NFL Draft season is now in full swing with the combine kicking off this week, and a deluge of information on over 300 future pros is about to come rolling in. From the top down, from general managers, directors of college scouting, scouts, to media analysts and to the fans -- everyone has a few favorites among this year's list of draft eligible players. The combine provides a great chance to put some empirical data on a player's athleticism next to that subjective scouting report you've been cooking up.
Here are a few players whose athleticism metrics I'm looking forward to seeing by the time this weekend finishes up.
QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon 6'4, 219 pounds
QB Brett Hundley, UCLA 6'3, 226 pounds
At the end of the day, it's clear that pure speed falls somewhat far down the hierarchy of importance when it comes to skills NFL quarterbacks need, but that never seems to fully distract from the alluring "ceiling" that a highly athletic, dual threat signal caller presents. It's too enticing to imagine a player that can both throw and run with equal skill, but it's also exceedingly rare. NFL quarterbacks, by and large, have been non-mobile pocket passers, but that paradigm has shifted slightly over the last few years.
Look no further than this year's Super Bowl to see both ends of the spectrum. On one hand there's Tom Brady, probably the best quarterback ever, who runs like an accountant. On the other, there's the efficient and talented Russell Wilson, who posted a 4.55 40 time at the 2012 combine, fifth-best over the last five years. Both can read defenses, lead their teams, and importantly, throw with accuracy and touch, but something that Wilson brings to the table is the ability to create explosive plays with his feet. Wilson finished 16th in the NFL in rushing (849 yards), and teams will be looking at him as the model of what you can do with a (smart) dual threat quarterback (that avoids hits) in the right system.
Naturally, it helps that Wilson, first and foremost, has the skills of an NFL passer. But I still believe teams will see what Seattle's offense did in 2014 and look to emulate it -- smart, savvy incorporation of the read option along with heavy play action and downfield passing. Can Mariota or Hundley be next in the line of mobile QB's to confound defenses? We'll see, but I have the feeling that if either runs sub-4.6 in the 40, there's going to be some salivating from front offices and coaching staffs.
SB Nation presents: Scouting the five best quarterbacks in the NFL Draft
Like the 2014 combine and draft, this year's crop of receivers is deep and intriguing from an athletic point of view. If there's one positional group that may steal the show in Indy this year, it's probably this one.
Sammie Coates, Auburn, 6'2, 215 pounds
Coates is this year's Cordarrelle Patterson. A raw, high-upside freak of nature whose unlimited potential will ring out to scouts and GMs like a Siren call. Despite a pretty tough drop rate and underwhelming production at Auburn, Coates has the chance to completely blow up the Combine with a sub-4.4 40 and potentially a 44-plus inch vertical, two things pretty unheard of for human beings his size.
Coates may not be polished right now, but with the right coaching and enough patience, could develop into an elite NFL receiver with the ability to score from anywhere on the field on any given play. That's what he'll get scouts to say to themselves after this week, anyway. As Lance Zierlein put it in his NFL.com scouting report, Coates "has early round traits and late-round receiving skills right now, but the upside will be hard to pass on and could pay off in a big way."
Jaelen Strong, Arizona St., 6'3, 215 pounds
Strong is a physical, tough at the catch-point player in the mold of Alshon Jeffery, Anquan Boldin or Dwayne Bowe, but the big question for the Arizona State prospect, like his player comps, is centered around his speed. Will Strong be able to separate from NFL corners and can he beat anyone downfield? These are things scouts and GMs will be asking themselves, so in a lot of ways Strong's speed scores will be important going into the draft.
If he runs in the 4.5s, he should be fine, but if it's slower than that -- into the 4.6s or worse, 4.7s, it has the potential to hurt his stock. Jarvis Landry ran a 4.77 last year and dropped to the late second, the 12th receiver off the board despite pre-combine billing as a potential first-rounder in some places. Landry caught 84 passes in 2014 but that slow 40 made a lot of teams take pause.
With Strong, I'm less worried about that 40 time though and am looking forward to seeing his explosion numbers -- the vertical and broad jump -- because those are two traits that seem to show up more on tape.
2015 NFL Combine
8 key storylines to know
How will Jameis Winston respond to tough questions? Will we get any indication if he or Marcus Mariota is the pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 1? Whose draft stock will change? We'll hopefully get some of those answers in Indianapolis this week.
2015 NFL Combine
Devin Smith, Ohio St., 6'0, 190 pounds
Phillip Dorsett, Miami, 5'10, 195 pounds
The battle for fastest 40 times of the combine might come down to these two. Both have a shot at the 4.3s and Dorsett even said recently that his goal is in the 4.2s. If he hits that, he's got a shot at beating Chris Johnson's all-time record 4.24, so there will be a lot of anticipation for his runs. Regardless, both players are extremely field-fast so what they run in the 40 is mostly irrelevant to me -- it's readily apparent to me that these are two true "take the top off of defenses" type players, but what I'm interested in seeing is how they do in agility scores.
Smith seems a little bit like a one-trick pony at this point -- his one trick, scoring touchdowns on bombs, is a good trick -- but just how quickly can he sink his hips and change direction? The three-cone and short-shuttle will help answer this. He'll be asked to run a route-tree in the NFL and suddenness is important.
With Dorsett, his quick feet and low center of gravity makes you think of an Emmanuel Sanders, Brandin Cooks-type of player. We'll see if he can hit under 6.9 in the three-cone and sub-4.0 in the short shuttle.
