NFL Scouting Combine: Top Players to Watch For At Each Position

NFL Scouting Combine: Top Players to Watch For At Each Position

by February 28, 2022 0 comments

The NFL Draft season is in full swing and next on the schedule is the NFL Scouting Combine going down this week. Starting on Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, 324 draft prospects will be showcasing their skills and abilities in various drills and tests. The week-long event will be another chance for prospects to separate themselves from the rest of the pack and elevate their stocks. While 324 players is a very big number, let’s look at the top five prospects to look for at each position along with some sleepers.

Be sure to check out all of our NFL Draft content. We will be on the ground in Indy this week, so there will be plenty more where this came from.

Quarterbacks

1. Malik Willis, Liberty

After a solid Senior Bowl week, Willis became to many the top quarterback in the class, by a slim margin. Now he has a chance to build off that and really solidify himself as the number one option at the position. During the week in Mobile, Alabama, he showed off his mobility and impressive arm strength before rushing for a game-high 54 yards on gameday. The upside is there and can be shown off at the combine this week in quarterback drills.

2. Carson Strong, Nevada

While the arm strength and accuracy are certainly there, there have been questions about Strong’s mobility. If the former Wolfpack quarterback can show a little mobility this week, he can become a consensus first-round pick. He is a pure pocket passer and can make throws accurately from any angle. One big thing to watch for at the combine is whether or not his knee will be a problem. He has had repeated knee injuries going back to high school, so he will have to be cleared by doctors in order to participate.

3. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh

After a record-breaking senior season, Pickett looks to be a good bet to be a first-round pick. The Heisman finalist threw for 40 touchdowns and 4,066 yards in 2021 and was one of the most efficient quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl. He went 6-for-6 during his stint under center while recording 89 yards and a touchdown pass. Now he can lock up his first-round title with a solid showing in Indy at the combine.

4. Sam Howell, North Carolina

Howell had a shaky senior year with the Tar Heels and needs to work on getting better reads and getting the ball out quicker. He has a strong arm and is an experienced passer, but needs to show a better ability to make the throws he knows he can make. He can certainly show those abilities at the combine to help his first-round hype.

5. Matt Corral, Ole Miss

Being the only non-senior among the top quarterbacks hindered Corral a bit since he obviously couldn’t participate in the Senior Bowl. But it really wasn’t a big setback, as there still isn’t a “for sure” number one quarterback. Corral has the chance to show he is worthy of a first-round selection if he can prove his dual-threat capabilities. He has a lot to work with, just needs to be more consistent.

Other notables: Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky; Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

Sleepers: Cole Kelley, Southern Louisiana; Brock Purdy, Iowa State

Running Backs

1. Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M

The former Aggie could very be the first running back off the board in April. Spiller played in all 12 games during his junior season while averaging 5.6 yards per carry and rushing for 1,011 yards and six touchdowns on 179 carries. He is an all-around, three-down back and will have a lot to show off this week. With good reps, Spiller could lock up the number one running back title.

2. Breece Hall, Iowa State

Just like Spiller, Hall is a dual-threat back with his ability to catch and run out of the backfield. Hall is slightly better in the passing game, though, as he is a true receiving back. He had a very efficient and productive college career and is the most complete back of this class. The Iowa State product averaged 5.8 yards per carry while rushing for 1,472 yards and 20 touchdowns on 253 carries, while also catching 36 passes for 302 yards and three touchdowns. Hall was a first-team All-American and the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, while he finished 10th in Heisman voting.

3. Tyler Badie, Missouri

One of the most twitchy backs in this class, Badie had a career-best season in 2021. He has tremendous straight line explosiveness as well as being able to weave in and out of traffic. Despite a smaller frame, at 5’8″, 200 pounds, Badie can bounce off would-be tacklers. He has the same type of look as a Darren Sproles or Boston Scott type back. It will interesting to see what he runs in the 40-yard dash, as he has 4.4 potential.

4. Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State

The Wake Forest transfer burst onto the scene in 2021 and received Heisman hype during the season. Walker rushed for 1,646 yards and 18 touchdowns while averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He runs with power over agility and has the footwork to change direction in the open field. At 5’10”, 210 pounds, Walker doesn’t have the greatest speed and won’t test well enough to be a first-rounder. But he could draw looks on Day 2 of the draft.

