The 2019 NFL season will be over in a matter of days. Once the confetti starts to fall upon the heads of the winning team at the Super Bowl in Miami, as well as the losing team unless they get off the field sharpish, all eyes should immediately turn to the future. Specifically free agency and, of course, the NFL Draft.
The smart fantasy players will have been looking ahead to this moment already. Albeit with half or even a quarter of an eye as the regular and postseasons played out. But to the less than hardcore public, the NFL Scouting Combine will be their first look at these kids. A first glance at the big names who will soon be plying their trade in the pro game and on our fantasy rosters.
With this in mind, here is a quick look at some of the skill position players who are likely to draw first-round buzz should they perform up to expectations in Indianapolis between February 23rd and March 2nd.
There are no real quarterbacks worthy of our attention at this year’s event. I suppose there’s Joe Burrow, the man who won the Heisman Trophy and led LSU to the National Championship. He threw 60 touchdowns, the most thrown in a single season this century, with only six interceptions. It’s unclear what taking part in the athletic drills would do to improve his already sky-high draft prospects.
Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa may not be healthy enough to participate in any of the drills. But a good show in the medical tests will go a long way towards re-asserting his status as one of the top quarterback prospects in this class. Tua suffered a season-ending hip injury in November, but not before he amassed 2,840 yards (10.9 yards per attempt) and 33 touchdowns in nine games for the Crimson Tide.
Oregon’s Justin Herbert will be hoping that a strong showing during the pre-draft process ensures he is one of the top three quarterbacks taken in the draft. Herbert will be on display at the Senior Bowl in Mobile before the Combine. He completed 66.8-percent of his passes this past season, finishing with 3,471 passing yards and 32 touchdowns. Standing at a statuesque 6-6, he may have to prove to evaluators that he is athletic enough for the NFL.
Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins may be the pick of this particular bunch of backs. Dobbins rushed for 2,003 yards in 2019, adding to his tally as the second-most productive back in the nation between 2017 and 2019. He has been pegged as a complete player at his position, and a strong showing in the athleticism drills should make him the first back taken in the draft. Listed at 5-10, 216-pounds, his 40-yard dash time will be one to wait for.
In looking for decent NFL running backs, lately it’s been good practice to take a gander at who emerges from Georgia. Meet D’Andre Swift, who accounted for 23-percent of the team touches between 2017-2019. Swift led the team in rushing attempts over the last two seasons. He finished with 2,267 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground during this time. He also had 73 receptions for the Bulldogs over the last three years. Swift was bothered by a shoulder injury late in the season. But hopefully, he’ll be healthy enough to take part in the drills in Indianapolis.
Another ridiculously productive back to watch for at the Combine is Jonathan Taylor. We’re not using the word “ridiculously” lightly either. Taylor has the most rushing yards of any player over the last three seasons with 6,174. These came at an extraordinary rate of 6.7 yards per attempt. He scored 50 touchdowns on the ground for the Wisconsin Badgers. His lowest yardage total between 2017-2019 was 1,977. Taylor also used his junior season to finally showcase some of his receiving skills. He caught 26 passes for 252 yards in 2019 after catching 16 for 155 combined in the two seasons prior.
Like the running backs, there are a host of wide receivers that may hear their names called within the first 32 picks. A strong Combine showing would certainly aid them in this goal. CeeDee Lamb of Oklahoma is sure to be among the first wideouts taken. Lamb had 3,292 yards in his three years as a Sooner at an absurd 19.0 yards per reception average. He also has some special teams experience, with 54 punt returns in his career. We should be looking with great interest at his 40-yard dash time.
Like Georgia with running backs, Alabama seems set on sending polished wide receivers into the NFL on an industrial scale. Jerry Jeudy signed off the Crimson Tide with 204 receiving yards against Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. These yards put him over 1,000 for the second straight year. Jeudy is not the biggest specimen in this class, however. His measurables will be interesting to watch, along with his speed and athleticism.
Jeudy’s teammate Henry Ruggs is a player that fans of the Philadelphia Eagles are practically screaming for the team to select. He’s been described as “insanely fast” and his numbers suggest he has a future as an NFL field stretcher. He averaged 17.5 yards per reception at Alabama but was never truly dominant. He has season-highs of 46 catches and 746 yards. It will be interesting to see how he fares in his agility drills to see if he offers more than just speed.
If asked for a possible sleeper, a player who can sneak into the first round based on a strong Combine performance, I would offer the name Brandon Aiyuk. He played two seasons of junior college ball with Sierra College. He finished his time with the Wolverines with 2,499 all-purpose yards. Aiyuk then made a name for himself with Arizona State as a YAC compiler. He also averaged 27.1 yards per kick return and 11.7 yards returning punts. His skills as a receiver and a returner mark him as a player that coaches will want to see with the ball in his hands at the pro level. But like with so many others at this position, his future may depend on what the evaluators can clock and measure.
This is such a talented running back and wide receiver draft class. It may be tough for a tight end to break into the first round. Especially out of this crop. But a name that seems to have attracted some attention is Notre Dame tight end, Cole Kmet. It would be inaccurate to describe him as productive. His three seasons saw him catch only 60 balls for 691 yards and six touchdowns. But he has shown enough flashes as both a receiver and a blocker that a strong showing here will make him worth a selection.
As with all tight ends, his measurables should be watched carefully. In particular, how he fares at the 40-yard dash, the bench press and vertical jump. Success in these drills has closely correlated with a prospect’s success in the NFL.