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The 10 Most Interesting Questions for the NFL Combine

JaelenStrong

Jon Moore has provided the perfect primer on how to evaluate the Combine numbers. We’re all dying to find out the prospect measurables. Here are a few of the most intriguing questions we should see addressed this weekend.

1. Could Jaelen Strong be the receiver to challenge Amari Cooper?

While Cooper is considered the highest floor prospect in the 2015 Draft at the wide receiver position, Kevin White, Devante Parker, Dorial Green-Beckham, and even Devin Funchess are often cited as prospects who could end up with a higher ceiling. I think this line of thought is problematic regardless, but it’s also interesting that Strong is rarely mentioned. He’s viewed more as the second high floor/low ceiling prospect at WR.

The Arizona State product followed the same junior college route as White but is far younger and held a 2-0 lead in posting seasons above the WR1 trend line. His numbers are also clearly better than those of DGB and Funchess. Strong is often billed as a guy who won’t create separation, yet uses his bulk to shield defenders and win contested balls. He’s sometimes compared to Dwayne Bowe.1

Last year Jordan Matthews was only 0.03 seconds slower than Sammy Watkins in the forty and tied him in the 3-cone. That probably should have been a pretty big story, but Matthews barely even appeared on NFL Network coverage. Even though his Combine punched holes in the “work-hard, low-ceiling” narrative, the results were largely ignored. Chip Kelly is even being criticized for wanting to select Matthews in the first round despite that being the right play. We could see a similar Combine from Strong. In fact, if he follows Matthews by running in the 4.46 range and notching a 6.95 in the 3-cone, then he becomes a player you could rate as your No. 2 receiver without batting an eye.2

2. Does Ameer Abdullah possess starter quality measurables?

Abdullah is portrayed as an elite runner and incredible character guy but one who struggles with fumbles and pass protection. While I realize that these two areas can easily keep a young runner from getting on the field, I love when players are discounted for those reasons. I’m much more interested in whether the player in question has the pure running ability to be more than a replacement level or system back. (Remember when the freakishly talented Knile Davis was labeled a late round pick because of his fumbling issues?) Abdullah’s NFL future will depend on whether he’s an NFL athlete.

Abdullah is right in the 195-200 weight range, which means he needs special athleticism to project as a future fantasy starter. Giovani Bernard’s 4.53 forty helped forecast that he would be a change-up back at the NFL level and an overrated rookie pick. Abdullah probably needs a sub-4.45 forty and a sub-11.0 Agility Score to stay in the late first/early second of rookie drafts.

Update: Abdullah weighed in at 205.

3. Is Breshad Perriman the discount Kevin White?

This is the heatmap I referenced in asking that question recently about Perriman and White.

breshadperrimanchart

 

The smoke thickens daily around Perriman’s prospects. We’ve now heard draftniks as diverse as Mike Mayock, Daniel Jeremiah, Mel Kiper, and Gil Brandt suggest Perriman will run well at the Combine. Such a performance would leave the UCF star with comps equal to the bigger names and position him to go in the first round of both reality and fantasy formats.

Update: It appears Perriman will not be running at the Combine.

4. Will Maxx Williams establish himself as one of the best TE prospects of the decade?

Williams slides into the 2.03 to 2.06 range in most current rookie mocks, partly due to the wait for tight end production and partly due to the potential for selecting a future RB1 deep into Round 2. He’s also a little overlooked as a reality player with Minnesota’s low-volume passing attack as the main culprit. But Williams has a lot going for him. His 0.49 DR is pretty ridiculous for a tight end and quite a bit better than Eric Ebron’s. As Jon Moore catalogued, the average times for TEs in the 40 and 3-cone are 4.74 and 7.16 respectively. For more context, Ebron easily eclipsed the 40 time but posted an awful 7.49 3-cone at his pro day. If Williams ends up somewhere in the 4.6 and 7.0 range for the two drills, it would confirm him as the top TE prospect in several seasons.

5. Who is Stefon Diggs?

Almost every scouting blurb I’ve seen on Diggs refers to him as straight-linish, which is kind of weird because if you watch any of Diggs’ highlights, he’s returning kicks for touchdowns and breaking guys’ ankles. Perhaps if you watch all the plays in which Diggs is unsuccessful he’s only running in straight lines.

Diggs is interesting because most scouts think he needed to go back to school, but the evidence suggests he’s one of the most advanced prospects ever in terms of generating production for his age. This leads me to believe Diggs is a bigger mystery man than most prospects. We’re not hearing a lot about “where Diggs wins” because many evaluators aren’t sure he does. This makes his Combine results especially intriguing.  My guess is that we’ll see an excellent 40 time, but I expected a faster time from Marqise Lee last year as well. Perhaps he’s one of those “straight line” guys with incredible timed agility like Roy Helu, or maybe he’s going to jump 41 inches like Tevin Reese.

On the downside, he could put up middle of the road numbers, and then his biggest concern wouldn’t be injuries or production but whether he simply lacks the size/athleticism package to be more than an NFL role player.

Find out how fast your favorite sub-200 pound receiver has to run to be a viable fantasy player in Devin Smith, Phillip Dorsett, and the Importance of 40 Times for Small Receivers.

6. Is Javorius Allen an immediate three-down starter?

Allen has been compared to Bishop Sankey – a RB coach who’s worked with them both has claimed they’re similar – and to Charles Sims. Sankey had quite a bit better age-adjusted production and tore up the Combine, so that comp looks like a stretch. But what if Allen impresses? I used Sankey’s Combine times with Allen’s production in the RB Prospect Lab, and got these results.

