The dust has cleared on the invitation list for the NFL Combine, a list that is normally out a few days after the Senior Bowl but it did not come out until late last week. There were a number of guesses and some that did not end up on the Combine guest list, likely were at some point, but the list was more fluid than ever.
One employee with the Combine office said the vetting of possible participants took much longer and was much more detailed with the league proclamation that any prospect with a background of violence or sexual assault would not be permitted to participate. We also learned that there were some promises made to some prospects that turned out to be empty as far as invitations.
One Oklahoma State senior that should not look down on the fact that he was not invited is safety Jordan Sterns, who has earned a solid reputation on and off the field with NFL scouts and also enhanced that in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl. He along with fellow Cowboy seniors not going to the Combine like wide receiver Jhajuan Seales, offensive tackle Victor Salako and tight end prospect Blake Jarwin will work out at the Oklahoma State Senior Day on Thursday, March 9. There will be a number of other prospects there looking to come out of the clouds and gain a foothold toward at least getting a rookie free agent opportunity for some NFL team. I expect to see linebacker Devante Averette, star (outside) linebacker or safety Jordan Burton, safety Derrick Moncrief, and even kicker Ben Grogan.
There are three Cowboys invited to the NFL Combine which runs from Feb. 28 through March 6 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. That trio includes Chris Carson, but the running back does not have an analysis or a grade as a prospect from NFL.com. Cornerback Ashton Lampkin and defensive tackle Vincent Taylor do have complete analysis and grades but they aren't just stellar.
In fact, if you go and examine the analysis on prospects from the Big 12 (only 19 players invited to the Combine) compared to other leagues such as SEC (66 invites), ACC (60 invites), Big 10 (51 invites), and Pac-12 (46 invites) and they seem to be more negative on the hold. In numbers alone, and maybe in analysis too, the Big 12 is being sent a message. As far as grades, here is what the NFL has for Cowboy NFL Draft prospects.
Vincent Taylor, DT, 5.35
Blake Jarwin, TE, 5.3
Ashton Lampkin, CB, 5.12
Jordan Sterns, Saf, 5.0
Victor Salako, OT, 4.85
We'll start with the players invited to the Combine.
Chris Carson has not been evaluated, at least not on the NFL.com tracker program. Scouts have seen the former Georgia high school standout and Butler Community College product that came in and struggled some in his first year at Oklahoma State. The offensive line play had to be part of it, but it appeared that Carson also had an adjustment period he needed to go through, something that is not unusual for a junior college player. In nine games he had 131 carries for 517 rushing yards and four touchdowns. His best attribute was his play in the passing game coming out of the backfield where he was completely sure-handed and caught 17 passes for 170 yards and was largely responsible for saving the Cowboys bacon in a come-from-behind win at Iowa State. This past season he came back from a fractured thumb and was a different player. His attitude was top notch and he was elected captain by his teammates at the end of the season. He rushed for 559 yards and nine touchdowns on just 82 carries, splitting the chores with freshman All-American Justice Hill. He also caught 13 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown at Kansas. I'm not an NFL scout or player personnel expert but I would want Carson on my franchise and I think his best football is still ahead of him. He is a changed player and for the better.
Ashton Lampkin saved his best season for his final year. In 2014 he suffered an ankle injury in the fourth game of the season, the first Big 12 game, and missed the rest of the season. In 2015 he worked his way back into the starting line-up and stayed there for eight starts despite a broken thumb. He had 31 tackles and intercepted Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly in the Sugar Bowl on the first series of the game. This past season he started all 13 games and had 34 tackles, one interception, again in the bowl game, as he picked Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau in San Antonio.
He is credited with being solid in press coverage, which Oklahoma State uses quite a bit and that he has good hip flexibility and decent speed. He is criticized in his discipline with coverage and that he looks into the backfield and at the quarterback too much. He is also counted off for not being an aggressive tackler.
NFL.com has a bottomline for Lampkin: Average cornerback without a physical or play trait that he can plant his flag. Won't be physical enough against the run for some teams and will lack the size and deep speed for others. However, he's got decent size and is a relatively fluid athlete so he could hear his name called later in the draft. Might be fighting for a roster spot with each passing season.
