Henry, Hooper lead combine's weak TE class
The NFL scouting combine kicks off Tuesday from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, with the first day of media availability coming Wednesday.
Over the next week, the newest batch of college prospects will be analyzed — and over-analyzed — by the Green Bay Packers and the other 31 NFL teams. They will do on-field drills. They will do private interviews. They will be placed on draft boards, prioritized in no small part because of their upcoming performances.
Each prospect comes to Indy with a unique story. Here’s a look at five intriguing offensive prospects who will be put under the combine’s microscope.
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Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas
His father was Arkansas’ senior captain in 1991. He was raised in Little Rock, the state capital of Hog Heaven. So Hunter Henry seemed destined to be a Razorback. A top tight end prospect out of high school, everyone expected Henry to have smashing success in college.
He certainly delivered.
His first two seasons in Fayetteville were solid, but Henry really sparkled as a junior in 2015. His 51 catches for 739 yards and three touchdowns were good enough to win the John Mackey Award, given annually to college football’s best tight end. In a stat Packers fans will appreciate, Henry showed the ability to make downfield plays with a whopping 14.5 yards per catch.
An early entry, Henry has been deemed the undisputed cream of the tight end crop entering the combine. He’s lauded for his soft hands, crisp route-running and field-stretching athleticism. Henry should be included on any short list of prospects who could catch the Packers’ attention in Indianapolis.
Austin Hooper, TE, Stanford
There is a long line of NFL tight ends who planted their roots at Stanford, including Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz and Indianapolis’ Coby Fleener. Hooper is next in the procession.
A four-star recruit from one of the nation’s elite high school programs, De La Salle in Concord, Calif., Hooper redshirted his freshman season before earning all-conference honors in 2014 and all-American honors last fall. He caught 74 passes for 937 yards with eight touchdowns and 12.7 yards per catch in two seasons. He’ll enter the draft as a third-year sophomore, taking advantage of a weak overall tight end class.
Hooper is still raw, but he has high-ceiling potential. He’s a smooth athlete with good hands and room to grow into his 6-foot-3, 248-pound body. With only two college seasons, Hooper could benefit from the on-field workouts at the combine.
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Shon Coleman, T, Auburn
There were 332 players invited to the combine this year. None has a better story than Coleman.
A former five-star recruit out of Olive Branch High in Memphis, Tenn., Coleman was diagnosed with leukemia a couple weeks after committing to Auburn in March 2010. He spent two years away from football as he battled the disease, eventually beating it. Ten months after diagnosis, Coleman enrolled in classes at Auburn. He redshirted the 2012 season and finally returned to the field in 2013.
Coleman was a backup in his first season behind Greg Robinson, the second overall pick in the 2014 draft. He then started all 25 games at left tackle the past two seasons, completing his remarkable return to football.
A 6-foot-6, 313-pound tackle dripping with athleticism, Coleman has positioned himself as a fringe first-round prospect entering this week. While raw, his physical tools look the part of a potential franchise left tackle. You already know he has plenty of toughness.
Kenyan Drake, RB, Alabama
Meet the other Alabama running back. While Derrick Henry rumbled to a Heisman Trophy, Kenyan Drake played a complementary role in his final season with the Crimson Tide.
In the beginning, there was supposed to be nothing “complementary” about Drake. He was a consensus four-star prospect out of Hillgrove High in Powder Spring, Ga., a top-10 running back nationally. Drake showed flashes of his talent over four years at Alabama, but a rash of injuries limited his college career. Among the injuries, a broken leg at Ole Miss ended his junior season after just five games. Drake missed two games with a broken arm last November.
So it was poetic when his 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Clemson last month sealed Alabama’s national title. The return showed just how dynamic Drake can be when healthy. In the open field, few college football players were better.
Drake will have value as a Day 2 — or maybe even early Day 3 — running back who can double as a receiver out of the backfield. A freshman during Eddie Lacy’s final season at Alabama, Drake rushed for 1,495 yards on 233 carries (6.4-yard average) and 18 touchdowns during his four-year college career. He added 46 catches for 570 yards and four touchdowns.
Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State
If not for a bit of twisted fortune, Braxton Miller might be a quarterback prospect in Indianapolis this week.
Miller started his career at Ohio State as a dynamic quarterback, eventually earning Big Ten offensive player of the year honors. He figured to be the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback as a senior in 2014, but a shoulder injury cost him the entire season. While Ohio State went on to win the first annual college football playoff national title, Miller watched from the sideline and went through his rehab.
The injury might have been a blessing in disguise. It initiated his switch to receiver, a transition he might have been forced to make to last in the NFL anyway. Now, Miller has a full season under his belt as an offensive playmaker, not a quarterback. He caught 25 passes for 340 yards and three touchdowns as a fifth-year senior, adding 261 yards and a touchdown on 43 carries.
Miller should offer an athletic jolt to an NFL team’s offense this fall, especially as a receiver who can spend time lined up in the backfield.