player who is extremely quick with great tackling skills who plays hard to the end of every snap. Rotational player early in his career, but in the right situation, someone could be getting a huge steal with this kid. I like Kpassagnon a lot. Expect his stock to rise with a strong performance at the Senior Bowl. Here's some film.
Ogunjobi, Larry. DT, Charlotte. Ogunjobi is a member of Charlotte's first ever recruiting class. NFLdraftscout.com has him ranked as the 8th DT prospect in this year's draft. As an NFL prospect, he's a work in progress; he's a guy that should emerge early in a rotation though. That being said, there is a ton of upside here. Love this kid's motor, and he could present problems for blockers due to his speed and aggressiveness. In the right system, Ogunjobi could be a pretty productive player. In some systems, Ogunjubi could struggle. It's all about system fit here. That being said, he looks coachable on film, and does some really nice things, so there's potential here. Here's some film.
Riley, Duke. LB. LSU. Riley spent most of his time at LSU as a backup before emerging as a starter in his senior year. He's a bit of a question mark; NFLdraftscout.com has him ranked as the 76th ranked OLB in this year's draft class. He's a guy that still needs a few years to develop and will likely start out as a practice squad player or backup in the NFL. That being said, he's quick and aggressive and could develop into a very solid backup 3-4 OLB at the next level as he gets used to the NFL. Here's a highlight.
Robinson, Ezra. CB. Tennessee State. Ezra Robinson is a rather underrated cornerback prospect. NFLdraftscout.com has Robinson ranked as their 41st overall cornerback. A transfer from Michigan State in 2014, Robinson is a versatile player who can play both CB and FS. He'll likely start out as a practice squad player or core special teamer in the NFL, but there's potential for more as well as he develops. He needs a strong Senior Bowl week to help his draft case.
Smart, Tanzel. DT. Tulane. Tanzel Smart is one of the biggest sleepers in the 2017 NFL Draft. NFLdraftscout.com has him rated as the 11th overall DT in this year's draft, and that rating is low in my opinion. He was productive in college, but what stands out is his high motor. This kid is a tank who fights hard on every snap. He's got great hand work, and sheds blocks nicely. He also reads and reacts well to offenses. This kid has all the tools to succeed in the NFL, and has the talent to be a key rotational player or even a starter early in his career. There's a lot to like with Smart. Here's some film.
Stevenson, Freddie. FB. Florida State. Call me old fashioned, but I get excited about gritty, tough blocking fullbacks with experience playing linebacker. That being said, the NFL unfortunately does not share my love for blocking fullbacks or the power run game. Both those things being said, Freddie Stevenson paved the way for Dalvin Cook's historic run as FSU running back. NFLDraftscout.com has him rated as their #1 fullback in this draft class, and I can agree with that ranking. This kid is a gritty blocker that reminds me of why I had a mancrush on Lorenzo Neal. Here's some film. I'd love to pair him with Dalvin Cook in this year's draft if I'm a team that needs help at RB.
Taylor, Trent. WR. Louisiana Tech. Taylor has had an extremely productive 2016 season, with 103 catches, 10 touchdowns, 1,343 receiving yards, and 8 straight 100-yard receiving games. He's mainly a slot receiver in college. He hasn't generated a huge amount of buzz as of yet; NFLdraftscout.com has him ranked as their 30th overall receiver prospect. At 5'8, 180 pounds, teams are likely going to pigeonhole him as a slot wr at the next level as well. Not elusive enough to stand out as an undersized player, but could carve out a role as a reserve or practice squad player early in his career. Here's some film.
Westbrook, Dede. WR. Oklahoma. Westbrook is a special receiver prospect, and I'm excited to see him play at the Senior Bowl. NFLdraftscout.com has him ranked as the 2nd overall receiver in this class, and he's been a quick riser throughout this season. He's a big play waiting to happen at WR with 16 total touchdowns this year, five of them receptions of 60 or more yards, and one of them a 71 yard punt return touchdown. Should be a #1 WR in an NFL offense who can contribute in the return game as well. Here's some film.
