NFL Combine Storylines to Watch (2019 Fantasy Football)
The NFL Combine is almost here! It’s that special time of year when the nation’s best college football players gather to be measured, poked and prodded, and gawked at by professional scouts and football geeks alike around the world. Each year, this annual gathering highlights some players we’ve not gotten much exposure to and further showcases the nation’s superstars.
Players at the combine show off their skills, get measured, and perform athletic drills. Height and weight and even hand measurements are used as a barometer to predict future professional success, as are athletic drills. Not unlike years past, the 2019 Combine is chock full of storylines to watch. What makes this draft so interesting is that unlike years past, there is no consensus top pick at any position. The RB and WR prospects all come with debate and scrutiny, the top QB spot may belong to Kyler Murray rather than Dwayne Haskins, and once a sure lock Nick Bosa may not be the number-one overall pick. On the Eve of the event, let’s take a look at those storylines.
How will Kyler Murray measure up?
Murray is undersized… but we already know that. The question is, just how undersized is he? Murray is historically short, but his height ranges from 5’8 to 5’10 depending on the source. An official measurement of Murray may sway teams one way or another on him. Murray could end up as high as the number-one overall pick if you believe the trade rumors involving Josh Rosen and the Patriots are true. Other teams in play for Murray include the Giants at No. 6, the Jaguars at the No. 7 spot or the Dolphins at the No. 15 spot.
Murray had a phenomenal 2018 at Oklahoma, passing for 4,361 yards, 42 TDs, and just seven INTs. He was deadly accurate as well, completing 69.0 percent of his passes. Incredibly, Murray also rushed for 1,001 yards and an additional 12 rushing TDs in his brilliant campaign. No matter the lofty stats, size does matter for QBs, and even though Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, and Murray’s predecessor Baker Mayfield have all found success in the NFL as undersized signal-callers, Murray represents a quarterback with historically small stature. He and Mayfield draw comps because they played on the same team with the same offense, were both accurate passers and were both a little undersized. Mayfield, however, comes in around 6’0 and is much bulkier at 215 lbs compared to Murray’s projected 185. Because of his small frame, Murray’s hand size (important for QBs) has come into question as well. His height, weight and hand size will all factor into his potential landing spot in the draft, and if he’s too small, he could fall down draft boards.
Murray’s 40-yard dash time
Murray’s small size could be overlooked due to his excellent skill-set, and it would be especially beneficial for him to post a quick 40-yard dash time. His speed could boost his draft capital as it represents escapability — essential for NFL QBs, but especially essential for undersized QBs to avoid hits. The 40 time would also show that his 1,001 yards rushing at Oklahoma last year weren’t just a fluke or the result of playing poor Big-12 defenses.
Is D.K. Metcalf back to his old self?
Metcalf missed all but five games in 2018 after suffering a season-ending neck injury. He’s projected by many to be the first receiver off the board, and his workout at the Combine could either cement that sentiment or show teams that he’s not fully recovered. Pictures of him pre-Combine show that he is ridiculously muscular and conditioned and in superhuman shape (seriously, check him out), but are his football skills still as polished as they were before his injury?
Which wide receivers can prove themselves?
This is one of the weakest skill-position classes in recent memory, though there are still some great wideouts available. There is, however, no clear consensus on the top wideout in this year’s draft. The top three receivers on many boards are Ole Miss teammates Metcalf and A.J. Brown and Arizona State product N’Keal Harry. The former two seem almost certain to hear their names called on Day 1, while Harry is less likely but fairly certain to be in for the same result.
Other intriguing notable receivers include Kelvin Harmon of NC State, Riley Ridley of Georgia, Hakeem Butler of Iowa State, and Deebo Samuel of South Carolina. These guys could all push for first-round consideration if they have strong Combine showings. Those are the big names, but can some of the under-the-radar talents make a name for themselves? Three other lesser-mentioned prospects who could really boost their stock at the Combine are Parris Campbell, David Sills V, and Andy Isabella.
Campbell had a big year with the Buckeyes last season, totaling a 90-1,063-12 line. David Sills V from West Virginia had a highly productive college career at WVU, amassing a 125-1,966-33 line in his final two seasons with the Mountaineers, but he has gone largely under the radar. A strong Combine performance could garner Sills the attention he deserves. Ditto, Andy Isabella. The UMass product led the FBS in receiving in 2018, and he had a great Senior Bowl. Watching him, he looks like a quicker Danny Amendola, and those skills will translate nicely to the NFL as a potential starting slot wideout. That brings us to…
Andy Isabella’s 40-yard dash time
Isabella, as mentioned above, is a talented wideout who could certainly carve out a starting role on an NFL team and have a productive career. He’s boasted that he can run a sub-4.3 40, which would make him one of the fastest receivers in the NFL and an enticing prospect on draft day.