5. Jerome Ford, Cincinnati

Ford has a solid year in 2021, as he ran for 1,315 yards and 19 touchdowns on 215 carries while averaging 6.1 yards per carry. He has the quickness and power to be a workhorse back and keeps his legs churning through contact. One thing he is going to have to show more at the combine is his receiving ability out of the backfield and more awareness as a blocker.

Other notables: Tyler Allgeier, BYU; Hassan Haskins, Michigan; Snoop Connor, Ole Miss; Abram Smith, Baylor

Sleepers: Sincere McCormick, UTSA; Rachaad White, Arizona State; Dameon Pierce, Florida State

Wide Receivers

1. Garrett Wilson, Ohio State

Wilson is arguably the top receiver in this draft and has a chance to show it at the combine. He has all the traits to make his transition to the NFL a smooth one. That includes phenomenal route running, separation, release, burst, and versatility that makes him a very dynamic receiver. Showing off these traits in drills will be huge for him to all but guarantee he is the first receiver taken in April.

2. Jameson Williams, Alabama

Despite tearing his ACL in the National Championship, Williams is one of the top receivers in the draft. He would likely be the number one receiver on every board if it weren’t for the injury. After transferring from Ohio State after two seasons, he burst out for a big year with the Crimson Tide. Over 15 games, Williams had 79 receptions for 1572 yards and 15 touchdowns. The combination of freakish speed and catching abilities give him a high ceiling as a deep threat in the NFL.

3. Jahan Dotson, Penn State

The Penn State product is coming off a career year in which he recorded 1,182 yards and 12 touchdowns on 91 receptions. Dotson has great catching, route running, and burst abilities that make him a good bet to be a top receiver for any team. There are a number of drills he should thrive in at the combine.

4. Treylon Burks, Arkansas

Burks is a very versatile and dynamic receiver who can be used in a variety of different ways in an offense. He has a lot of potential in his run after the catch and contested-catch abilities. One thing scouts will be focusing on during the combine is his release and route tree that can certainly be improved.

5. Chris Olave, Ohio State

With all the hype that his teammate Wilson gets, you can’t forget about Olave. He was one of the program’s most prolific receivers in history and picked up a number of accolades in his final three seasons. One of the best route runners in the class, Olave had a career-high 65 catches, 936 yards, and 13 touchdowns in 2021. His release, RAC, and burst are some of the top traits to look for during reps.

Other notables: Drake London, USC; David Bell, Purdue; George Pickens, Georgia

Sleepers: Jalen Tolbert, South Alabama; Khalil Shakir, Boise State; Skyy Moore, Western Michigan

Tight Ends

1. Trey McBride, Colorado State

One of the best blocking tight ends, McBride is the best tight end in this class with his ability to produce big numbers. In 2021, he had 90 receptions for 1,121 yards and a touchdown, while he continued to improve his route running ability. McBride impressed in that aspect along with his other strengths at the Senior Bowl and should continue to do so here.

2. Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State

While consistently overshadowed by the plethora of great receivers Ohio State has had, Ruckert is just as talented in his own right. He is a mauler at the line of scrimmage with a very solid blocking ability and provides versatility as well. The 6’5″ tight end can line up outside the numbers, in line, in the slot, and everywhere in-between. While he lacked big production, the skills are there which he can show off at the combine.

3. Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina

After primarily being recruited as a receiver, Likely wound up being a dominant tight end for Coastal Carolina. He improved every year and posted career-highs with 59 catches for 912 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2021. Likely is an aggressive blocker who isn’t afraid to get physical and has an impressive RAC ability. He also provides versatility as he can play in any system at any spot.

4. Cole Turner, Nevada

Turner had a great day at the Senior Bowl as he reeled in two catches for 44 yards after being named to the All-Mountain West Second Team. He led the Mountain West Conference for touchdowns by a tight end with 10 on 62 catches. At 6’6″, 240 pounds, Turner is a reliable big-bodied tight end as he uses his size well. He doesn’t have the greatest release package, so that will be something he needs to work on as well as blocking.

5. Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin

Ferguson always gives full effort in every aspect of his game, although he leaves something to be desired in his blocking. However, despite inconsistent quarterback play, he put up big production with his tremendous ball skills and ability to make catches in traffic. He also has solid straight-line speed for a tight end and can break one off to the endzone.

Other notables: Daniel Bellinger, San Diego State; Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M; Charlie Kolar, Iowa State

Sleepers: Greg Dulcich, UCLA; Peyton Hendershot, Indiana; Curtis Hodges, Arizona State

Offensive Linemen

1. Evan Neal, Alabama

The likely first pick in the draft, Neal was a rock-solid blindside blocker for Heisman winner Bryce Young. He earned a selection to the All-SEC team and was also a First-Team All-American. On over 1,000 snaps, he allowed just two sacks. There is really no factor of his game that isn’t top-notch, but the footwork can use some work. It will interesting to see if he can have the best week of all the linemen.

2. Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa

The top center prospect, Linderbaum has all the skills to be a perennial Pro Bowler in the NFL. The argument can be made that he is even the best center prospect over the last several drafts. With his impressive skillset and not really possessing many weaknesses, Linderbaum has a chance to be a Jason Kelce-type center. The only real downfall is his smaller size compared to other interior linemen, which might not allow him to move to a guard position if need be.

3. Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa

The small school product had one of the more impressive showings for a lineman at the Senior Bowl. His stock rose very high after he dominated rep after rep. The performance may have made him a lock for the first round and he has a ton of potential. There are some inconsistencies he needs to work on, including mechanics like hand placement and IQ, as well as run blocking. But the ceiling is very high.

4. Ikem Ekwonu, NC State

A potential top-five pick, Ekwonu is an intriguing prospect based on whether he should play tackle or guard at the next level. Overall, though, he is a mauler on the line with a lot of strength and length. He is a true anchor and with the question of where he might play, he adds versatility.

5. Charles Cross, Mississippi State

Cross is another potential top ten pick in a stacked offensive line class like we’ve seen in recent years. He has elite length for a left tackle and has quick footwork. However, he does have more weaknesses than the other four on this list and will suffer growing pains to start his NFL career. Skills he will need to work on are his overall mechanics, including his hand placement, and run blocking.

Other notables: Zion Johnson, Boston College; Kenyon Green, Texas A&M; Darian Kinnard, Kentucky

Sleepers: Cole Strange, Tennessee-Chattanooga; Rasheed Walker, Penn State; Nick Zakelj, Fordham

Interior Defensive Linemen

1. Jordan Davis, Georgia

One of the leaders of the Georgia defense, Davis could be the top defensive lineman off the board. He had a dominant 2021 season en route to the Bulldogs winning the National Championship. The former three-star recruit recorded 30 tackles, including four for losses, and two sacks. Davis has very strong run-stopping ability as well as being a solid pass rusher. He is very athletic and can fight through double teams to make a play.

2. Perrion Winfrey, Oklahoma

After winning the Senior Bowl MVP, Winfrey saw his stock elevated to a possible late first-round pick. He was one of the most consistent players the entire week down in Mobile as he beat double teams to get to the quarterback and was quick off the snap. He has the ability to beat his blocker in a number of ways to create pressure.

3. DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M

Leal has the skillset to be a potential top ten pick, but after facing some setbacks his junior year he will likely fall. He has a ton of versatility as he was seen all over the field for the Aggies; he has the size, strength, and athleticism to rush the quarterback. Leal recorded 58 total tackles, 12.5 tackles for losses, 8.5 sacks, two pass deflections, and one forced fumble.

4. Devonte Wyatt, Georgia

Another leader on the dominant Georgia defense, Wyatt posted career-highs in tackles, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, sacks, and pass deflections in 2021. He has tremendous athleticism, consistent motor, and a high IQ to play in any technique. The explosion off the line is one of the most impressive parts of his game that will be shown off this week.

5. Haskell Garrett, Ohio State

Although an older prospect as a fifth-year senior, Garrett has the makings of a starter in his first year in the NFL. He posted 40 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two pass breakups, and a pick-six in 41 career games with Ohio State. The Vermont native is a strong tackler with solid hand placement and packs a punch on ball carriers.