Williams, Jamaal. RB. Brigham Young University. Jamaal Williams is a bit of a sleeper at the running back position, and offers proof that this draft is filled with talent at the RB position from top to bottom. NFLdraftscout.com has him rated as the 41st overall RB prospect in this draft class, and that ranking, to me at least, is low. He's the all-time leading rusher at BYU, and has generated 10 rushing touchdowns and 1,034 rushing yards while dealing with an ankle injury this season. He runs a bit high, and goes down quickly on contact, which means he might struggle to succeed in the NFL. That being said, has moments where he flashes plays that make him look like a legitimate NFL prospect. He's a guy that will likely fall into the 7th round or UDFA territory, but there's the potential for a nice return on investment. He's likely a practice squad player or reserve early in his career at the next level, but there's the potential for him to emerge as a capable rotational back in the right system. He's decent as a receiver out of the backfield as well, so that will help his case. Needs to work on some elements of the game but every so often, flashes a glimpse of something more. He'll need some development, but he's intriguing. Here are some highlights.
The college all star games are coming up in just a few short months. The Senior Bowl and Shrine Game are two of the most well-known games from these events, and the organizers of each event have started to list accepted invites. Here's the first set of players for each event:
Robinette, Jalen. WR. Air Force. Jalen Robinette has been a productive receiver at Air Force, and will attempt to use the Shrine Game to propel himself into the 2017 NFL Draft. NFLdraftscout.com has him as their 45th overall receiver in the 2017 draft, which puts him in undrafted territory. Robinette is a player who could benefit hugely from this event. Robinette has decent hands and runs solid routes, but lacks a signature "WOW" factor as a prospect. That being said, he's a guy that could find a role on special teams or as a depth receiver. He projects as a likely undrafted player right now, but could impress teams with a strong showing. Here's some film.
Baker, Toby. P. Arkansas. Baker is a player who could enter the 2017 NFL draft viewed as the best punting prospect on the board. NFLdraftscout.com has him ranked as the 6th overall punter, but he's getting more attention as the season goes on. Some analysts have him first on their boards. One thing is for sure, Baker is a punting prospect who could find his way into the NFL. He's likely an undrafted player, but teams with a need at the position will pay attention to him at the Senior Bowl.
Etta-Tawo, Amba. WR. Syracuse. Etta-Tawo is a graduate transfer at Syracuse this season following a successful career at Maryland. In 2016, he's recorded two 200 yard receiving games, broke Marvin Harrison's team record for most receiving yards in a season, and recorded 1,242 yards and 8 touchdowns on 78 receptions in 2016. The guy is productive, but there are some questions about his game. Watching film, there seems to be a disconnect between him and the quarterback from time to time; either he's slightly out of position on catches or the quarterback's placement seems to be slightly off position; appears that the quarterback's placement on throws is questionable. Etta-Tawo will make defenders miss, and has the strength to fight for yardage. He's not going to be a pure #1 guy in an NFL system, but I could picture him as a mid-to-late round guy with James Jones upside. NFLdraftscout.com has him 12th on their WR board. A solid showing for scouts will keep him in the draft conversation, a poor performance at the event could see him slip into the later rounds.
Everett, Gerald. TE. South Alabama. Everett has averaged almost 71 yards a game in 2016, with 41 receptions for 637 yards and 4 TDs. NFLdraftscout has him relatively low-ranked as their 11th overall tight end, but this ranking is low to me. Walterfootball.com has him ranked as a 3rd or 4th round pick. Here's some film. Would be a solid #2 TE in the NFL, with the potential to emerge as a #1 in the right system.
Gerry, Nate. SS. Nebraska. Gerry could emerge as a nice hybrid option in the NFL; has the size and speed to emerge as a S/LB hybrid at the next level. NFLDraftscout.com has him rated as their 7th overall safety prospect. I think that ranking is actually low; I think he's got the talent to emerge as a key piece of an NFL defense as he adjusts to the league. There's definitely some starter potential here. Here's some film.
Kupp, Cooper. WR. Eastern Washington. This kid will be special. Kupp is the best WR in the FCS, and one of the best WRs in college football. I've seen him projected anywhere from the 3rd to the 6th round, but I think this kid has the potential to be a special NFL player; I'd call a Brian Hartline-type career his floor. Here's my writeup on Kupp.
Morgan, Jordan. G. Kutztown. Morgan is one of the better players in DII football, and will hope to use a strong showing at the Senior Bowl to propel himself into draft conversations. He's currently projected as nfldraftscout.com as their 26th ranked OG in this class, but school size plays a role in that ranking. Right now he's in undrafted territory, but definitely a name to watch heading into the draft. He could catch on as a developmental player with a strong showing at this event.
Moton, Taylor. T/G. Western Michigan. Moton is an extremely versatile offensive lineman, who has started coplete seasons both at guard and at tackle. His junior season, he was a strong part of the offensive line at Western Michigan at guard, and this season, he has been one of the best right tackles in the nation. NFLDraftscout.com has him ranked as their 2nd overall tackle in the 2016 draft class, and that's not a bad ranking for him. There's first round NFL starter potential with Moton.