Which quarterback can boost his stock?
There are some fine quarterback prospects in this year’s draft, but even the top two or three aren’t locks to be franchise stars. Dwayne Haskins and Kyler Murray seem to be locks for top-two selections at the QB positon, while Drew Lock could find himself taken third among QBs. With Murray surging up draft boards as of late, Haskins could silence any doubt of his deserving the top QB spot. He’ll likely be throwing, giving him a chance to show off his skills.
Drew Lock and Daniel Jones are the next two biggest names making an appearance at the Combine, and both could improve their stocks. Lock had issues with turnovers at the collegiate level while Jones struggled at times with accuracy and making big plays downfield. Both have something to prove with their combine performances.
Will Grier will almost certainly have to wait until Day 2 to hear his name called, but it’s possible a tremendous Combine performance could push him into the first round. He is one of the oldest and most mature QBs in this draft, though he is far from polished. The WVU product struggled with decision-making throughout his college career, though he was able to make some huge plays with his escapability and big arm. A true gunslinger, Grier could find a great landing spot in New England should the Patriots like what they see and select him at the end of the first round.
Can any running back do enough to jump into the first round?
This year’s draft could be the first in five years to not see an RB taken in the first round. The past three years have seen Saquon Barkley, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, and Ezekiel Elliott taken in the top-10, but there are no standouts in this class. Guys like Josh Jacobs, David Montgomery, Rodney Anderson and Darrell Henderson all have top-RB potential, but are any of those players ready to take on a starting role and make an immediate difference? There are just a couple teams in the first round who may consider taking a back:
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronald Jones was a fizzle last season, and Peyton Barber is by no means a world beater or a long-term solution. If any of these backs really show out at the combine, the Bucs could take a swing with the No. 5 pick.
- Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens are likely to go offense with their first pick, but instead of grabbing a WR, they may snag an RB if one really catches their eye. The Ravens have employed a carousel of “who’s that” and “flash in the pan” backs since Ray Rice was cut, and the team could really use a true stud to pair with Lamar Jackson rather than using an RBBC featuring some combination of Gus Edwards, Kenneth Dixon and/or Alex Collins.
If any back really sizzles at the Combine, that back might end up a first-round selection.
Which lineman can make a name for himself?
Linemen on both sides of the ball (particularly guards and edge-rushers) come at a premium in today’s NFL that focuses so heavily on the passing game. That’s why the first round is sure to feature mostly tackles, guards, and defensive ends. The debate as to who is the best at each position is not clear-cut. It seems unlikely that any lineman on either side of the ball can propel themselves out of the second round and into the first, but the top players will all be jockeying for position within the first round.
Outside of Nick Bosa (the closest to a consensus number-one at his position), evaluations vary among Quinnen Williams, Josh Allen, Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Rashan Gary, and Ed Oliver. The Combine offers a chance for one of these five to separate himself and move up draft boards. Montez Sweat, once regarded as a potential first-rounder, has pushed himself into top-15 consideration with strong play at the Senior Bowl and may even reach the top-10 if he can have another strong showing at the Combine.
On the offensive side of the ball, there’s not a real consensus on any of the players which include Jonah Williams, Jawaan Taylor, Yodny Cajuste, Cody Ford and Greg Little. There are concerns and question marks attached to all of those names, so a standout Combine performance would do much to improve the draft stock of any of those prospects.
Is there a true difference-maker at TE in this draft class?
There are a few TEs in this class who have made the case for first-round consideration. Those include the dynamic pair from Iowa, Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson and Alabama’s Irv Smith Jr. First-round TEs have historically underachieved, though 2017’s class of O.J. Howard, Evan Engram, and David Njoku was an outlier. Much like fantasy football, finding a reliable tight end in the NFL Draft isn’t exactly a perfect science, so selecting the next Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, or Zach Ertz (all second-round picks) won’t be a guarantee — far from it, in fact. The Packers, Patriots, and Lions could all be potential suitors for a talented TE in the first round. Any of these three players could blow the competition away at the Combine and raise their stock.
Jace Sternberger of Texas A&M, Tommy Sweeney of Boston College, Kaden Smith of Stanford and Trevon Wesco of WVU are four other names to watch at the Combine as potential risers who could climb up draft boards with impressive showings.