Other notables: Logan Hall, Houston; Travis Jones, UConn; John Ridgeway, Arkansas

Sleepers: Thomas Booker, Stanford; Zach Carter, Florida; John Ridgeway, Arkansas

Edge Rushers

1. Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan

The runner-up to the Heisman, Hutchinson was a dominant force for the Wolverines’ defense. He had one of the best seasons for a Michigan defender in history and could be the first overall pick in the draft. His 14 sacks were the most in a season in program history, and he also had 58 tackles, 15.5 tackles for losses, and two forced fumbles.

2. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon

Another potential first overall pick, Thibodeaux was the first Oregon defensive lineman since 2015 to receive All-American honors. He was impressive for the Ducks’ defense from the jump and continued the consistency throughout his career. His bend, motor, and pass-rushing ability are all uber-impressive which make him a tantalizing prospect.

3. Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State

A transfer from Temple, Ebiketie burst onto the scene his senior year at Penn State to add another big name to an already stacked edge rusher class. He earned All-Big Ten honors after finishing the season with 52 pressures, 62 total tackles, 9.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles. Ebiketie has elite explosiveness off the edge but does have things to work on as far as his pass-rushing technique goes. He doesn’t always have a great first step and can disappear at times.

4. George Karlaftis, Purdue

With the hype surrounding the Senior Bowl standouts, Karlaftis has lost some juice on the hype train. But once scouts see how he performs at the combine, the hype should return. He has very good pass rush ability along with being explosive and having a nonstop motor. Just like a lot of his edge-rushing counterparts, Karlaftis provides versatility to be a mismatch anywhere along the line.

5. Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina

Enagbare has flown a bit under the radar compared to other guys, but he has a strong skillset. After getting some playing time his freshman year, he developed into a full-time starter. He has a great blend of burst, length, and power that translates to consistent pressure.

Other notables: Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma; Jesse Luketa, Penn State; David Ojabo, Michigan

Sleepers: Cameron Thomas, San Diego State; DeAngelo Malone, Western Kentucky; Joshua Paschal, Kentucky

Linebackers

1. Nakobe Dean, Georgia

Another product of the Georgia defense, Dean has a wide and versatile set of skills. He is a do-it-all linebacker that has some of the best edge-rushing talent of any linebacker. On top of that, he can play at an elite level in coverage and has elite speed. That and more will be shown off at the combine.

2. Jermaine Johnson, Florida State

Although he lined up on the edge, Johnson is listed as a linebacker by the combine, which proves his versatility. As a starter at FSU, the Minnesota native recorded 70 tackles, 12 sacks, 18 tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles. He was also a standout at the Senior Bowl which put the NFL world on notice of Johnson’s consistent abilities.

3. Devin Lloyd, Utah

The x-factor on the Utah defense, Lloyd has a lot of solid intangibles that have given him first-round hype. He is great against the run, has good ball skills, and has solid instincts. The one area of concern for Lloyd is that he is not too strong on shedding blocks. There is potential, and if he can show flashes at the combine his stock will rise farther.

4. Quay Walker, Georgia

Ah, yes, another Georgia defender that has gotten loads of hype. Walker only started for two seasons, so he lacks full experience. But the potential is there as with strong development he can turn into a formidable starting linebacker. He has elite speed and provides versatility as he lined up everywhere in the Georgia defense.

5. Chad Muma, Wyoming

Muma started to get more hype later on and has consistently proved doubters wrong since high school. He doesn’t have the biggest set of skills that other top linebackers have, but he can hold his own with a lot of solid attributes. He is a linebacker who is willing to play anywhere the defense needs him to play and can show off that versatility this week.

Other notables: Brian Asamoah, Oklahoma; Darrian Beavers, Cincinnati; Christian Harris, Alabama

Sleepers: Boye Mafe, Minnesota; Nephi Sewell, Utah; Channing Tindall, Georgia

Cornerbacks

1. Derek Stingley Jr., LSU

Arguably the best overall cornerback in this class, Stingley is a potential generational talent that has gotten hype since he enrolled at LSU. He is a solid player with a lot of upside and strong skills like speed, athleticism, and length. While the production went down since his unreal freshman season, Stingley still continued to show off his skills, and at the combine, he will have a chance to prove he’s worthy of a top ten pick.

2. Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati

“Sauce” Gardner has gotten better every season and he was a force to be reckoned with on the Cincinnati defense. He is in the conversation for the first cornerback off the board with his bundle of skills led by his instincts and man coverage ability. Gardner has crazy explosiveness as well which helps make up for his slow release.

3.  Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson

Booth also has an argument for the top safety in the draft with a wide range of skills along with having a big upside. He is super athletic, is very fast, and has near-perfect ball skills and instincts. There’s no reason to believe he won’t be a top pick in the draft and a solid week will prove it.

4. Roger McCreary, Auburn

McCreary is another corner who has worked his way into first-round talks, and deservedly so. He’s a very raw corner with tremendous upside with a skillset led by his elite long speed. Whoever selects him will have to be patient with his development, but it will be worth it. His speed and elusiveness will be fun to watch at the combine.

5. Trent McDuffie, Washington

McDuffie flies a bit under the radar when comparing him to the rest of the pack. He has elite athleticism and speed with a keen talent in coverage, both zone and man-to-man. There is also a ton of burst in his game and he has fluid body control as well as being an aggressive tackler. Look for a lot of those skills to leak out in combine reps.

Other notables: Kyler Gordon, Washington; Coby Bryant, Cincinnati

Sleepers: Tariq Woolen, UTSA; Tariq Castro-Fields, Penn State

Safeties

1. Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame

The top safety in the draft, Hamilton is an uber-talented prospect with impressive size and length. Despite only playing seven games in 2021 before suffering a knee injury, he showed plenty enough to back up the hype. He has incredible size, athleticism, and range to be considered as the most talented player in the draft regardless of position. The combine should lock him up as a top-five pick.

2. Jaquan Brisker, Penn State

One of, if not the best, man coverage safeties in the draft is Brisker, who has elite closing speed, ball skills, and instincts. His super senior year at Penn State was a career season as he finished fourth among defensive backs with 5.5 tackles for loss. He earned first-team All-America honors while receiving an invite to the Senior Bowl. The Lackawanna College transfer has a chance to be the second safety off the board behind Hamilton. The combine is a chance to prove it.

3. Daxton Hill, Michigan

Hill has the skillset to have an argument for the second safety off of the board. He was the leader of the Wolverine secondary and was always seen around the ball with blazing speed. The Oklahoma native also lined up all over the field for Michigan and he is super athletic. Hill earned a selection to the All-Big Ten First Team after a great 2021 season.

4. Lewis Cine, Georgia

As you’ve noticed, Georgia knows how to develop strong NFL talent and this year that is seen on the defensive side. Cine is a talented safety with solid straight-line speed, agility, and range of motion. In the passing game, he can drop back into the slot and in the run game, he is a violent tackler while coming downhill with force.

5. Jalen Pitre, Baylor

A standout at the Senior Bowl, Pitre has a solid skill set but does have some weaknesses that could be seen at the combine. But he is a do-it-all safety with a lot of things to like, including instincts, closing speed, and ball skills that make him a premium prospect. Pitre has been a bit underrated and could really prove to be a top safety prospect with a solid showing in Indianapolis.

Other notables: Verone McKinley III, Oregon

Sleepers: Kerby Joseph, Illinois; Smoke Monday, Auburn

Special Teams

Since there is only a handful of special teamers attending the combine, we are going to just list off all of them. There is a lot of potential here, especially with the punters who showed out at the Senior Bowl. Specialists usually get overlooked, but they are one of the most important parts of a team. We’ve all seen some of the kicking and punting blunders over the last several years.

Punters: Jordan Stout, Penn State; Jake Camarda, Georgia; Matt Araiza, San Diego State; Blake Hayes, Illinois; Trenton Gill, NC State
Kickers: Cameron Dicker, Texas; Gabe Brkic, Oklahoma; Cade York, LSU
Long Snapper: Cal Adomitis, Pittsburgh

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