The 2016 NFL Scouting Combine kicks off in two weeks, and on Thursday the NFL officially released its list of players invited to the event. The Combine is the marquee event of NFL Draft season, a chance for hundreds of prospects to interview with teams, have measurements taken, test their athleticism, and participate in positional drills to demonstrate their aptitude.
The full invite list can be browsed through on the NFL's website. Leading the way on the invite list was Ohio State, with 14 players. Here are the names to know and storylines heading into the event:
Players with intrigue
This Ohio State quarterback is built like Cam Newton, but didn't demonstrate the same level of dominance in his short starting career. Will he show enough in the workouts and throwing drills to generate interest from teams?
Derrick Henry, Corey Coleman
Both of these players come in with somewhat odd sizes for their positions (Henry is a huge 6'3" 242 pounds, and Coleman a bit undersized at 5'11" 195). They're also considered to be freakish athletes. Will they own the workouts the way people think they can?
Perhaps no one can will see his stock fluctuate at this event more than the former top high school recruit. Nkemdiche has enough questions about his character that he's considered a risk in the middle of the first round. That said, if he runs a 4.8 forty yard dash, some teams will sit up and take notice. And if he can figure out how to explain himself in interviews, that will help even more.
After asking to play outside linebacker at the Senior Bowl to demonstrate his versatility, Ragland had a relatively quiet weak that saw his stock dip a little bit. There are a healthy number of analysts who believe that Ragland may be more of a Brandon Spikes than a C.J. Mosley. Ragland's performance in drills like the 40 yard dash and three cone drill could help change that opinion (or reinforce it).
Auburn's left tackle has a heartwarming story, spending two years fighting leukemia in 2010 and defeating it. After redshirting to improve his conditioning, he played as a backup to Greg Robinson in 2014, then started the last two seasons at the blind side. Coleman has size and excellent power in his game, but some believe he has slow feet. If he tests well, he could find himself leaping up the draft order, similar to Miami's Ereck Flowers in last year's draft.
In every year, surprising players are passed over on the invite list and have to make up the difference with personal workout demonstrations. Being skipped for the Combine isn't necessarily a death knell for a prospect; 41 of the drafted players in 2015 weren't invited. But being ignored generally signals that the player isn't going to be valued come draft day.
Michael Thomas (Southern Miss)
One of my favorite receivers in this year's draft (Ohio State's Michael Thomas is also on that list), Thomas ranked eighth nationally in yards per game, with 71 receptions (19.59 yards per reception) and 14 touchdowns this season. The 6'1" 200 pound receiver may be behind the eight ball by missing out on his Combine invitation, however. As Rich Hribar illustrates, the list of receivers to be drafted after not being invited to the Combine is short, and not inspiring. Since 2008, it's Julian Edelman, then a bunch of journeymen like Charles Johnson, Kyle Williams, Joe Webb, and several other players you've never heard of.
The TCU senior is an explosive running back who had two productive seasons as a starter, but NFL teams didn't seem to agree. Fortunately for Green, he plays for a school that already has some big name prospects like Josh Doctson entering the NFL, so he should be able to demonstrate his skills at the school's Pro Day.
This junior receiver from Western Michigan is on the small side, but was very productive, hauling in a team-leading 108 receptions and 13 touchdowns this season. Given the production, it's understandable why he became an early entrant to the draft, but it's possible NFL teams may not agree with the decision.
The Middle Tennessee State safety played for a small school, but he started 36 games and set a school record for interceptions. He also played in the Senior Bowl, so it's a bit of a shock to see him not on the list.
The starting quarterback for the national champion Crimson Tide, Coker only started a single year in college, but has prototypical size and played in the Senior Bowl. As an Alabama player, it's surprising that he was passed over for someone like Wisconsin's Joel Stave.
This is considered to be an extremely deep defensive line class. Personally, I think there are going to be a number of players at this event that just blow up the Combine. Names like Nkemdiche, DeForest Buckner, Vernon Butler, Andrew Billings, Kenny Clark, Chris Jones, A'Shawn Robinson - I would not be surprised to see them all outdoing each other in the workouts. I think that's the story of this event.