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4 NFL Draft prospects with the most to prove at the 2017 NFL Combine

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The NFL Scouting Combine is a great place for prospects to show NFL teams their athleticism, but also their best chance to impress in interviews and drills. Some need it more than others, however.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Every year, the NFL Scouting Combine helps propel players from relative obscurity to the early rounds of the draft, but it also tanks the prospects that are not able to meet basic thresholds of success either athletically or in drills. It’s a grueling multi-day event that sees college football’s best compete in basic measurements of athletic ability and football drills to give the NFL teams that are hoping to invest in them a chance to see what they can do. Every player in attendance has the opportunity to impress and those few days are often the most important of their football lives up until that point. Some players have a lot more to prove than others, however, and it’s some of those players we are going to highlight.

Jabrill Peppers, LB, Michigan

Yes, I listed Peppers as a linebacker, and yes, I had a good reason. That’s the position he is listed at for the combine and it’s the unit he’s going to be conducting drills with. This is important for a number of reasons. For one, he was already likely to measure slightly undersized at strong safety. Michigan is notorious for over-listing their players’ sizes and he’s listed as 6-foot-1, 205 pounds. Assuming the weight is correct or close, as it was for Jourdan Lewis, that still puts him undersized for a safety by about five pounds. If he is similarly undersized as Lewis was to his listed height (listed at 5-foot-11, measured 5-foot-10 flat), he’s undersized in that area as well. That’s for safety, though. For linebacker, 6-foot, 205 pounds is tiny. It would, in fact, be the most slender weight in the entire RAS database of over 700 linebackers over the past 20 years. Even in an age where safety/linebacker hybrids are a thing, that’s problematic. He’s a full inch shorter and 10+ pounds smaller than Mark Barron or Deion Jones, two players who recently made a similar hybrid jump in the NFL. If Peppers goes to the combine and doesn’t shred the drills, it’s going to really damage his chances of working back into the first round, and if he falls out there it could be a steep free-fall.

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

Dalvin Cook is probably going to measure very well at the NFL combine, so I’m not as concerned about him from an athletic ability standpoint. At over 5-foot-11 and around 205 pounds, he’s built well and has plenty of speed and agility to put him in a pretty comfortable place in terms of measurements. Where Cook needs to win are the medical checks and the interviews. The concerns about Cook, who rarely missed time in college, stem from multiple shoulder surgeries he’s had in his time with Florida State. There are other injuries that build to a trend of being injury prone, but most are pretty minor and should be taken in that context. Cook’s character concerns are a little sketchier, involving an arrest for battery, which he was later cleared of, and a 2014 charge for misdemeanor animal cruelty. Cook is a talented back, and if he is unable to clear medicals it is going to be very difficult to convince a team to spend significant draft capital on him, especially when he’s near the worst in this draft class for fumble rate.

Zay Jones, WR, Eastern Carolina

Jones famously wrecked shop during the 2017 Senior Bowl, collecting circus catch after circus catch, with multiple touchdowns called back despite being pretty amazing to see in real time. The draft community is fairly split on how Jones will measure, however, and they range anywhere from Mel Kiper claiming he could run a 4.3 to some saying he is a 4.7 guy. I tend to fall closer to the latter camp, though I think he’ll measure alright. Jones’ game is similar to Jarvis Landry when he came out of LSU, though Jones isn’t quite as impressive on tape despite being a better athlete. Landry measured in with one of the worst combine grades in the history of the sport, so it’d be pretty difficult to measure that poorly. If Jones manages to measure in above average or higher it will go a long way towards cementing a draft stock that has been on the rise.

DeMarcus Walker, DE, Florida State

Walker is one of my favorite defensive lineman in this draft, but this combine means a lot to him, more so than it does any other defensive lineman. Despite being technically sound with good hands and a decent motor, Walker rates pretty close to the bottom of the athletic ability scale. I joked recently that Don Muhlbach might be faster, but after seeing that Muhlbach ran a 5.28, I realized it’s a very real possibility. Without speed or explosiveness, a defensive lineman is limited in what they can do in the NFL, and if Walker even comes in just a little below average and doesn’t bottom out, he may still find his name called in the first two days of the draft. If not, I expect him not only to tumble out of first round consideration, but second and third as well.