Devonta Freeman made a splash at the 2014 NFL Combine and turned some heads. Who is one player you believe could surprise people and show out this year?
Kelsey Conway:RB Kenneth Dixon out of Louisiana Tech. Although he turned some heads at the Senior Bowl, he's one to keep an eye on. Dixon's physique resembles Freeman's and they share similar qualities. His reliability as a pass catcher, elusive speed and determination while running makes pundits believe he could be an impact player right away in the NFL. Mike Mayock has Dixon ranked as his fourth-best running back in this year's draft class, and a strong showing from the Arkansas native at the Combine could give him a real boost moving forward. Dixon finished his career at Louisiana Tech with 5,452 total yards from scrimmage and 87 touchdowns.
Jay Adams:I look at a player like Baylor DE Shawn Oakman and see someone the Combine was created for. He's 6-foot-8, 269 pounds and casts a ridiculously imposing figure when you see him. In fact, a photo of him during a coin toss at a Baylor game went viral because of how much bigger he was compared to the other captains. He's going to impress in all the body measurements, he might absolutely destroy the bench press records, and he may even show out during position drills — and he'll have to because there are a lot of questions as to whether he's all size and no substance. He's the kind of guy I could see everyone talking about after the Combine but he's one of those buyer-beware types of players right now, according to draft experts around the league.
Andrew Hirsh: Rashard Higgins. Projected to be a second or third round pick by CBS, this wide receiver out of Colorado State has the natural athleticism, route-running ability and hands to be productive in the NFL. Question is, will his weight be an issue? Listed at 188 pounds, scouts are concerned that Higgins doesn't have enough meat on his bones to deal with the physicality of professional defenders. If he shows up to Indianapolis with more muscle and does well in strength exercises, he could see his draft stock improve quite a bit.
2. Of the six drills players partake in (40-yard dash, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, 3 cone drill and shuttle run), which one are you most looking forward to watching and why?
KC: The vertical jump, for sure. A strong vertical jump shows a player's ability to burst off the line of scrimmage with lowerbody strength. With such a talented defensive line group this year, I am excited to see how they test out here. I think the players that jump well can really shine in a group where it's hard too because of the depth and talent. Vic Beasley had 41-inch vertical that blew people away last year. To put that number into perspective, the second-best vertical jump in NFL Combine history came from Cameron Wake who jumped 45.5 inches.
JA: Broad jump. This one doesn't get a lot of TV time because it's about as exciting as watching your gas station burrito heat up in the microwave, but it can show an awful lot about a prospect. This drill calls for prospects to stand with their toes on a line and jump outward, landing on both feet. The measurement of that distance is logged, but what it really shows is explosiveness — how fast can a player get off the ball? We tend to see running backs and wide receivers with outstanding numbers here. Julio Jones jumped 11-feet, 3-inches during his testing (with a broken foot, no less), which ranks seventh furthest since 2006. Where I look for this drill is among the pass rushers and defensive tackles. I want to see how their power and explosiveness displayed in this drill can translate to the field.
AH: The 40-yard dash may not be as important as we once believed, but it's entertaining nonetheless. Every year, prospects get close to breaking records in the 40, and while the bigger guys rarely have to worry about running that far, I love watching some of them shatter expectations.
3. Who is the one player that intrigues you the most heading into the Combine?
KC: Western Kentucky TE Tyler Higbee. He converted from receiver to tight end and between his hand size and quickness; he's garnered a lot of attention. The reason that Higbee is so intriguing is that he suffered a knee injury and was unable to participate in the Senior Bowl. Despite missing the final five games of his season, Higbee had 38 receptions for 563 yards with eight touchdowns. He's proven that he has the talent and he definitely has the build, so expect to see a lot of eyes on him next week if he is able to fully participate in all of the drills.
JA: Mississippi defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche. He's recognized as one of the top talents in the 2016 NFL Draft, but some off-field issues have raised some questions about whether he'll be taken in the first round. At the Combine, everyone will look at his on-field testing and that's great. Where Nkemdiche can really help himself, however, is during the interview periods teams will have with him. Each team is allotted a number of one-on-one interviews with prospects during which they spend 15 minutes asking anything from what they would do in different on-field situations to any potential concerns off the field. You can rest assured that Nkemdiche will have to explain his off-field incident to any team that interviews him and how those talks go will go a long way toward determining where he gets selected.
AH:Andrew Billings. Dubbed "America's Strongest High Schooler" before enrolling at Baylor, this 310-pound behemoth should draw a lot of attention at Lucas Oil Stadium. He's going to show off his muscle, but don't brush him off during other exercises. Billings has already recorded a 32-inch vertical jump and 4.94 40-yard dash time.
4. How a player shows in the various position drills seems to become what is talked about the most following the Combine. What people may not know is how much time players spend talking with coaches, scouts and media. Knowing this, what do you believe is important for a player to show when having these important conversations?
KC: Accountability. Coaches and scouts know exactly what they are looking for out of these athletes and can get a good read on a player very quickly. These conversations are really important to finding out the character of a young man. Most of the best players in the NFL continuously show accountability and seem to be respected highly in locker rooms and on and off the field.
JA: As I mentioned in the last question, the behind-the-scenes situations players are put in during the Combine might be more important than what gets shown on television. These prospects get put through the ringer from long press conferences to pressure-packed interviews with coaches and GMs that want you to tell them who you're blocking when you've got defensive tackles in both A gaps. It can really be a lot for some guys mentally to handle, which is why it gives teams a better idea of what each player is like beyond the numbers they'll see from on-field Combine testing. Players need to be able to demonstrate quick, confident thinking when asked about on-field situations they may face. For off-field questions they'll face, honesty is above all the most important thing. Teams will know if a prospect isn't being forthcoming about a gray area in his background, so being honest and explaining any potential concerns is a big key.
AH: Honesty. In today's age, it's easy to learn a lot about what these prospects do off the field—the good and the bad. If I were interviewing a potential draft pick who made a mistake in the past, I'd like him to own his actions and give a realistic, truthful account of how he changed his ways. Everyone makes errors in judgment at 18, 19, 20 years old. How we react to these missteps reveals a lot about who we truly are.