As the NFL Combine kicks off Wednesday, it’s important that teams use the event to confirm previous assessments or ask their scouts to go back to the tape, not to use a player’s 4.30 forty-yard dash as the sole arbiter to deliver a first round grade. That being said, a number of players enter Indianapolis with a greater weight on their shoulders. Perhaps they have a reputation for poor athleticism they need to shed, or as a workout warrior that they need to confirm. Maybe they need to demonstrate their health after missing time to injury in their career. These players are some of the candidates who could see their stock take a major turn one way or the other depending on their showing this week.
Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa
The lynchpin of Iowa’s defense has been a tackling machine, with 433 total tackles and 211 solo during his four year career. While Jewell also has his share of sacks and passes defended, on tape he appears to lack the sideline-to-sideline speed of a three down linebacker. Running a forty yard dash faster than 4.8 seconds or turning in a fast short shuttle time would alleviate some of those concerns; otherwise, he could see himself sliding past the fourth round in April.
Vita Vea, DT, Washington
Vea, the 6’3”, 345-pound nose tackle, has been talked up for months as a rare specimen. If he’s going to make good on the Dontari Poe comparisons, this is his time to shine. Can he crack 5.1 seconds in the forty-yard dash? Can he hit 32 inches in the vertical leap? Can he bench press 35 reps?
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
The Combine is the first postseason opportunity for the junior Jackson to demonstrate his potential to teams. He could sweep up a wave of hype by shining in the timed workouts, where he’s projected to test as well as or better than Robert Griffin III did in 2012. But even more important will be the throwing sessions, which would place him in direct comparison with Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, and Baker Mayfield, and the personal interviews, which will allow him to demonstrate his football IQ for teams.
Shaun Dion Hamilton, LB, Alabama
Senior linebacker Hamilton has been a valued player in Alabama’s defensive rotation for four seasons, but a torn ACL in 2016 and a fractured kneecap to the same knee in 2017 raise significant concerns. He’s recently been seen working out at nearly full speed, but a medical evaluation by team doctors will be important.
Kentavius Street, B.J. Hill, Justin Jones, DL, NC State
Playing on the same roster as blue chipper Bradley Chubb, each of these seniors played well but were outshone by (or perhaps beneficiaries of) Chubb’s week-over-week domination. It’s reminiscent of the 2005 Wolfpack that saw three first round picks from the defensive line: Mario Williams, Manny Lawson, and... John McCargo.
Each of these players is a draftable prospect in his own right, and the Combine workouts and individual drills are a chance for them to demonstrate their functional athleticism and technical refinement. While three first round selections is probably too rich for this group, any of these players could find themselves selected on the second day of the draft with a good showing in Indianapolis.