The annual NFL scouting combine is a smorgasbord of the league power brokers coming together to pick, prod, fall into and out of love with a whole new class of prospective job seekers. For those not familiar, well maybe you should just stop reading this now, but to refresh, the combine is a four day event broken into interviews, physical measurements and drills (such as 40 yard dash, agility, etc.) that are meant to provide a common platform to judge everything from ability to character; all in a quest to determine their respective chances of succeeding in the national football league.
I’m publishing these notes right after the combine, so analysis is subject to change based on draft selection, performance in mini-camps and pre-season games. In short, the combine is one small but important step in the evaluation process.
The running back position in particular has undergone more evolution, aka change, over the past decade than any other in the NFL. Teams by default now have specialists and rotate players based on niche roles. For example the standard has become a bigger, short yardage type paired with a quicker, outside the tackles third down performer. These guys now split snaps evenly, and some teams regularly rotate in a third player as well. This has led to more distribution of touches, lower production per player and more playing time opportunities.
Here are the players that impressed and/or highlighted performance. I’ve linked to Youtube for highlights as well.
Tyler Erving - A smaller back (5’9” 194 lbs) who handled a massive workload this past year (2nd in FBS in total yards in ’15); he entered the combine as a day 3 pick and left as a firm day 2 selection. He showed well in all the drills (top 5 in 40, 3 cone, broad jump, vertical) combined on field productivity and his stock is rising. The best way to describe him was “smooth”, pair that with testing and tape and he’ll be somebody to watch closely. Highlights
Keith Marshall - If it weren’t for a litany of injuries, the former Georgia Bulldog would be a top prospect. After running a 4.3 40, he’s back in the conversation. That said he went from being a late day three pick to a late day two or early day three guy. The reason being is he hasn't shown enough versatility, has suffered a multitude of injuries and ultimately isn’t versatile enough to be more than an athletic flyer for an NFL team. Highlights.
Kenyan Drake - Alabama has been a running back factory the past eight years. Drake looked the part early in his career but injuries derailed him ascending the throne. However the top recruit showed tremendous ability at the combine (top 40, 3 cone, broad jump, vertical jump), and in particular shined with natural hands and solid route running to ensure he can slide into a 3rd down roll early. Drake could go early Day 2 and if he lands in the right situation will have fantasy value immediately. Highlights.
Daniel Lasco - The Cal product was nonexistent in the past year due to injuries but Lasco was a key producer in ’14 and he showed up huge at the combine (best Vertical, top 5 3 cone, 40, broad jump). Lasco is a bit undersized so teams will look at him as a returner/3rd down guy. His combine performance solidified him a spot in the draft though, and like Erving will have an opportunity at touches early thanks to their receiving ability. Highlights.
Derrick Henry - Heisman trophy victories don’t guarantee pro success, but his combine performance backed up the game tape. One of the largest backs at the combine (fullback or not), he ran a solid 4.54 40 and showed avg or better athletic ability across all the drills. The concern is lateral quickness and receiving ability but in a LaGarrette Blount, Jeremy Hill type role, he will be special. A potential day 1 selection ensured himself a day 2 spot and competition to be a bell cow for an NFL team. Highlights.
Ezekiel Elliott - The best runner in this class impressed with a strong 40 time, adequate quickness and overall solid numbers. All the national pundits are staying positive things but I saw weakness catching the ball. He’s still a top selection but his destination is more important. Elliott needs a team with traditional run blocking TE’s and a complementary third down back to ease him in. A NY Jets type destination would maximize his opportunity to be ROY. He’s a likely 1st round pick, so it’s not as he’s a disappointment in the traditional sense but he enters the NFL similar to Adrian Peterson or Melvin Gordon, talented runners that lack pass catching experience & skills. Highlights.
Peyton Barber - The player who left Auburn early to support his homeless mother, his performance across all the drills left a lot to be desired. Barber looks like a complete player on film (and some scouts/analysts such as Matt Waldman compare him to Ahmad Bradshaw) but he didn’t show anything special in the testing or drills. He’s likely a late pick or undrafted guy who will have to earn a role through hard work and fortune. I think he can develop into a regular contributor but the odds just got longer for him. Highlights.
Kelvin Taylor - It’s unclear why Taylor left school with another year of eligibility. He’s been adequate given his pedigree but he’s not shown NFL ability. He entered the combine with famous genes (Fred Taylor’s son) and mostly disappointing college performance. The combine testing & drills confirmed what the tape (and college performance) show, which is he’s not explosive, lacks pass catching skills and doesn’t have the strength or push to be a short yardage stud. Based on name recognition he could still be drafted late but best guess is he ends up as an undrafted free agent who long term fades into civilian life. Highlights.