The NFL Scouting Combine begins Friday, and there are seven Sooners scheduled to participate, hoping to increase their stock for the NFL Draft in the final days of April.
It’ll be a big day for everyone. Every second clocked, every rep counted: This is a chance for players to rise or to fall. It’s time to nitpick.
Sooners Illustrated looks at the defensive players:
Dominique Alexander, LB (6-foot, 220 pounds)
What they’re saying: Alexander’s biggest strength is his speed. He can cover sideline-to-sideline and does a great job of closing out on quarterbacks. His mobility is what makes him attractive to NFL scouts and teams. He has also developed in pass coverage and is willing to throw himself into the fray despite being small for the position, which is his biggest downfall. As an undersized middle linebacker, it’ll be a challenge for Alexander to show he can take on fullbacks consistently in the NFL, let alone pulling linemen or those working up to the next level. In all likelihood, Alexander will have to move back to safety in the NFL or play outside linebacker, which would be his third position at a third level of play. But speed is his greatest asset – and you can’t teach speed.
What he needs to prove: He can’t get bigger but has to prove that he’s stronger. There are a lot of Oklahoma defenders coming out in this year’s class who could become elite special teamers in the NFL, and Alexander is no change to that. He’ll have to prove he can make his mark there for teams to take a chance on him.
When he’s up: Sunday
Key drill: Bench press
Draft round ceiling: Late fourth round
Devante Bond, LB (6-foot-1, 231 pounds)
What they’re saying: Another raw, slightly undersized Oklahoma defender. That’s the theme of this year’s draft for the Sooners. Although, one NFL scout told NFL.com that Bond has a better chance of making it as a pro than Eric Striker. A bigger body whose is more capable of setting the edge in run support while developing as a pass rusher. Bond has a quick first reaction, and he has taken on his coaching while at Oklahoma. He struggles at times in zone coverage but finds a way to limit passing windows. After playing football consistently only as a senior in high school, Bond is behind the eight ball when it comes to recognizing fakes and diagnosing plays. He likes to avoid contact instead of initiating it in run defense. He’s vulnerable in space against receivers or athletic tight ends.
What he needs to prove: Teams rave about Bond’s ability to learn and be coached, which is something that will help his draft stock. He’s not necessarily a project, but he’s definitely not a finished product.
When he’s up: Sunday
Key drill: Shuttle drill and 40-yard dash
Draft round ceiling: Late third round.
Zack Sanchez, CB (5-foot-11, 179 pounds)
What they’re saying: Ball skills, ball skills, ball skills: The film and the stats on Sanchez don’t lie. He has had 13 interceptions over the last two seasons, tracks the ball incredibly well in the air and has terrific leaping ability. He’s also smooth in cuts and has good closing speed. Sanchez just doesn’t fit the NFL mold. He’s shorter than most cornerbacks and lacks the ideal weight necessary to play in run support as a professional. His tackling is a major issue with technique being a key problem. Sanchez is also susceptible to underneath routes with a need to refine his footwork, which also forces him to jump routes occasionally. An NFC director of scouting told NFL.com, “I don’t think he’s tough enough to tackle so he is probably just a true nickel cornerback who you have to play outside so teams can’t run it at him in the slot.” The “sluggo” is Sanchez’s biggest weakness.
What he needs to prove: There are no tackling drills at the combine, but Sanchez has to show that he’s not a feast-or-famine defender. That’ll take time. He needs to re-affirm all of his elite skills at the NFL Scouting Combine.
When he’s up: Monday
Key drill: 40-yard dash
Draft round ceiling: Late second round.
Eric Striker, LB (5-foot-11, 228 pounds)
What they’re saying: There might not be a more “explosive to the ball” player in this draft that Striker, who could still be a great trump card in the NFL when used properly. Striker is an elite pass rusher capable of creating intense angles that most offensive linemen don’t see. He has quick hands and quick feet that make him tough to block even when linemen get their hands on him. But is he too small? That’s the big question for Striker, who also has problems in pass coverage and run defense. He’s strictly a pass rusher immediately but only has size to play weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 or an in-the-box safety that lacks elite coverage skills.
What he needs to prove: There’s a pretty significant list for Striker if he’s trying to become an every-down player. But as a special teams dynamo and occasional pass rusher, he doesn’t have to do much else. Right now though, Striker can’t cover consistently in the NFL and has some major deficiencies as a run stopper. He has drawn comparisons to former Sooner Tony Jefferson, who has developed into a Pro Bowler. That’s mostly a best-case scenario.
When he’s up: Sunday
Key drill: Bench press and 60-yard shuttle
Draft round ceiling: Third-round pick
Charles Tapper, LB (6-foot-2, 276 pounds)
What they’re saying: After coming to Oklahoma very raw, Tapper has developed an all-around game that could suit many teams in the NFL. He can play in a 3-4 or 4-3, although he might be better suited in a four-man front. But there are a lot of those types of defensive ends. There are flashes of what Tapper can become, but right now, he is what he is: A great athlete still learning to play the game. He doesn’t use his pads real well in either the run or the pass. In one-on-one situations, Tapper will usually shine – bringing down a ball carrier in the hole or sacking a quarterback.
What he needs to prove: It starts with strength for Tapper. He has been easily taken out of games at times and was never very good against the run despite being more than 270 pounds. Tapper needs to learn to use his natural gifts better. He lacks the instincts of a high-round pick but could develop in the right position. He has a lot of learning still to do. Tapper can’t prove that on the field. It’ll take longer, but he can catch a team’s eye in the interview process.
When he’s up: Sunday
Key drill: Bench press and the team interview
Draft round ceiling: Fourth-round pick