Nelson Agholor, USC, 6'1, 190 pounds
Rashad Greene, Florida St., 6'0, 180 pounds
USC's Agholor and FSU's Green are two guys that might've gotten overlooked a little bit heading into the combine because they're not outstanding in any one particular area, but may leave Indy with solid speed scores across the board. Both are smooth, natural athletes with foot quickness, understated explosiveness, and balance.
Both sport sinewy frames and both have unclear positions (outside versus slot) at the next level. Both could post very strong agility (three-cone/short shuttle) and explosion scores (vertical/broad jump) and ultimately those times will tell you more about the types of players they'll be in the NFL. These guys may not be the prototype deep-threat receivers in the NFL, but I like them both as very solid, "quarterback's best friend" type of players that just get open then make things happen after the catch.
Antwan Goodley, Baylor, 5'11, 220 pounds
Goodley has tantalizing deep speed in a rare body type for a receiver. He stands 5'11 but weighs in at near 220 pounds, which is more of a running back build, but his extremely long arms make him unique. Just "on the hoof," as scouts say, he's an interesting looking athlete who is good in space and after the catch. He caught a ton of screens at Baylor this year so his ability as a route-runner is a question mark, but I think there's no question he'll run fast and jump out of the building.
DaVaris Daniels, Notre Dame, 6'2, 203 pounds
Notre Dame's DaVaris Daniels missed the 2014 season after being suspending following an investigation into academic impropriety, but he's an explosive, exciting athlete. He's under the radar right now, but his natural athleticism could show up in Indianapolis and put him back on the radar for analysts and teams alike.
Darren Waller, Georgia Tech, 6'5, 241 pounds
DeAndre Smelter, Georgia Tech, 6'3, 222 pounds
You can't teach size and you can't stop people from comparing every big receiver out of Georgia Tech to Calvin Johnson: these are two constants. The predominantly running college has two draftable receivers this year and both are big, good-looking athletes. I'm looking forward to seeing how they run ... and how they jump at the combine.
SB Nation presents: How to make the NFL Combine more entertaining
If there's a group that can overshadow the receivers this year, it might be the running backs. There is a diverse collection of backs entering this year's draft, and they come in all sizes and styles. Two of the backs that I'm looking forward to watching in Indianapolis the most are the foot-fire brothers, Ameer Abdullah and Duke Johnson.
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska, 5'9 195 pounds
Duke Johnson, Miami, 5'9, 206 pounds
Abdullah and Johnson both lack prototypical size as three-down backs, but so did LeSean McCoy when he entered the Draft in 2009. Durability will of course be a concern for these two, but speed and shiftiness will not. Ameer and Duke were among the most fun players to watch in college football this past year, making impossible-looking cuts, displaying impossible-looking balance, and showing impossible-looking explosiveness. It will be interesting to see how they fare in the agility drills, which seems custom-tailored to their skill sets.
NFL Combine Basics
Complete list of players invited to combine
The top college players in the nation will converge on Indianapolis for the Scouting Combine on Feb. 17 and we've got the full list of invites.
NFL Combine Basics
David Cobb, Minnesota, 5'11, 220 pounds
Matt Jones, Florida, 6'2, 235 pounds
On the other hand, there's Minnesota's David Cobb and Florida's Matt Jones, who both display Beast Mode-esque toughness and tackle-breaking ability, but lack an element of elusiveness and agility in the open field. There's always a place in the NFL for guys like Cobb and Jones because they can help move the chains and wear down defenders. If they're able to display some explosiveness in the short area in testing at Indianapolis, however, they can improve their stock and potentially change some perceptions about their respective skill sets.
Mike Davis, South Carolina, 5'9, 223 pounds
Davis reminds me of Christine Michael a little bit in his balanced and forward-leaning gait, has similar foot speed, and it will be interesting to see if he blows up the combine like Michael did in 2013. He's the prototypical size for an NFL back, sports a compact, rocked-up frame and likes to deliver a punch up the middle. He had a huge year in 2013 but wasn't as explosive or effective this past season as he battled a few injuries early on. The combine should provide him a chance to show scouts and coaches that he's still a high-end athlete.
Josh Robinson, Miss. State, 5'9, 220 pounds
Nicknamed "bowling ball" by his teammates, Robinson is one of my favorite backs to watch in this year's class. He sports a squatty, compact frame, has some nice short-area burst, and consistently breaks tackles with jukes, powerful leg churn, balance and forward lean. His running gait reminds me somewhat of Maurice Jones-Drew, but he doesn't have the same speed or athleticism that Jones-Drew boasted when he came out in 2006. That said, if Robinson is able to post some solid speed scores in Indianapolis -- in the 40, short-shuttle, three-cone, and vertical -- I think he could boost his stock pretty significantly.
Maxx Williams, Minnesota, 6'4, 250 pounds
Clive Walford, Miami, 6'4, 258 pounds
Williams and Walford are the top two tight ends of this class at most draft sites, and they will be the two most interesting players to watch in Indy. Both are expected to post impressive numbers in speed and explosiveness, and both sport the prototypical size for NFL tight ends.
Jean Sifrin, Massachusetts, 6'7, 250 pounds
Sifrin stands out because of his size, but the 27-year-old will have to make a pretty big impression to offset the concerns about his age going into his rookie year. In my opinion, the most interesting thing to watch for with this guy is his vertical and broad jump scores, because that's where he'll be making his hay in the NFL -- by going up and getting passes well above smaller defenders.