It’s here!!! The NFL Combine begins this weekend. Scouts, GMs, and coaches from all over the National Football League ascend on Indianapolis to see the next crop of NFL prospects. There are the known players to watch like Bortles, Manziel, Clowney, and Barr, but who are the sleepers that could help their draft stock with a great showing this weekend? I present to you my top ten list of players to watch this weekend. Enjoy!!!
10. Cyril Richardson (Baylor)
Richardson ended this college football season as someone who would be drafted in the first round for sure, as a big body with a lot of power to throw around. Well, he has slipped. During the Senior Bowl, Richardson played horribly, especially against Pitt’s Aaron Donald. Donald handed Richardson his butt on a plate for most of the Senior Bowl. Richardson’s weakness of not being able to handle fast and powerful defensive linemen became very apparent. It seemed like his feet were stuck in concrete and he couldn’t move to save his life. When Cyril gets on the turn at LOS this weekend, he must show everyone that he is still the same powerhouse everyone thought he was during the season. If he shows quicker feet and good hip movement to handle those speed guys, then he could move himself back into contention to go before Gabe Jackson or David Yankey. Both of those guys I have seen slated in the back end of the first round in multiple mock drafts. Richardson must put up impressive numbers or he will find himself looking at going in the back end of the 2nd round to middle of the 3rd round.
9. Martavius Bryant (Clemson)
Bryant has been at a disadvantage most of this season. Many people thought he would be the star receiver on the team this year, but he was outshined and outplayed by Top-5 pick Sammy Watkins. Now, I’m not saying Bryant had a terrible year. Over 800 yards and 7 touchdowns is nothing to shrug at- but when you have Watkins opposite of you, nothing you do is going to live up to that. Bryant is a big, physical receiver with good hands. The knock? Not great speed or quickness. Can he get off the line against top tier NFL cornerbacks? He has to shut the haters up this weekend with a great 40 yard dash and do his best to outshine the other receivers in the skills drills. He is slated to go in the 4th round right now; but with a great showing in Indy, he could make his way into the 2nd round.
8. Dakota Dozier (Furman)
This is a relatively unknown player to most football fans. Dozier has been a solid offensive tackle for Furman throughout his college years. He was invited to the Shrine Game and was moved to guard. He had one week to learn to play guard at a high level against better competition than he had seen all year. No problem. He did so in such great fashion. You would have thought that he had been a guard the whole time. Dozier is someone that I am rooting for to help himself at the combine. He is big and powerful with good feet. He can take on just about any defender and will rarely get beat. He will have to show his quick feet and hands this weekend in Indy again, and if he does he could rise from the 4th-5th round grade he is receiving now to late 2nd to early 3rd grade.
7. Pierre Desir (Lindenwood)
Desir is the definition of “sleeper” for sure. He was relatively unknown and as the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl come around, he exploded onto the national stage. Desir is what NFL scouts are looking for in a cornerback nowadays. 6’1 and 195 lbs. with good hands and great speed. He showed that he has no problem man on man or in the zone. This young man has stars in his eyes and no one is going to stop him from achieving his dream. He has done wonders for himself pre-combine, but with another great showing at the combine he could shoot himself up the boards into the 2nd round, possibly the 4th or 5th best CB in this draft class in my opinion. Now he just has to show everyone what I have seen thus far.
6. Kenny Ladler (Vanderbilt)
I have written about this guy before and I can’t help but come back to him. I love his playing style and the mechanics he possesses to be a standout NFL free safety. He’s a good size and has above average hands, but his downside is his speed. He can cover the middle field without an issue but has shown troubles covering streaking wide receivers downfield. Ladler isn’t a slowpoke by any means, but he will have to show the scouts that he has that top end speed you look for in a safety and that he can handle anyone in coverage. He is grading as a 5th round selection in most mock drafts, but with good numbers in Indy he could rise a couple of rounds.
5. Ethan Westbrooks (West Texas A&M)
Westbrooks is a star in the small school pool. A very physical defensive end with great pass rushing skills racking up 26.5 sacks in two seasons. He has a quick first step and a couple of different pass rush moves that work very well for him. He was a standout in the Shine Game this year and turned some heads. Question is, can he play against guys like Nate Solder or Jordan Gross? He has the abilities to be a contributor right away, but with time and good coaching he could one of the biggest steals in the draft this year.
4. Larry Webster (Bloomsburg)
Webster is another one from the Shrine Game that turned a lot of heads with his outstanding play. Showing great power and speed, he didn’t decimate anyone but he sure showed that he can play against the top tier talent. With great size at 6’6″ and 250lbs. he could be asked to move to an OLB in the NFL. He has great speed that would allow him to make the transition, but as with all small schoolers the question is whether they can play the big boys game. I feel more comfortable saying this about Webster rather than Westbrooks: Webster could start in the right situation. He will definitely contribute right away. He will be a late rounder that the GM who drafts him will be called a genius, and the people that passed will be beating themselves up for years.
3. Devante Adams (Fresno State)
Adams is one of my favorite receivers in this draft class. With good speed and pretty good hands he is one of the most watched receivers this year. His route running is something that could use some work but he is still an outstanding prospect. Some people wonder if he is ready for the NFL or if one more year in college would have helped him. He had gaudy numbers this year but he played against sub-par talent most of the season and had Derek Carr as his quarterback. Can he play against the cornerback talent he will see in the NFL? I think he could. He is grading in the early 2nd round right now but some mocks have him going to in the late first. If he runs anything but 4.4 or lower he will be a 2nd round selection.
2. Michael Sam (Mizzou)
I know that some may think that I am watching him because of the most recent news that Sam came out as a gay athlete. Not totally the case. First and foremost, I’m watching Sam because he is a great defender in this draft. SEC Defensive Player of the Year, First Team All-SEC, 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss this year. Those are things that you cannot look past because he is gay. The man can play the game. He is quick off the line and can find holes in the line to shoot through. He is grading to go late 3rd to early 4th round right now. If he puts up a better 40 time and does well with the lifting and the positional drills he could move up a little bit to go in the 2nd round. Now, the question is, if he blows the doors off of LOS this weekend with a great showing and has a great pro day, does he still go low in the draft because of his sexual orientation because teams will not want to deal with that? That’s a great possibility. He is going to be an OLB in the NFL for sure with his size. Sam can really help himself this weekend during the interviews and showing his ability.
1. Crockett Gilmore (Colorado State)
Now this kid really helped himself during the Senior Bowl. Gilmore came in as an injury replacement and impressed everyone on the team. He is a former defensive end but has great athleticism and seems to be able to catch almost anything thrown at him. Coming in at 6’6, 250lbs and 4.8 40 time, he has ability but has to show that he has continued to work on becoming a better tight end. At the combine he needs to run around 4.5-4.6 in the 40 and have great interviews. He is graded as a 5th round pick now. If he improves his speed and continues to impress he could end up in round 3.