For all the spectacle that has grown to surround the NFL Scouting Combine, it is essentially just another scouting tool. A chance to collect medical data and supplement to the school visits and film work scouts do throughout the year.
But the Combine has grown to be one of the marquee events on the NFL calendar. The chance to see some of the best and most diverse athletes in the nation doing athletic people things has an undeniable draw to it.
There is something of a reactionary derision to “workout warriors” — prospects who might not have the best tape but boost their draft with impressive performances on the field at the combine — but that doesn’t stop us from watching in awe as they put on a show.
There are some players, such as Myles Garrett (DE, Texas A&M), Dalvin Cook (RB, FSU), and Michael Williams (WR, Clemson) who are almost sure to have memorable performances, but they are unlikely (to say the least) to fall anywhere near where the Giants will be drafting.
So here is a list of ten prospects who either will, or will need to, put on a show in Indy.
Derek Barnett (DE, Tennessee) - Myles Garrett is the premier edge defender in this draft, and a virtual lock to wow everyone watching at the Combine. Barnett is somewhere behind him on the depth chart despite his ultra-consistent production over the last three years. Part of the reason why he isn’t considered on Garrett’s level despite breaking the great Reggie White’s sack record is a perceived lack of elite athleticism.
Barnett has flashed some intriguing athleticism at times, and if he can show that there is more to him than a technically sound and dependable defensive end, it could be a huge boost to his stock.
Haason Reddick (LB/EDGE, Temple) - Perhaps no prospect has helped himself more in the draft process than Temple’s Hasson Reddick. His size made him an afterthought as an edge rusher, but he took a chance and moved to inside linebacker at the Senior Bowl and made a splash — both in the workouts and during the game.
He is already known to be quick, fast, and agile, but we don’t yet know how quick, fast, and agile. The possibility exists that Reddick could have a combine similar to former Clemson Tigers, and current Atlanta Falcons edge rusher Vic Beasley. If Reddick’s winter thus far is any indication, it wouldn’t be smart to bet against him.
Christian McCaffrey (RB, Stanford) - Lost in the shadow of Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook, McCaffrey petty much WAS Stanford’s offense over the last three seasons. His patience, vision, and athleticism made him an offensive machine, racking up multiple games with better than 200 yards for scrimmage.
NFL teams, however, seem torn on what to make of him. Some see him as a potential game-changer while others see an under-sized rotational back with special teams upside.
Watching McCaffrey on tape, it seems as though his effortless, gliding athleticism doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It might not be stunning to see McCaffrey put on a performance reminiscent of former Giant David Wilson. If he shows up with “enough” size (somewhere around Tiki Barber or Wilson’s size), McCaffrey would solidify his status as a first rounder.
James Conner (RB, Pittsburgh) - One of the best stories of the college football season, Pitt running back James Conner is one of those players who needs to put on a show to help his draft stock. Conner had a disastrous 2015 season that saw him miss most of the year with a torn MCL in September, which was followed by a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma around Thanksgiving. He fought his way back from both the injury and cancer (even participating in team workouts in the spring of 2016 while undergoing chemotherapy), to run for more than 1,000 yards and score 20 touchdowns in 2016.
But as inspiring as Conner’s story is, the NFL will want to see if he has the wheels to play at their level. He is a big, powerful runner who seems to revel in delivering hits to the defense. However, he will need to prove that he has speed and explosiveness. Putting on a show in the 40 and on-field drills are almost a necessity for Conner.
Cam Robinson (OT, Alabama) - Alabama’s Robinson came into the season as the consensus top tackle in his draft class. However questions regarding his technique and athleticism have some wondering if he is even best suited to play tackle at the next level. He will have to show out on the field in positional drills to convince scouts that he has the footwork and athleticism to stay a tackle in the NFL, and still deserves to be in the conversation with Garrett Bolles and Ryan Ramczyk.
The Tight Ends
O.J. Howard (TE, Alabama) - As of right now, Howard is the consensus top tight end in the draft, thanks to his blend of size and apparent athleticism and a tremendous showing during practice at the Senior Bowl.
However, his position group is the deepest it has been in years, and features some impressive athletes. Howard will need to put on a strong performance just to keep pace and not let questions regarding his upside as a playmaker creep into the conversation.
David Njoku (TE, Miami) - The number two tight end on many boards, Njoku was a late riser in the college football season, but his athleticism and dynamism as a receiver has scouts buzzing.
The Miami product is expected to put on a show at Indy, and on the field his speed, explosiveness, and agility were on full display. Based on his play on tape, a performance reminiscent of Vernon Davis might not be out of the question. If he can put up numbers like one of the all-time freaks at his position, while also showing up with enough size to convince teams that he can play in-line and hold up as a blocker, his stock could wind up soaring past Howard’s.
Bucky Hodges (TE, Virginia Tech) - Something of a forgotten man in the tight end conversation, Hodges has as much to gain in Indy as anyone. On the field he shows the deep speed to get vertical and chew up yardage, some agility as a route runner, and a sizeable catch radius. Based on that, he should put up some impressive numbers in the measurable events.
His most important numbers will likely come before he steps foot on the field. Billed at 6’7”, 245 pounds, Hodges will need to come in close to that in height and at least that heavy.
Evan Engram (TE, Ole Miss) - Engram quietly kept pace with Howard at the Senior Bowl, showing terrific athleticism and receiving ability. His future is as a hybrid “move” tight end in the NFL, where his blend of size and athleticism can be put to use creating match-ups against defenses.
Like Hodges and Njoku, his measurements will be important ( to fill the “too fast for linebackers, too big for safeties” niche), but he will also need to show that he has the athleticism to be a threat deep.
Adam Shaheen (TE, Ashland) - One of the enigmas of the draft this year, Shaheen has seeminly come from nowhere to have a significant presence in the draft conversation. There isn’t much tape on Shaheen out here in the wild, but there have been tales of his size and athleticism. At this point he is one of the prospects who is expected to put on a show. However if he truly exceeds expectations, the Combine could have a “Dontari Poe” effect on Shaheen, and launch him from an unknown curiosity to a major prospect.