What to Watch: 2015 NFL Scouting Combine
Happy offseason, everyone. We are now officially on the eve of the NFL Scouting Combine, where grown men judge the merit of college prospects running around in their underwear. All joking aside, the combine is a critical part of the draft process, and any good dynasty owner is paying very close attention to this event. It is the first exposure any of these players have to the bright lights of the NFL, and it is always fascinating to see how they handle it. For some, there is little to gain and a lot to lose. For others, the opposite is true. Below, I take a look at six “events” related to prominent prospects that you as a dynasty owner should be paying close attention to this weekend. I also offer up my own personal ranks of incoming rookies as they currently stand.
Amari Cooper’s Height and 40-Yard Dash
When you hear people talk about Amari Cooper, they rarely say anything in relation to his athleticism. Instead, they refer to his “game speed” which is a result of sharp cuts and precise route running. There isn’t much debate that Cooper is the most polished receiver in this class, but his size (6’1″, 210 lbs.) and lack of explosiveness have some concerned about his ultimate ceiling in the NFL despite his statistical domination of the best conference in college football. Some have even speculated that he will measure in below his listed height. At one point during this season, it appeared the former Crimson Tide member was a lock to be the first wide receiver taken in April. Now, many have vaulted West Virginia’s Kevin White and/or Louisville’s DeVante Parker ahead of Cooper. Both those receivers are bigger (and potentially faster) than Cooper, but neither can match his innate ability to get open via quality route-running.
While Cooper is expected to test well in short-area agility drills, his long speed is currently a question mark. A 40 time in the 4.4s would be massive for Cooper’s stock and would go a long way towards solidifying his No. 1 receiver status in this class. Even with a 40 time in the 4.5-flat range, he is going to be my personal top option at the position. He may not have the upside of White or Parker, but his floor is so high because of his fundamentals that I wouldn’t pass up what is essentially guaranteed long-term production.
Sammie Coates’ Hands
Sammie Coates is already one of the most polarizing prospects in this class. At 6’2″, 213 lbs. with blazing speed and a huge vertical leap, Coates has everything you would want in a high-end receiver prospect from a physical standpoint. He averaged an outstanding 21.8 yards per catch during his final season at Auburn, including an Iron Bowl stat line of five receptions for 206 yards (41.2 YPC) and two touchdowns against the vaunted Alabama defense. However, every scout will tell you that Coates had concentration issues on the field that led to maddeningly inconsistent hands and only 34 receptions on the season. He fits the “boom or bust” label for a prospect perfectly. If he irons out his inconsistencies, he can be an elite player at the next level. That is a giant “if,” however, given everything we’ve seen on tape while he was in college. I’m going to be watching every drill that involves him reeling in passes very closely.
Devin Funchess’ Speed Drills
The 2013 Big 10 Tight End of the Year winner is still in the midst of his transition process to wide receiver. Despite battling ankle woes, Funchess was one of the few bright spots in a lost season for the Michigan Wolverines, putting up 62 receptions for 733 yards (11.8 YPC) and four touchdowns in his final season in Ann Arbor. His statistics were severely limited by an anemic Michigan offense that ranked 115th out of 128 Division 1-A programs in total yards. At 6’5″, 235 lbs., Funchess profiles as a Kelvin Benjamin-type prospect who excels in contested situations and the red zone. Unfortunately, he also shares another trait with Benjamin: his tendency for drops. Still, we all saw that Benjamin’s skill set translated very well to the NFL. I actually think Funchess has the potential to be smoother getting in and out of his breaks than Benjamin, which is why I am so interested in his short-area agility drills like the three-cone. With his height, his 40-yard dash will also be critical to any evaluation of him as a prospect. Anything in the 4.5 range would be a great time for his size (Benjamin ran a 4.61 last year) and should put him in the conversation with Parker and White behind Amari Cooper.
Melvin Gordon’s Route Running and Pass Protection
The Melvin Gordon versus Todd Gurley debate is going to be one of the hottest topics as we approach the draft. While most in the draft community seem to still hold Gurley in higher regard than Gordon despite Gurley’s torn ACL, there are still prominent media members who think Gordon deserves to be the first back drafted after leading the nation in rushing. Both backs are supremely talented; it really is a matter of personal taste as I believe both will be successful at the next level.
One undeniable knock on Gordon is his role in the passing game. He has shown more than capable hands, but he sometimes looks lost when running dump off routes. The real question is his pass protection. Gurley excels in both protection and executing short passes out of the backfield. While the combine is not the perfect setting to evaluate these traits, we are still going to get to see NFL coaches put him through a few passing drills. Most will focus on Gordon’s speed drills, but he has nothing left to prove to me in that department. I’ll be watching the drills that have him in space the most intently.
Jameis Winston’s Interviews
There is little doubt from a strictly on-field perspective that Jameis Winston is not only the top quarterback prospect but the top overall prospect in this class. He has thrived as a traditional drop-back, pocket passer in a pro-style system but also has the athleticism to create yards with his legs when he needs to. We obviously won’t be hearing exactly what takes place behind the closed doors of Winston’s meetings with teams, but we will certainly hear whispers. As it stands, it seems that all Winston has to do is hold serve in his interviews and he will be Tampa Bay’s pick at No. 1. That would mean he’d be tied to a 21-year old Mike Evans and a 22-year old Austin Seferian-Jenkins for the foreseeable future. It has the makings of a situation that could bear significant fantasy fruit if Winston does his part in these meetings.
Dorial Green-Beckham’s Everything
Much like Sammie Coates, Dorial Green-Beckham is a boom-or-bust prospect. But the former Missouri Tiger and (technically) Oklahoma Sooner has an even wider range of outcomes. Once touted as a generational talent at 6’6″ with elite athleticism for his frame, “DGB” could go anywhere from the first round to undrafted depending on how he performs at the combine and how risk averse teams are to his myriad character concerns in a post-Ray Rice NFL.
From strictly an on-field perspective, Green-Beckham is a potential touchdown monster at his size, but no one has seen him play in over a year due to his dismissal for domestic and drug-related incidents. This is undoubtedly going to come up in his interviews, and his response to those inquiries will be crucial for his draft stock. In the end, talent trumps all in the NFL, so if he shows at the combine what he put on tape at Missouri, it’s not a matter of if but when a franchise uses significant draft capital to take a chance on his upside. I’ll be most interested in his 40-yard dash given his height, but everything he does in Indianapolis is rightfully going to be under the microscope.
Pre-Combine Rookie Rankings
|4||Kevin White||WR||West Virginia|
|8||Jay Ajayi||RB||Boise State|
|10||Jaelen Strong||WR||Arizona State|
|13||Jameis Winston||QB||Florida State|
|19||Devin Smith||WR||Ohio State|
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