Rogers, Sam. FB. Virginia Tech. Rogers is a bit of a throwback player. Solid blocker at fullback who has contributed both as a rusher and as a receiver as well. He's even thrown a touchdown pass this season. NFLdraftscout.com has him as their 2nd ranked FB in this draft class, and he's a player that should slip into the later rounds of the draft. Will earn an offensive role at the next level in the right system. Here's some film.
Russell, Seth. QB. Baylor. Seth Russell is an outstanding quarterback out of Baylor. He's a bit of a divisive prospect, with nfldraftscout.com listing him as their 5th ranked quarterback (which likely drops him into the middle rounds) and some more aggressive rankings listing him as a potential first round pick. I think, especially following a devastating leg injury, that he falls into the middle rounds. He has the talent to be a solid backup, and a potential starter in the right system. He's been insanely productive in college, but coming out of Baylor will he continue to thrive in the NFL? Many scouts question the gimmicky nature of Baylor's offense. That being said, Russell is an interesting prospect who can definitely help his chances at the Senior Bowl. Here's some film.
Switzer, Ryan. WR. North Carolina. Ryan Switzer is one of my favorite receivers in this draft class for his versatility. I like him not only for his skill as a receiver, but also as one of the best punt returners in college football. NFLdraftscout.com has him ranked as their #8 receiver in this draft class, but that ranking may be a bit low. A first round grade on him might be a bit high, but he could be the next Tavon Austin/Cordarrelle Patterson/Percy Harvin prospect to come out of college. In the right system, he could be a dynamic playmaker in the NFL, both as a complementary receiver and as a return man. Here's some film.
Taylor, Taywan. WR. Western Kentucky. Taylor is the all time leader in receiving yards and touchdowns at Western Kentucky. He is also (as of week 11), the 3rd receiver in the nation, with 1340 yards on 77 catches. He's scored 13 touchdowns in that stretch. Has the athletic talent to be a useful complementary piece at the next level, and should find his way into an NFL offense. Nfldraftscout.com has him listed as their 10th ranked receiver. Could carve out a role for himself as a #2 guy in the NFL. There's some upside here, and Taylor could see his stock rise heading into the spring. Here's some film.
Webb, Davis. QB. Cal. Davis Webb is a graduate transfer from Texas Tech. Over his first 10 games at Cal, he has thrown for 3,600 yards and 33 touchdowns. Kiper likes Webb a lot, projecting him as his #1 ranked senior quarterback back in February. The love doesn't stop there; Nfldraftscout.com has him ranked as the #1 quarterback in this draft class. Davis Webb is likely a first round lock heading into the 2017 NFL draft, and will be in the conversation, along with Dashaun Watson, as the first quarterback off the board. Potential every-game starter in the NFL. Here's some film.
That's all for the first set of Senior Bowl and Shrine Game acceptances, but I will update things as more acceptances are released!--Mike B.
If you are a football fan who pays attention to the NFL Draft, chances are the way you scout talent is wrong. Don't worry, it's not your fault. In fact, the league as a whole analyzes prospect talent in a largely backwards way. Players are heavily analyzed based on a combination of college statistics and workout performance. While these factors have merit, they are not the key factors necessary for a complete analysis of a prospect's fit for a specific system. Ultimately, the key factors for scouting a player's NFL potential are their football IQ, their character, and game film. Not the big plays on game film, but the little things on a play-by-play basis. Does a defensive tackle produce very few tackles? If he's being triple-teamed on every snap, he's probably still going to emerge as a key cog in an NFL defense. Does a defensive back produce few counting stats? If the receivers he covers are never open, opposing quarterbacks will tend to avoid him. Does a running back see a heavy amount of snaps on a game-by-game basis but only a few carries? What is his role in the blocking game? The key to scouting an undervalued NFL prospect is finding things in that player's game that are missed by most professional scouts. The process is simpler than it looks.
Numbers aren't everything.
Let's take a moment to imagine the ideal defensive tackle. What matters most? The casual fan would imagine that a guy who put up lots of numbers in college is a lock for NFL stardom. Sometimes. But what happens when a player finds his way into an NFL defense? Will he still hold up against NFL-caliber competition? Or was his statistical success due more to the system that he played in in college than to his own athletic ability? I'm not trying to trash the player in this situation; my point is great college numbers do not necessarily predict a great NFL player.