Vincent Taylor moved to San Antonio and Madison High School from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and he credit football as being a big part of him becoming comfortable after the move from his birth city. He was an All-State pick in Texas by the Associate Press Sports Editors. He red-shirted and then immediately started making an impact his second season at Oklahoma State with 13 tackles and a tackle for loss. His sophomore season he was honorable mention all-conference with 48 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and five sacks playing alongside the 32nd-pick in the 2016 NFL Draft in defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah. This past season he electrified Oklahoma State and the Big 12 with 13 tackles for loss, seven sacks, and he tied for the lead nationally with four blocked kicks and on two of them made some really athletic plays, and another when he got involved on an interception return.
Taylor is credited with playing hard, which he obviously does. He gets into the opposing offense's backfield a high percentage of the time and he is active when he gets there. His negatives have more to do with the look of his body as scouts seem to believe he is stiff in the ankles and not as flexible as he needs to be. His lateral quickness and mobility is also questioned.
NFL.com has an overall bottomline for Taylor: Taylor has consecutive seasons of good production in the pass-happy Big 12, but he lacks the consistent contact balance and anchor that teams will be looking for from an interior defender. His ability to disrupt off the snap with quickness and strength gives him a chance to get a foot in the door as a rotational tackle.
As for the prospects that were not invited to the Combine, the highest grade went to Blake Jarwin. They seem to like that Oklahoma State has the hybrid tight end/fullback position they call Cowboy back. His statistics were modest in college with 17 catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns as a junior in being named All-Big 12 and then last season catching 19 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns in being named 2nd-Team All-Big 12.
They love that he was used so many places and is so versatile. His route running, execution, and battle for the ball is all lauded as his athleticism. His blocking at the line of scrimmage and attached is described as inconsistent. His strength is also questioned some.
NFL.com bottomline for Jarwin is: Unexciting statistical production belies his potential as a pass-catcher on the next level. He has the necessary athleticism, uncover, and toughness to work both the first and second levels of the defense. Jarwin needs work in the weight room and as a blocker in order to handle reps as an NFL tight end. He has eventual starter potential and should find a spot on a roster as a rotational tight end with the potential to play in-line and on the move.
Jordan Sterns did a good job on Senior Bowl week in Mobile and actually had what many considered a monster day of practice late in the week and all while playing safety in the NFL style of 20 yards off the line of scrimmage, much further than what he did in Stillwater, but he adapted well and did not overcommit himself by NFL standards.
Sterns had an excellent career at Oklahoma State and was one of the bonafide leaders within the program for Mike Gundy during virtually all of his career. His production was high with over 100 tackles his final three seasons, leading the team all three seasons. He had 103 stops as a sophomore, 108 tackles as a junior, and 101 stops as a senior. He also accumulated five career interceptions and was involved in many tackles for loss and some fumbles as well. Sterns has good size, but the NFL scouts feel he can get bigger. They like his instincts, his toughness, intelligence, and his prowess on special teams. They feel he is a little stiff and maybe over aggressive in his reaction in pass coverage. He also could lack speed for long range routes.
Like Jarwin, Sterns gets a good bottomline evaluation from the NFL.com analysts: Probably won't be a very strong tester from an athletic standpoint, but it will be hard to ignore his production and leadership. Strong pre-draft workouts could help his cause, but his initial opportunity to make a roster will probably come via special teams. Backup potential as a ceiling.
Victor Salako came to Oklahoma State in the middle of his collegiate career after the debacle in dropping football at UAB. He was a two-year starter for the Cowboys and earned 2nd-Team All-Big 12 honors from the coaches in his senior season.
He is huge, massive and has great length. He played with a badly injured foot as a junior, two bone spurs the size of walnuts in his foot. After those were removed, his senior season he moved much better, but his weaknesses involve being stiff with poor knee flexibility and pops straight up at the snap. Too often he allows defenders to get better pad level on him and gain movement and ground. His balance is considered poor.
The bottomline from NFL.com for Salako is not promising: Two-year starter at left tackle who utilizes his size and frame to compensate for his athletic deficiencies. Stiffness in lower half prevents him from playing with good balance and leverage in both running and pass blocking. While he has the size that will intrigue teams, his lack of functional athleticism could make it tough to find a long-term fit on the next level.