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Mark Lindquist

Evaluations

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Combine Question Corner

Monday, February 26, 2018


Player rankings and draft stock will shift dramatically following this week’s festivities in Indianapolis at the NFL Scouting Combine. Below are some of the players who most stand to gain (or lose) from their showings, be it in measurement, medical check, athletic testing or team interviews.


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Louisville QB Lamar Jackson -- Former Colts GM Bill Polian recently said that Jackson should switch to wideout and that he’s “short and a bit slight,” this despite the fact that L-Jax was listed at 6-foot-3, 211 pounds in his final year at Louisville. Evaluators are concerned that his base might be light -- one referred to him as having “basketball legs” in a Yahoo Sports piece by Charles Robinson. He’ll measure in on Thursday. Given that people were legitimately excited that Baker Mayfield checked in barely over six feet at the Senior Bowl, we're fairly giving Jackson a little wiggle room off his listed size before we’re concerned. After that, off to the races. He should light up athletic testing and his 40-yard dash will be one of the more fun segments in Indianapolis. We’re keen to see how he performs in throwing drills, too. A strong performance and we’re not putting a top-15 selection (or even top-10 selection) out of the realm of possibility. Less so? Not out of the question that he falls to see the first round altogether.


Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield -- Mayfield performed respectably (if unspectacularly) at the Senior Bowl and we expect likewise on the turf in Indy. More important for the Heisman winner, his interviews. We’ve always viewed Mayfield as a breath of fresh air, but that’s not a consensus opinion, especially in the less-than-progressive minds of some NFL teams. Our best guess? He aces the interviews, coming across as a confident quarterback who can lead a locker room. That’s who Mayfield was in college. Heck, that’s who he was with completely new teammates in Mobile at the Senior Bowl. Certain guys just have that magnetism. There will be top-10 talk by April. He’s already on the fringe of that and the combine will do nothing to slow his case.


SMU WR Courtland Sutton -- We’re intrigued by a number of receivers in the 40-yard dash, undoubtedly the premier event at the combine. Sutton tops that list. Calvin Ridley has supplanted him on most position rankings board in the land -- though not with Rotoworld’s Thor Nystrom, who slots in Ridley as his second wideout -- but a run of 4.55 seconds or faster for Sutton could narrow the perceived gap. He already has the big frame at 6-foot-4, 216 pounds and if he puts speed questions to rest, consider him a near-lock first-rounder. As is, he’s somewhat fringe for that range. And while we’re on the topic of the top wideouts in the class, we’d like to see what Ridley runs. He’s not the jump-ball monster that Sutton is at just 6-foot-1, 190 pounds listed and Alabama’s passing offense was far from an ideal showcase for the wideout.


LSU DE Arden Key -- Well, here we go. This is your stage, Mr. Key. After one of the oddest years that we can remember from a player -- it included an offseason disappearance from the team, a shoulder surgery and a disappointing on-field display -- Key’s going to have a chance to make or break it. Interviews will be huge for him, medical checks will be huge for him. There’s still a possibility that he lands in the top-15. We weren’t as underwhelmed by his 2017 season as we thought we would be when we looked at the individual game tape and Key was viewed as a top-10 possibility a year ago. It’s probably a stretch to say that he’ll land top-10 as matters currently stand, but if he eases concerns in interviews, look out. The inverse is true, too, of course. If he bombs, a slide to the second or even third round should not be ruled out.


Kansas DE Dorance Armstrong Jr. -- And from the ashes of the Kansas football program rises a star? Freed from the team around him, he has a chance to open some eyes in testing. The Combine could potentially mean the difference between a Day 2 and a Day 3 selection for Armstrong. There’s talk that he could potentially move to linebacker in the NFL thanks to the size, as he’s slightly on the smaller at around 6-foot-4, 245 pounds. We expect a strong showing in athletic testing.


