The SEC leads the country with 71 NFL Combine invitees, and the ACC had the next highest invitees with 48. Alabama led the country with 12 invitees, and LSU was second with 11. Notice a trend here?
The NFL Combine is a time where draft prospects can either boost their projections or flop and drop their draft stock. Players run 40s; quarterbacks throw; receivers catch. Sure, every player has a lot to prove to scouts at the combine, but let’s hone in on six players who have the most to prove:
Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
Buzz: Most of the talk from LSU’s two receivers revolves around Jarvis Landry. And that’s all warranted, because he’s a fantastic prospect, but college football’s most versatile player Odell Beckham could have one of the most explosive futures in the NFL. Scouts will get an opportunity to see him first hand, and he’s a two-fold star – receiving and returning kicks – waiting to happen. Beckham has all the physical tools with tremendous upside, but scouts haven’t projected him that high of a pick…yet. With a great performance, Beckham will turn heads and could move right up draft boards.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Why: Route running
Buzz: We know Mike Evans can really play some football, but scouts have seen him dominate smaller receivers with jump balls from Johnny Manziel. But NFL scouts want to see crisp route running, and several were outspoken that Evans should stay another year in college to specifically hone those skills. He’ll be an NBA power forward playing receiver in the NFL. A player like Evans just doesn’t come around that often, and he’s only been playing football for a few years now. He’s raw, he’s talented, and he has a lot to prove at the combine.
Dee Ford, OLB/DE, Auburn
Why: In between positions
Buzz: Much like Michael Sam, who I will discuss below, Dee Ford is also in between positions, depending on the defensive scheme in which he plays. Ford showed during the Senior Bowl practices he could transition to outside linebacker and play defensive end. Ford is largely figured as a second-round pick, but he could be one player who could shoot up draft boards if he runs a great 40 and shows up in drills. The Senior Bowl MVP racked up 10.5 sacks during the season. That’s no fluke, and Ford is largely underrated.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Why: Stock down since Senior Bowl
Buzz: The SEC’s record-setting receiver didn’t have the type of showing he wanted at the Senior Bowl and practices. He has everything scouts and coaches want: great hands, great size and route running. However, he struggled against physical and tight man coverage at the Senior Bowl practices. His stock has seemed to cool a bit since the end of the season, but he has an opportunity to create a buzz about him during the combine. He reminds me a little of former Cal receiver Keenan Allen, who led all NFL rookies with 71 catches for 1,046 yards in 2013.
Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Why: Pass blocking
Buzz: Greg Robinson is one of the fastest risers on any draft board currently, and some have even discussed the Texans taking him No. 1 overall. Robinson blew into a road grader at left tackle for Auburn, but scouts question his pass blocking ability, mainly because they haven’t seen it that much. They also question his strength. Scouts will hone in on drills such as the bench press to get a sense of his strength, but Robinson should wow scouts with his tremendous athleticism.
Michael Sam, OLB/DE, Missouri
Why: In between positions
Buzz: Even before Michael Sam’s recent announcement, his draft projections haven’t been high, despite leading the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss in 2013 and being the Defensive Player of the Year. For many, Sam is too small to be considered a defensive end at the next level, and he didn’t show at the Senior Bowl he could play outside linebacker in coverage. We know he can get into the backfield, but scouts continue to question what his real position will be at the next level. Again, Sam having to prove himself at the combine has nothing to do with his recent announcement.
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