10 players with something to prove at NFL scouting combine
With the first wave of players arriving in Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine Tuesday, one of the offseason's most hyped spectacles is under way.
And while the combine often plays host to hyperbole from fans and media, the event still provides an important meeting ground for teams and prospects.
While the fallout from the combine may be difficult to determine, here are 10 prospects who face at least one pressing question heading into the week and could benefit from a strong response:
DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
In a draft seemingly without an established pecking order at quarterback, Kizer still has the chance to make a strong case for himself against North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky and Clemson's Deshaun Watson. With a stout build (6-4, 230 pounds), strong arm and impressive mobility, Kizer is a gripping NFL prospect when he's at his best. Lapses in his mechanics and judgment were too frequent last season, however, and he'll have to show teams he's learned from the bad decisions that plagued him as a redshirt sophomore.
Pat Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
Mahomes doesn't receive the top billing of the other three potential first-round quarterbacks, but his raw skill set makes him a must-watch in this forum. At Texas Tech, he was a live wire of a passer who showed a propensity for making plays deep downfield as well as taking questionable risks. At the combine, displaying an ability to play with rhythm and proper mechanics will be essential for Mahomes as he tries to establish himself in the top tier at his position.
John Ross, WR, Washington
Any bet on speediest players at the combine should likely involve Ross, who recently told The MMQB he ran a laser-timed 4.30-second 40-yard dash in preparation for the event. As perhaps the draft's pre-eminent deep threat, Ross could firm himself up as a first-round pick even with just a solid showing. But the 5-11, 190-pound receiver will need to pass medical evaluations — he has had significant injuries to both knees and is expected to undergo surgery on a torn labrum after the combine, according to multiple reports.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington
The all-time leading receiver in Football Championship Subdivision history is no secret in draft circles, especially after a standout week at the Senior Bowl. Kupp is a natural pass catcher and stepped up whenever Eastern Washington faced top competition. Concerns remain, however, about his ability to create separation at the NFL level. His three-cone time will be important for him in demonstrating he can thrive out of the slot early in his career.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
Smith-Schuster was one of college football's most resilient players after playing through multiple injuries in a trying career with the Trojans. His physical approach and ability to haul in contested catches will draw teams' attention, but questions about his top-end speed as well as agility will follow him to the draft unless he fares well in Indianapolis. If he's seen as a mere possession receiver, Smith-Schuster could have to wait for some of his more dynamic colleagues to come off the draft board first in April.
Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
A three-time All-SEC selection with 32 career sacks to his name, Barnett stands as one of the most accomplished pass rushers in his class. But he may lack the length and initial burst that many teams seek in a difference maker on the edge. Barnett's physical measurements as well as his ability to show a more explosive side could be a critical factor, especially given what looks to be a deep class for defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers.
Tim Williams, DE/LB, Alabama
Tasked solely with pursuing the quarterback, Williams has few players who can match him in athleticism and ability. A more disciplined approach and filled-out frame, however, may be necessary for success beyond situational pass rushing at the next level. Perhaps most important for Williams, however, will be addressing off-field concerns, including an arrest on a charge of carrying a pistol without a permit.
Jabrill Peppers, LB, Michigan
Is Peppers a versatile asset for a creative defense or a tweener lacking a clear path to success in the NFL? Both Peppers' projected role and scheme fit will be integral items for any team to address, as it's unclear whether he will end up as an off-ball "moneybacker" or safety. He should test well, but teams will want to see a fluidity and increased trust in his instincts.
T.J. Watt, LB, Wisconsin
Comparisons to Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt will dog the three-time defensive player of the year's younger brother through draft day and beyond. The youngest Watt (brother Derek is a fullback for the Los Angeles Chargers) doesn't have to forge his own legacy at the combine, but questions remain about his athleticism after his lone standout season at Wisconsin. If the combine reinforces concerns about whether he has the speed and power to consistently beat NFL offensive tackles, locking down a spot in the first-round could prove evasive.
Teez Tabor, CB, Florida
With impressive quickness and a knack for closing in on receivers with the ball in the air, Tabor offers many of the traits NFL teams seek in a top-line cornerback. Yet there's still some uncertainty regarding his long speed, so his 40-yard dash will be closely monitored. He also has to answer for a tumultuous time at Florida, which included two suspensions.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.
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