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2018 NFL Combine preview: 3 Players who may impress, 3 who may not

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It’s almost that time, draft fans!

NFL Combine - Day 6 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Once a year, every scout, general manager, and coach in the NFL band together in Indianapolis to place their future players in the most uncomfortable position possible to gauge their natural talents and check boxes on clipboards. It’s an odd time for the uninitiated, who find themselves talking about how long someone’s arms are, whether their build is conducive to holding more muscle, and whether or not they have a bubble butt. There are a million terms used during the combine that are rarely used elsewhere, and it can be a bit intimidating and confusing.

At its core, however, the NFL Scouting Combine is when we separate the players who could be first rounders from the players who are certainly so, and while this year isn’t considered a great one for top-tier talent, it is bursting at the seams with athleticism. Were going to take a look at three players who we expect to light up the combine and three players we think will disappoint. For this, we will be using the RAS Metrics application, currently in Beta and available free for windows here.

Light It Up: Ronald Jones, RB, USC

We’ve looked at Ronald Jones before and profiled how good of a fit we feel he’d be in Detroit, and a big part of that is his athleticism. Jones has average NFL size for a running back, but his speed and burst are elite for the position, which would be perfect for the zone schemes the Lions employed under Cooter and those designed by their new offensive line coaches. I think Jones is going to struggle a bit with the agility drills, where I feel he’s plenty capable of putting his foot in the dirt and changing direction, I think his explosion is where he makes his money. Jones has been compared to Jamaal Charles-minus-injuries-and-fumbles, and while Charles was similarly sized and fast, he was a bit more agile than Jones, where Jones is more explosive.

Could Struggle: Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

Royce Freeman is one of the more productive backs in this draft class and it’s not really surprising coming from an Oregon system that loves to feature its backs. Watching a guy play with so much room so often can sometimes give the wrong impression athletically, though, as they appear to be fast because there’s nobody around them while they build up speed.

While they’re stylistically about as close as Packers fans and toothpaste, I do see similarities athletically between Freeman and another former Oregon product, LeGarrette Blount. Freeman isn’t as explosive as Blount, nor is he as big or nimble, but he flashes some smoothness in space that you don’t usually see from a back his size. While he ran a decent 40 in high school (the “Pro Day” numbers above), I don’t think Freeman comes anywhere near that at the combine. Seeing him caught from behind on the regular on tape reminds me of Ameer Abdullah (4.6) and Samaje Perine (4.65)... only it happens so much faster with Freeman. I think Freeman is going to find a niche in the NFL since he’s sure handed and can catch, but in terms of athleticism, I’m not seeing it.

Light It Up: Harold Landry, DE, Boston College

Harold Landry came into the 2017 season as the top-billed defensive prospect and the clear top pass rusher with a wide gap to the number two. After an underwhelming season where he played through injury, he has fallen out of favor with many draft analysts and tends to sit right around where the Lions are picking in the draft later in the first round.

Upon reviewing his 2016 tape, however, it’s very clear that Landry has the athletic tools to be successful in the NFL with speed, explosiveness, and an inconsistent but incredibly impressive bend on the edge that makes a pass rusher prized by NFL clubs. Though Landry is a far superior prospect across the board, he reminds me athletically of 2017 second-round pick Tyus Bowser. Like Landry, Bowser showed impressive movement skills and explosiveness across the board. Unlike Landry, Bowser didn’t really gain steam as a high draft pick until the combine, while Landry comes in with high expectations.

Could Struggle: Dorance Armstrong, DE, Kansas

Dorance Armstrong received more hype coming into the 2017 than exiting it, though he was never considered a unanimous early-round prospect. His final year at Kansas left much to be desired, but in a similar fashion to 2017 Dolphins first-round pick Charles Harris, there were traits that still have scouts enamored. While, as shown, I still feel Armstrong measures out well enough to get by, he was billed as a top tier athlete coming into the season and I expect him to fall well short of that. In similar fashion to Charles Harris, I feel Armstrong gets by with his explosion and initial burst almost entirely, but Armstrong is even more stiff and less lithe than Harris was. All in all, I think he’s a slightly more impressive athlete than Harris was, but with his less impressive tape he probably falls out of the first and maybe the second round.

Light It Up: Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia

Any time you have a guard who is converting from tackle, the chances are that they are going to be more athletic than your average guard. In the case of Isaiah Wynn, I feel like it is going to be a significant difference and he may even be the most athletic interior lineman in this class.

Former Giants Pro Bowler Chris Snee didn’t convert from tackle, but he was one of the most athletic guards to play during his time in the NFL and shares some of the same traits that Wynn flashes on tape. Wynn is one of the more explosive athletes among the interior line this year, and I expect that to show out at the combine.

Could Struggle: Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP

Let me preface this by mentioning that Will Hernandez is one of my favorite interior line prospects this year, and I wholly expect him to be a Day 1 or 2 selection. He is one of the most athletic prospects I’ve seen play at his size in years, but the important part to note in that is the “at his size” bit and not just the athletic part. While a 3.88 RAS may not seem high, it would be the highest of any OG at his relative size since 1987 (between 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-3 and over 330 lbs). That doesn’t mean he won’t be effective in the NFL, but I have very little expectation that Will Hernandez will blow up the combine. Larry Warford came into the combine “sloppy” and out of shape, which I doubt we’ll see from Hernandez, but I expect to see a ton of measurements that are poor for his position, but good “for his size.”

Wrap Up

So there are the guys I think are going to do well and struggle at the combine next week! What do you think about my projections? Let me know in the comments.

If you’d like to make projections yourself or browse the over 16,000 players in the RAS database, give the application a try. It’s totally free, though it only currently works on Windows, and allows you to look up player cards, make your own adjustments (what if Calvin Johnson were a running back? What if he ran agility drills?), and even create your own player cards. The app also comes with the Mock Tracker I’ve been using for the Consensus Mock drafts, with links included for all of them (So please, go rip into the guy that keeps mocking an offensive tackle to the Lions in the first). Finally, it comes with a table builder that will allow you to look up how many players measured in a range at the combine or pro days dating back to 1987. You keep hearing people say things like “There were only X number of players who ran a whatever forty time at that height since 2010,” now you can look those things up on your own. The Pride of Detroit community has been here every step of the way while I’ve been developing the application, so I hope you enjoy it!