NAME AGE YEAR WT FORTY CONE ATTS YPG TDS RECS SCORE
KNILE DAVIS 21.15 2013 227 4.35 6.96 11.2 37.7 0.2 1.1 64
TYLER GAFFNEY 22.72 2014 220 4.49 6.78 23.57 122.07 1.5 1.07 63
ANTONIO PITTMAN 21.07 2007 207 4.4 6.84 18.62 94.85 1.08 1.08 62
JAMIE HARPER 21.32 2011 233 4.53 7.16 15.15 58.46 0.54 2.69 62
JEROME HARRISON 22.75 2006 201 4.47 6.79 28 172.73 1.45 2.18 62
MONTARIO HARDESTY 22.93 2010 225 4.49 6.87 21.69 103.46 1 1.92 62
ANDRE BROWN 22.05 2009 224 4.37 7.35 13.46 59 0.54 2.23 61
JAVORIUS ALLEN 23.3 2014 220 4.49 6.75 21.2 115 0.9 3.2 61
RYAN MOATS 21.97 2005 210 4.46 7.22 24 147.83 1.5 1.25 61
CEDRIC BENSON 22.03 2005 222 4.62 7.5 27.17 152.83 1.58 1.83 58
CYRUS GRAY 22.02 2012 206 4.4 7.17 18 95 1.09 2.82 58
RONNIE BROWN 23.08 2005 233 4.43 7.12 12.75 76.08 0.67 2.83 58
TIM CORNETT 21.69 2014 209 4.48 7.01 20.31 98.77 1.15 2.31 57

This is only a minor uptick from his projection in the RB Prospect Lab rankings, but it would move him ahead of David Cobb, T.J. Yeldon, and Ameer Abdullah. While older players tend to be fully valued during rookie drafts, Allen is a unique case because the depth of this class may result in his size/receiving package being overlooked.

7. Will Vince Mayle’s times make him the WR version of Jimmy Graham?

Mayle is older than quite a few guys already starring in the NFL, and his impressive raw stats (1483-9) crumble a bit when you look at them in the context of his offense (0.26 DR). But Mayle began college as a basketball player and ended up at Washington State as his third destination. In that light, his results become more interesting. Mayle is one of several players who could be seen as potential arbitrage options for Kevin White. A 4.55 in the forty would give him a Freak Score of 60. White would need to run a 4.52 to earn the same score. While it seems likely that the West Virginia star records a large enough gap to earn a clear win in that category, it will certainly be fun to watch it play out.

8. Is T.J. Yeldon more than another Alabama system back?

The Alabama running back factory is churning out NFL players at an impressive pace, but the results at that level have been mixed at best. Trent Richardson is an epic bust. Mark Ingram is a replacement level system back, and Eddie Lacy looks great when running through the cavernous holes created by defenses trying to stop Aaron Rodgers. Yeldon’s early career production suggests he’s probably the equal of these backs, but his inability to ever put together a signature season has left his fantasy value in flux.

Although perhaps the result of injury, Mark Ingram’s Combine was full of the types of red flags that should have knocked his reality draft stock down into the 4th or 5th round. He posted a 4.62 forty, 7.13 three-cone, and 31.5-inch vertical. Coming off of an injury-plagued season, Yeldon needs to separate himself from the previous Alabama runners as an athlete. I gave him a 4.45 forty in my RB Prospect Lab tinkering, and he still ranked as the No. 7 back in the class. He needs an impressive performance just to stay in the conversation with some of the other top backs.

9. Are we fixating on the wrong Devante?

While Devante Parker is deservedly receiving a lot of interest after a season with a Dominator Rating well above 0.50, another Devante was more productive in 2012 and 2013 in terms of yardage share.

Devant v Devante

Devante Davis struggled with nagging injuries last season but owns two seasons above the WR1 trend line. 2014 was Parker’s first. The Louisville product will almost certainly be fully valued in 2015 rookie drafts, but Davis might be quite a bargain if he shows well in Indy.

10. Is Jay Ajayi the next Le’Veon Bell?

Ajayi looks the part of a three-down back at the NFL level and has even drawn comparisons to Marshawn Lynch. Since Beast Mode was such a disaster in Buffalo and even took some time to develop in Seattle, fantasy owners will hope he’s more Le’Veon Bell or Matt Forte. Based on my athletic estimates, Ajayi is such a good prospect that he finished ahead of Melvin Gordon in the RB Prospect Lab Rankings, but we know from Ka’Deem Carey’s Combine disaster that disappointments are possible. Conversely, most evaluators didn’t change their “plodder” designation for Le’Veon Bell after he posted a 6.75 3-cone when that number bolstered his chances to be a three-down star.

To give a sense of the range we could see from Ajayi, a 4.45 forty combined with a 6.8 3-cone would give him a 96 in the Lab, a projection which would allow him to blow past Todd Gurley. A 4.6 forty and 7.1 3-cone would bump him down to a 73 and drop him below Melvin Gordon. He would still be a solid prospect at that point, but probably more of an eventual RB2.

  1. A comp that points in a lot of different directions without answering many questions.  (back)
  2. Or rank No. 6 to avoid embarrassment but then trade down in your rookie draft to acquire  (back)

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