UCF CB Mike Hughes -- Hughes (5’11/191) is considered a borderline Day 1 selection and has a chance to help himself on two fronts in Indianapolis. The first comes in his initial measurement. If he checks in at 5-foot-10 or under 190 pounds, that would be problematic. Interviews will also matter for Hughes, though his two-game suspension at North Carolina (which resulted from his part in a frat house fight) which ultimately led to his UCF transfer occurred in his first year out of high school, so we’re talking a few years without incident. Regardless, the NFL will be interested in how he handles the question.


Utah WR Darren Carrington -- Carrington is the phylum of player who could swing out of the draft completely with a poor combine showing. Don’t bet that he does, though. Athleticism isn’t the question with Carrington, who possesses a strong pair of mitts, sharp routes and more than enough speed. Look for him to run the 40-yard dash in 4.50 seconds or thereabouts. It’ll be interviews that sway his course one way or another. Carrington was booted from Oregon in the summer of 2017 after he was arrested on suspicion of DUI, the last straw in what was a very stuffed scarecrow. He subsequently transferred to Utah, a move that worked beautifully for the receiver. Utes HC Kyle Whittingham isn’t one to take any guff and laid out what he termed a “pretty extensive list of things that [Carrington] was to do and complete, stipulations for how things would be.” The receiver proceeded to crush it in a very polite way. Whittingham said in November that he “followed [the stipulations] to a T” and had been “a perfect citizen.” Those are glowing reviews from a respected coach and it would be a step back if interviews went sideways on Carrington this week.


Florida WR Antonio Callaway -- Man oh man. This one. We haven’t even seen Callaway take the field in a year due to his being suspended in August along with eight other Gators for a reported credit card fraud scam fit for a low-budget Mission: Impossible rip-off. He’s going to be grilled about that, of course, but even before Callaway’s alleged summer indiscretion which ultimately cost him the 2017 season, the wideout had also previously been suspended for marijuana. It’s unclear how many NFL teams will even glance his way -- he’s radioactive right now -- but there is a whole lot of talent there for somebody willing to give him a minute. Callaway was viewed by many as a potential first-rounder a year ago. Consider it a successful combine if he comes away clean in interviews.


Wisconsin LB Jack Cichy -- The Badgers linebacker won’t be participating in athletic testing beyond the bench press as he’s not up to full speed in his recovery from a torn right ACL sustained last August. Just how far along the 6-foot-2, 223-pounder’s recovery might be will be determined in medical checks. We don’t think he’s in danger of going undrafted completely unless his examination raises long-term concerns. So long as he’s on track medically, he’s a good bet for a Day 3 selection.


UCLA QB Josh Rosen -- Most eyes will be on Rosen for how he carries himself in interviews, but not ours. Oft has Rosen’s demeanor been compared to that of Jay Cutler, but remember, Jay Cutler played in the NFL for over a decade. Rosen’s more talented than Jay Cutler and we think it would be a stunner if he dropped out of the top 10 based solely on his perceived arrogance. What could most certainly cause Rosen to take a trip on the draft slip-and-slide would be questionable medicals. The Bruins gunslinger missed the back half of his sophomore season in 2016 with a shoulder injury. After he initially hurt the wing, then-Bruins HC Jim Mora uttered ominously that his star pupil was dealing with a “nerve” issue, a comment which he backtracked on shortly after, saying that he had misspoken. Rosen subsequently underwent shoulder surgery before returning for the start of the 2017 season. We thought he looked sharp in terms of his arm throughout the most recent campaign, but if there’s any lingering question, it will be answered one way or another in Indy. Rosen also sustained at least one concussion in 2017, the one which ultimately forced him to sit out the team’s bowl defeat.


USC QB Sam Darnold -- In the recent past, we’ve had stories on Brandon Allen’s hand masseuse and tiny-handed Jared Goff. Darnold lost nine fumbles in 2017 and his measurements, at least on that front, will be worth watching. Overall size won’t be an issue -- listed at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he’s solidly built. Jared Goff’s tiny hands did not prevent him from landing at No. 1 with the Rams in the spring of 2016, remember, and we aren’t going to be horribly concerned if Darnold comes up a little short.