Let's look at the opposite end of the spectrum. Do you think that a college defensive tackle with rather uninspiring stats could excel in the NFL? The average football fan might say absolutely not, but they'd be wrong. Consider a defensive tackle that forces a double team on every snap, and screws up the line of scrimmage for the offense. If a defensive tackle can occupy multiple blockers, he opens up the field for the linebackers behind him and the linemen around him. This benefits his defense as a whole, even if it doesn't show up on the stat sheet. When scouting defensive linemen, especially later round guys, don't let numbers dissuade you. Watch the film, and see what he does as a part of a unit. A defense is made up of 11 players. Eleven great statistic-generating players will not necessarily give you a great defense. If you want to build a great defense, draft the guys that fit your scheme, not just the guys who put up the best stats.
Workouts don't matter.....much.
Every year, a prospect shoots up draft boards after a great workout or combine performance. JaMarcus Russell became the 1st overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft. Russell finished his NFL career with a 7-18 record as a starter over three seasons. He threw for 18 total touchdowns. The next two picks were Calvin Johnson and Joe Thomas. Adrian Peterson was drafted 7th overall. Marshawn Lynch was picked a few picks later. Meanwhile, quarterback Matt Moore went undrafted that season, and is currently a backup quarterback in Miami with 33 touchdowns and 28 interceptions in his career. What went wrong with JaMarcus Russell?
Early scouting reports on Russell show a concern with his weight. Scouts also raised questions about his poise in the pocket; he'd often hold onto the ball too long in college, causing turnovers. However, Russell's arm strength was touted as his biggest asset, and Russell's extremely productive career at LSU combined with a Pro Day workout entirely developed to show off Russell's arm strength propelled him to the first overall pick. JaMarcus Russell struggled to adapt to the NFL once drafted, and never kept his weight under control. Those issues led to the demise of his NFL career.
Tom Brady, on the other hand, was poorly served by his Combine performance and his measurables. Many scouts laughed at his 40 time, and Brady was viewed as too light to survive at quarterback in the NFL. That being said, when Brady was drafted by the New England Patriots in the 2000 draft, he found himself in an offense that suited his strengths as a player extremely well. Tom Brady was drafted into a system that fit his talents, and is now recognized as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. Not bad for a 6th round pick.
"The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears." --General James Mattis.
Professional football is a 22-piece chess match. Coaches on each side of the field manipulate the positions and behavior of 11 players at a time in an attempt to gain short term advantages against the opponent that can be turned into long-term gains during the game. The best professional football players are those who work hard both in practice and the film room and who have developed an encyclopedic knowledge of the game. These players are able to understand their coaches plans, see holes in opponent's plans, and adjust to gain an advantage. Tom Brady is so great not only because of his system, but also because he is an obsessive student of the game. Brian Urlacher was a great linebacker because he understood the entire football field. Ray Lewis was also an obsessive student of film. Great players have a great understanding of the game.
When interviewing a college player or prospective signing, it is extremely important for a scout to gauge the player's understanding of the game. Athletic talent can only get a player so far. The ideal player has both athletic talent and a deep understanding of the game. Let's step back to defensive tackles again for a moment. The defensive tackle I want to draft is a guy that understands what the offense is doing, and that can also disrupt those offensive plans by taking up multiple blockers. This allows the guys around him to make plays. By doing so, the player makes the defensive unit as a whole successful.
The average fan looks at the box score of a football game and thinks that they've learned everything necessary about the game. That's not the case. Did one team dominate field position only to lose as a result of one big play? If a team lost as a result of one or two plays, then the issues are not necessarily easy to fix. A missed read or missed tackle or untimely penalty might have been an honest mistake. However, if there is a general trend present, it showcases either an undisciplined player or an undisciplined coach (or both). Winning a football game is ultimately about controlling the space on the field and generating points. Fundamental breakdowns of technique or concentration can kill the outcome of a game. This is important to remember when selecting a pick.
If given the choice between a college defensive player who is a phenomenal tackler with average numbers or a bad tackler with above average numbers, I will always take the player who is the better tackler. Arm tackles and hard hits can be enough to dominate in college. In the NFL, where the level of talent is much higher, improper technique is much harder to hide. Far too often, teams miss on players because they miss a fundamental flaw in the player's game. On the flip side, if a player is a fundamentally great player with lackluster stats, that player might go undrafted.
