In the grand scheme of things, the NFL Combine is the most important job interview of these young men’s lives. The medical evaluations and the 12-minute sit-down interview with each player are possibly the most important aspects of the combine. But, back in the day, Chuck Noll might have something to say about how it is run in today’s world!
When Rod Woodson came out in 1987 then-Pittsburgh coach and legend, Chuck Noll made all the rookies run most of these same combine drills in their pads. He even went as far to make the wide receivers and defensive backs roll down their socks on the way out of the locker room to show they were taped up. Instead of running his 40-yard dash in the 4.4’s without pads, Mr. Woodson ran a “4.6.” So, here is a dual-continent look at six players to watch in what some have dubbed “The Underwear Olympics.”
Isiah Ford, Wide Receiver, Virginia Tech
Combine Drill to Watch: Shuttle Run
Love this kid! The thing I like most about Ford is his quick step and sudden burst up field. He has deceptive speed which he can turn on in an instant. I think he is severely underrated in this class. The shuttle run is also known as the 5-10-5 drill. This drill is perfect for Mr. Ford because it tests explosion in these short areas of the field. Also, this drill will test his lateral quickness. At 6’2” 196 pounds I think he will be a Day 2 steal for a team who needs a wide receiver who can contort his body when adjusting to underthrown balls and go up (after beating press coverage) to secure the catch.
Josh Harvey-Clemons, Safety, Louisville
Combine Drill to Watch: Bench press
This is another bittersweet story of a gifted athlete with off the field problems. J.H.C. is a certified, “Grade A,” physical monster at the safety position. Coming in at 225 pounds and standing at 6’5”, he is, some would say, “A full-grown man!” The reason I picked the least important drill at the combine is not because of the strength aspect of it. It is a sign of commitment to one’s craft. Lifting and get any stronger takes a steady, daily regimen. So, if Mr. Harvey-Clemons wants to show he is committed, it will show in his progress of consistently showing up to work out in the weight room.
Tarik Cohen, Running Back, North Caroline A&T
Combine Drill to Watch: 3 Cone Drill
Standing a little shy of 5’7” and weighing in around 175 pounds, this young man should light up the combine today, but the drill I really want to see him run is the 3 Cone Drill. This drill will measure how quickly he can change direction while moving at a high rate of speed. It will determine if he has flexibility and good drop in their hips. The third cone is the most important to fire out of. Balance also gets tested in this drill. They call this kid “The Human Joystick.” Well, we shall see at the combine if he can turn into a Darren Sproles type of player in the NFL.
Dede Westbrook, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma
Combine Drill to Watch: 40-yard Dash
Westbrook had a huge senior year with 1,524 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns, which was 36.8% of Oklahoma’s total passing yardage. I think most experts are criminally underrating Dede, projecting him to go as late as the 3rd round. In my opinion, if a team can take him that late, they have gotten an absolute steal. At 6’0 and 175 pounds, he would be classified as undersized for an NFL receiver. If he can put some weight on but keep his speed up, he could be a strong receiver in the NFL either out of the slot or out wide.
So how do I think he will do at the Combine? Well, Westbrook certainly doesn’t lack speed, so is probably going to be under 4.50 seconds in the 40-yard dash. If I would compare Westbrook to a current NFL receiver, his physical traits match up with those of Will Fuller (Texans) who managed ten reps at 225 pounds. So I would expect Westbrook to be somewhere in that area.
Overall, I think Westbrook will impress at the Combine and should improve his draft stock to at least a second round pick.
Ben Boulware, Inside Linebacker, Clemson
Combine Drill to Watch: Bench Press
Last season, Boulware notched 116 tackles in total with 11.5 of those being for a loss. He also managed four sacks, one interception, two broken passes and three forced fumbles. Statistically, he doesn’t put up the biggest numbers, but he could certainly do a lot worse. I have seen projections for him to go anywhere between the 3rd round and the 5th round. This is probably accurate as rumors among NFL scouts are that they are unimpressed with the athleticism that Boulware shows. My biggest issue with him having seen a lot of his tape is that he can struggle in pass coverage. This was highlighted at this year’s Senior Bowl.
However, if you have people doubting your athleticism, where better to prove them wrong than in Indy. For a linebacker, he has got a yard of pace, so I think he will do the 40-yard dash in less than 5 seconds. At 6’0, 235 pounds, he measures similar to Eric Kendricks (Vikings) who managed 19 reps on the bench press. I do however feel that Boulware is stronger overall so he should be pushing 22-25 reps.
Boulware will be drafted in the middle rounds of the draft regardless of how he does at the Combine. I do think that if he can excel, he may improve his draft stock enough to be an early 3rd round pick.
Aaron Jones, Running Back, UTEP
Combine Drill to Watch: 3 Cone Drill
So, I originally picked De’Angelo Henderson (Coastal Carolina) as my sleeper, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought about how underrated Aaron Jones is. He managed 1,773 rushing yards last season on 229 attempts with 17 touchdowns. He was also utilized in the passing game, finishing the season with 28 receptions and managing three receiving touchdowns. He only measures at 5’10″ and 215 pounds but possesses good speed and great strength. One red flag for Jones is that he missed the majority of the 2015 season due to torn ligaments in his ankle. Because of this, he received a medical redshirt and has decided to skip his senior year to enter this year’s draft. I believe he will be drafted in the 5th or 6th round as this year is an extremely deep running back class and due to his medical history.
So how do I think he will do at the Combine? I think he will show up in Indy with a point to prove to all NFL scouts watching. My prediction is that he will run the 40-yard dash in around 4.60 seconds. He is fast, but not Chris Johnson fast. For the Bench Press, I would compare Jones to Ameer Abdullah (Lions) for his physical traits. Abdullah managed 24 reps on the Bench Press; however, I would anticipate Jones managing one or two more as he will be pushing himself to impress. I think it will be interesting to see how his 3 Cone Drill goes as he will have the chance to show the scouts that his ankle injury is a thing of the past.
A big performance at the Combine could allow Jones to really announce himself to the scouts. If he works hard, there is a chance he could convince NFL teams to go after him as early as the 4th round. Personally, I think Jones could have a big future in the NFL.