Texas CB Holton Hill -- Hill would have Day 1 potential had his career with the Longhorns not ended in ignominy, but end in ignominy it did. He reportedly failed several drug tests, the most recent of which landed him with a season-remainder suspension in November. While fellow corner prospect Mike Hughes has not caused issue down the stretch after an early hiccup, Hill face-planted his way out of Austin, essentially ending any possibility he could see Round 1 in the process. The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder can at least steady the ship by degrees, now. If teams come away impressed, you can expect to hear his name in the mix for the third round. We’re viewing him as an early Day 3 prospect for now.


Florida State DE Josh Sweat -- Here’s a guy who we think has the potential to emerge as one of the combine’s biggest benefactors. We expect the 6-foot-4, 249-pounder to ace the athletic testing in Indianapolis. If he checks out A-OK in medical exams, too then it’ll be full speed ahead for Sweat. He’s looking to dispel concern over a checkered history of serious knee injuries, including a dislocation which very nearly resulted in an amputation when he was a senior in high school and a 2016 surgery which sidelined him for the bulk of that campaign. We are not ruling out the possibility that Sweat could land as a late first-rounder if he offers up strong testing work and reassuring examination results.


Oregon RB Royce Freeman -- In a deep running backs class, we feel Freeman’s being a little overlooked. This is nothing new. We feel he was oddly overlooked throughout his career in Eugene, too. The 40-yard dash will be a critical hurdle for Freeman to overcome. Anything under 4.55 seconds in the event should be considered a victory and would keep him in the mix for a Day 2 pick. Over 4.60 and we would be somewhat alarmed.


Alabama LB Shaun Dion Hamilton -- Dion-Hamilton’s stock has taken significant hit over the past two seasons due to injury concerns, specifically with his knee. He sustained a torn right ACL in the 2016 SEC Championship, then came back for a healthy 2017 campaign, at least right up until he fractured his kneecap against LSU at the beginning of November. These are serious injuries, both to the same knee, and bad medical checks could potentially drop him out of the draft altogether.


Texas S Deshon Elliott -- We love the fight that we saw from Elliott on a game-in, game-out basis in 2017 -- the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder’s as physical a safety as there is in this draft class -- but the Combine’s going to be of huge importance for him. That’s because, while he can track on a straight line (resulting in so many of his highlight tackles), his lateral movement is far less sharp. Shuttles and three-cone drills, in particular, could prove problematic for Elliott. His lack of fluidity is an issue.


USC RB Ronald Jones -- One of our favorite second-tier prospects in the draft, if Jones shows up a few pounds bulkier than his six-foot, 200-pound listing, it would serve him well. His speed pops off the tape, but we were also impressed with his between-the-tackles toughness when it was called upon. We’re not particularly concerned that he’s too light -- it’s not how he played -- but if it’s a worry for any NFL outfit, he can squash it outright this week. We’re viewing him as a Day 1 prospect all day long regardless.


Fort Hays State DT Nathan Shepherd -- There’s that scene in APOLLO 13 describing how the crippled lunar module needed to hit the earth’s atmosphere at just the right angle or they’d go bouncing into space. That’s what it feels like with Division II prospects such as Shepherd, who enter the evaluating season largely as unknowns and must hit the process perfectly to gain entry into the pros. Shepherd has been playing the role like Tom Hanks to date, crushing the Senior Bowl (at least up until a hand injury knocked him out) and now primed to bulldoze the NFL Scouting Combine. He’ll need seasoning in the NFL before he’s ready to contribute, but his being selected before the end of Day 2 would not surprise if he makes his mark as expected, here.



Mark Lindquist holds a master's degree from the University of Iowa and writes baseball and college football for Rotoworld.com. He's currently working on a memoir about life, death, rock 'n' roll and his year teaching at a Chinese university. You can reach him on Twitter @markrlindquist.
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