Players like Zach Thomas and Russell Wilson were knocked because of their size, and their draft positions suffered. However, when their football IQ and fundamental technique is considered, both should have been drafted higher. Size doesn't matter. Just remember. Zach Thomas was too small to be an NFL linebacker, Russell Wilson was too short to be an NFL quarterback, and Tom Brady was too light to thrive in the NFL. When you see a scout or writer knocking a player for being "too small," that writer is likely making too big of a deal about the player's size. It is possible to be too heavy, if it slows down a player. In extreme cases it is possible to be too small to play a position (name a 5'2, 135 pound offensive tackle....you can't). That being said, size is largely overrated as far as a qualifier when drafting a player. Every situation is unique, but when drafting, I want the guy with the football knowledge and solid fundamentals over the guy with great numbers and shaky tackling skills.
Why do scouts fail?
Every fan knows that the NFL draft is not a perfect system; otherwise you would never see Pro Bowlers go undrafted or first-round busts. Why? NFL front offenses get obsessed with stats and work outs, often at the expense of a deeper analysis of the player's football knowledge, technique, and role in the team's system. The system is getting better, but there are still major misses in every draft. How can we fix this?
Stop obsessing so much about proven players who may be an inch or two too short, or 15 or 20 pounds too light, to thrive in the NFL. While their size might be cause for some reasonable concern, don't take a guy entirely off of your board if you see something promising in his game. Too many great players have fallen far in the draft for this reason.
Pay less attention to numbers and more attention to film. Numbers are important to an extent, but if the player that you are interested in is great at producing numbers but is sloppy as a player, he's not going to help you as much as you might expect. By obsessing over numbers, you will also miss out on extremely talented players who's role in an offense or defense is not conducive to the accumulation of large numbers of statistics. Film should always be the final analytical tool for addressing a player's talent.
Stop it with the Combine already. The Combine's most important feature is the fact that it gives NFL teams a chance to interact with prospects. The same is true for the college all star games like the Shrine Game, the NFLPA Bowl, and the Senior Bowl. These events offer teams an opportunity to interact with players as well as an opportunity to see how they practice. These are the most important features of the Combine and bowl games. However, workouts get almost all of the publicity at the Combine.
What good is a workout at the Combine? The proper use of Combine workouts is twofold. First, it gives scouts a chance to confirm what they think they see on film. If a guy's workouts suggest that scouts have misread that player's athletic ability in pads, it suggests that the scouts should go back and watch more film to see whether this is an anomaly or whether their analysis of the player is wrong. The second use of Combine workouts is differentiating between two players who may be extremely close on a draft board. Workout numbers give NFL personnel one additional piece of information when making a decision between two closely ranked players. That being said, if a Combine workout entirely changes your mind on a player, you're most likely putting too much stock in the workout.
How to succeed.
Pay more attention to fundamental technique and football IQ. Pay close attention to the system a player played in in college, and work hard to project how the player will fit in your system. Remember that great college statistics do not necessarily make a great NFL player. Remember also that a lack of notable statistics does not necessarily render a player unfit for play in the NFL. Pay closer attention to a player's off the field personality and work ethic. Remember that the football field is a large-scale chessboard, and select the pieces most suited for your style of play. In order to find value in the late rounds of the Draft, as well as among UDFAs, you ultimately want players that will succeed in your system. While statistics are interesting, there are far better ways to assess a player's talent as a whole. --Mike B.
Auburn linebacker T.J. Neal should see his draft stock rise after a strong game against Vanderbilt. Neal recorded nine tackles and the praise of coach Gus Malzahn following the game (source here). From a draft perspective, T.J. Neal is one of the most underrated prospects in all of college football, especially at the linebacker position.
I've covered T.J. in the past (link), and think he has tremendous upside at the position; his strong history of performance at Illinois (244 total tackles over three seasons [90 solo, 154 assists], 22.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 5 passes defended, 1 forced fumble and an interception) makes that obvious. That being said, with Saturday's performance against Vanderbilt, Neal has proven that he can not only play but thrive in multiple defensive systems. T.J. is a student of the game who works hard in the film room and on the practice field, and this game proves that he has tremendous upside at the position.
While T.J. Neal hasn't received nearly enough coverage from draft analysts over the course of the 2016 college season, with a performance like this, expect that to change. One thing is certain: he is a phenomenal prospect who will be an asset to any NFL team that gives him a chance. He is a player that absolutely HAS to be on watch lists and draft boards heading through the rest of the college season and offseason. Somebody is going to get a huge steal with this kid, wherever he is drafted.--Mike B.
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