A Dynasty Owner's Guide to the 2014 Combine
While the world’s eye is focused on the Winter Olympics in Sochi, we in the football world are preparing for the aptly nicknamed “Underwear Olympics,” where grown men fawn over college kids running around in spandex. While it is not the end-all, be-all that some would make it out to be, it is nonetheless a telling gauge of a prospect’s future NFL potential, and something that Dynasty owners should be paying close attention to.
I find ranking players before and after events such as the NFL Scouting Combine and the NFL Draft for comparison purposes to be a useful practice as a Dynasty owner. By doing so, it better enables you to compartmentalize the factors that go into your final draft day decision next spring or summer. Right now, we all have an opinion of these players based purely on their college tape and box scores. After the combine, we will have physical measurements to go on leading up to the Draft, where we’ll find out how fortuitous of a situation each player will land in.
By separating these three stages of rankings in our mind, we can make a more objective choice when the time ultimately comes to make a decision. These rankings will undoubtedly be different than my post-combine and post-draft rankings. At the same time, it is important to be mindful of your initial assessment of a player, no matter what his 40-yard dash time is. Just ask owners who passed on Keenan Allen after his “pedestrian” 4.71 last year despite talent that was undeniable on tape.
This class has top end talent, but it derives its strength from its middle class. There will be great value in the late first and early second round as a result. These are my personal rookie tiers based purely on college production, film study, and age, along with some drills to watch for each player and position. Keep in mind these rankings are fluid (hence why they are tiered) and these are the only players I have studied in depth up to this point in the evaluation process. We still have a long way to go.
Notable admissions to keep an eye on: Bishop Sankey, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Terrance West, Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (6’1” 205 lbs) Age: 20
A stud since the time he first took the field as a freshman, Watkins separated himself from his college peers this season, capping his stellar final year at Clemson with 16 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns in the Orange Bowl against Ohio State. He is explosive after the catch and will almost always turn open field space into pay dirt. At the same time, he is also very adept at high-pointing the ball and using his hands, not his body, to make the catch. The knocks on him are that he lacks prototypical number one receiver size and had small character issues in the past, but he clearly has the most upside of anyone in this class at the tender age of 20.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M (6’5”, 225 lbs) Age: 20
A young Vincent Jackson clone, Mike Evans made sweet music with Johnny Manziel for the past two years. While Manziel has gotten all the headlines, Evans has turned his massive 6’5″ frame into the most pro-ready receiver in this draft. He is excellent at leveraging his size into winning contested throws and rarely loses jump balls. He is skilled at coming back to the quarterback and creating passing lanes that otherwise wouldn’t exist, something that he had to do very often with the improvisational Manziel. It wouldn’t be a total shock to see him be the first wide receiver taken in May.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC (6’0”, 195 lbs) Age: 22
At this time last year, Marqise Lee was neck and neck with Sammy Watkins in the minds of forward-thinking Dynasty owners who had an eye on the 2014 draft. He was coming off of an amazing 118 catch, 1,721 yard true sophomore season in which he found the end zone 14 times. An early season knee injury and atrocious USC quarterback play would see to it that he did not repeat his success in 2013. He finished the otherwise lost season strong, however, reeling in seven grabs for 118 yards (16.9 YPC) and a touchdown in his final game. While, like Watkins, he has a smaller frame, his speed is undeniable on tape. I wouldn’t rule out a sub 4.40 40 yard dash, which would make him a virtual lock to go in the top 15 to 20 picks. He needs a good combine to solidify his draft status, and I’m expecting him to produce.
Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona (5’10”, 196 lbs) Age: 21
Carey is easily the best combination of pro-readiness and upside as far as the running back position is concerned in this year’s rookie crop. He has been extremely efficient in the last two years (5.4 and 6.4 yards per carry in 2013 and 2012, respectively) despite 652 carries in that time frame. He totaled an incredible 3,814 yards and 42 touchdowns over that span. After watching some of his games, it’s clear that everyone in the building (especially the opposing defense) knew Carey was getting the ball on every play, making his yards per carry numbers all the more impressive. He also added 77 career receptions at Arizona for a quality 8.8 yards per reception. While some may view his workloads as a negative, he is still 21 years old and was able to hold up fine while being fed constantly into seven- and eight-man boxes. His lateral agility is top-notch, and that is generally what I look for in my running back prospects. His 3-cone drill will be a good barometer of this trait.
Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor (5’10”, 210 lbs) Age: 22
Seastrunk has elite potential as a runner, as evidenced by his stellar 7.6 career yards per carry mark. The former Baylor Bear is heavier than Carey, and has just as much if not more lateral agility and vision between the tackles. However, he is inexperienced catching the ball out of the backfield (zero receptions this past year) and has seen a limited workload in his two years as a starter. His lack of usage in the passing game also means that he is raw when it comes to pass protection. He has the potential to be the most productive back in this class in the right situation, though. I’ll be watching his 40 time and 3-cone drill closely.
Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State (6’3″, 210 lbs) Age: 20
Robinson racked up 174 receptions in the last two years under Bill O’Brien in Happy Valley. Explosive after the catch, Robinson shows flashes of Cordarrelle Patterson-like ability with the ball in his hands. The question with the former Nittany Lion will be whether he can expand his game to catching balls down the field. He cannot fall back on rushing production like Patterson to buoy his stats, and therefore needs to develop his downfield game. If he does, he can turn into a legitimate WR1 at 6’3″. He is also only 20.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt (6’3”, 205 lbs) Age: 21
Much like Robinson, Matthews has prototypical wide receiver size at 6’3″ 210 lbs. Whereas Robinson has proven speed and excels after the catch, Matthews has made his name making acrobatic catches further down the field. With 201 catches for 2,800 yards over the last two seasons, Matthews has shown he can produce at a high level. The question is if his game will translate to the quickness of the NFL. He isn’t slow, but he isn’t a burner either. His speed drills (40 yard dash, shuttle) at the combine will be something to watch.
Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech (6’5” 257 lbs) Age: 21
Amaro measures in at a monster 6’5″, 257. He burst onto the scene this year with 106 catches for 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns. He has great hands as well as above-average yards-after-the-catch ability for someone his size. His skill set should transfer very smoothly to the NFL, as he can fit in pretty much any style of offense. He wasn’t much of a red zone threat however, scoring only seven touchdowns on all those catches. I’ll be watching his vertical (for end zone jump balls) and his 40 time.
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina (6’4”, 245 lbs) Age: 20
An advanced pass catcher for his very young age (16.3 YPC in his college career and still only 20 years old), Ebron projects as the “move” tight end that NFL offenses are craving. I have him below Amaro because he A) was less productive in college and B) his production will be more dependent on his landing spot than his Texas Tech counterpart given that Amaro is more of an in-line blocker that should be on the field for more snaps on average. However, Ebron is an athletic freak that could blow scouts away at the Combine. I’ll be interested in every drill he participates in.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State (6’5″ 242 lbs) Age: 23
There is a lot of buzz surrounding Benjamin following his breakout 15 touchdown season including the National Title-winning catch. He also averaged an elite 18.7 yards per catch this year. While he has every physical trait you could want in an NFL wideout, I have my concerns about him from a Dynasty perspective. For one, he has well-documented drop issues. Secondly, he is already 23 years of age before he has even been drafted. That being said, he has the potential to put on a show at the Combine given his size and athleticism. There will undoubtedly be some scouts drooling over him.
Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State (6’0″, 242 lbs) Age: 23
With his massive frame and extensive NCAA experience, Hyde is arguably the most pro ready running back in this class. I could easily see him being next year’s Le’Veon Bell, coming in and producing right away. From a Dynasty point of view, however, his biggest red flag is that he is already 23 years old, so he needs to develop quickly to take full advantage of his physical prime. While he has some experience catching the ball out of the backfield, I wouldn’t call him an adept receiver by any means. He needs to go to the right fit to be successful as teams move away from bigger backs like Hyde toward hybrid, do-it-all pass catching backs. If he shows well in the 40 yard dash and/or three cone drill, it could be a precursor to him being one of if not the first back off the board.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State (5’10”, 186 lbs) Age: 20
Cooks is very reminiscent of former teammate and current Pittsburgh Steeler Markus Wheaton, who was one of my favorite rookies last year. They have similar frames (5’10”) but make an enormous amount of NFL caliber receptions in college for their size. Since these two will probably never be true number one NFL receivers, their production is very dependent on their team situation. Wheaton landed in a good spot in Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger, but where Cooks will end up is a mystery. He could get himself into the first round conversation with a 40 time in the 4.4’s and a good showing in the receiving drills.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville (6’3”, 196 lbs) Age: 21
I am by no means a scout, but I think that the Texans would be making a huge mistake to pass on Bridgewater with the first overall pick. The former Louisville Cardinal has torn up the NCAA for two years now. He has progressed every single year he was at school, capping his career off with a senior season that included a 31:4 touchdown to interception ratio and a 71 percent completion percentage. He has above average pocket awareness and moves well when pressured. He has a lean frame, but he “supposedly” has the height at 6’3″ (some are speculating he will measure in shorter in Indianapolis). Houston or Cleveland would be an ideal landing spot for him. With quarterbacks, put stock into what you hear about their team interviews in addition to their drills. A quarterback’s arm is only as valuable as his mind.
Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia (6’0″, 213 lbs) Age: 23
Sims splashed onto the scene in his first year as a Mountaineer, scoring 14 total touchdowns and nearly eclipsing 1,500 yards from scrimmage. 401 of those yards were of the receiving variety, where Sims excelled with 45 grabs. He has prototypical bell cow running back size, but is already 23. I’m interested in seeing his long speed in the 40 yard dash.
Austin Sefarian Jenkins, TE, University of Washington (6’6”, 276 lbs) Age: 21
An on-field skill set reminiscent of Rob Gronkowski has been overshadowed by character and off the field woes. His ceiling and floor have me paying as close attention to him as any other prospect. He has immense physical upside and theoretically should shine at the Combine.
Follow Joey on Twitter @PFF_Joey