Held annually in Indianapolis, the Combine tests hundreds of the best college players as they attempt to rocket up NFL draft boards. Oregon State has three players heading to Indy in Sean Harlow, Treston Decoud, and Victor Bolden Jr. While all three are fairly under-the-radar, they could boost their visibility with strong performances in the individual drills and solid interviews with the coaching staffs.
With the Combine in mind, let’s focus on each player and what they can do to win over their future bosses.
Boasting ideal height and weight at 6-feet-4-inches and 310 pounds, Sean Harlow was the key cog in Oregon State’s offensive line. The early season was rough for the offense as the line failed to protect Darell Garretson and didn’t open up many holes for Ryan Nall. During these early games, Harlow was recovering from a broken leg. Once he returned, however, the Beavs offense played much better as he shored up the pass protection and helped open up key rushing lanes. Nall’s average yards-per-game rocketed from 58.67 in August and September to 193.75 combined in October and November. The crazy thing is that he missed the Washington game in October, carried only one time in the Utah game (also in October), and registered zero carries against UCLA in November.
Harlow is a solid prospect considering that he has spent considerable time at both left and right tackle. Plus, he has spent time practicing the center position in case a switch was needed. NFL scouts will view this versatility as a major bonus on draft day.
While the bench press will be a big test for Harlow, his actual draft spot will be earned during the kick-slide drill. Many analysts believe that the Beavs offensive tackle doesn’t have the arm length to play tackle and will need to kick inside to either center or guard. This move could ultimately work, but Harlow will want to prove that he can excel at his native position before making the switch.
The kick-slide drill is the be all and end all for tackles in that it tests the ability to bounce from the three-point stance to a squat blocking position. The tackles need to move laterally while remaining in a squat position to keep the edge rushers away from the “quarterback” (a safety cone sitting 12 yards behind the line of scrimmage). NFL scouts are looking for offensive linemen that have flexible hips and can move laterally without standing upright or bending at the waist. After that, they look for linemen that have a solid punch to keep the pass rushers at bay.
This will be the biggest test for Harlow for two main reasons. First, he has shorter arms that take away some power on the punch. This weakness greatly diminishes the ability to knock rushers off balance and lets them get too close to his body. Second, analysts have mentioned that Harlow needs to bend better when facing off against rushers. To be fair, he has solid hip flexibility at the point of attack but loses it as the play continues.
Of the three Oregon State prospects at the Combine, Harlow faces the toughest test. He is a proven player, but offensive linemen are under the most scrutiny simply because it’s their job to keep quarterbacks upright and healthy. Performing well in the kick-slide drill would alleviate some worries about his ability to play tackle at the professional level.
Standing 6-feet-3-inches tall and weighing 208 pounds, Treston Decoud has the perfect measurables for an NFL corner. Decoud is very similar in size to Pro Bowl corners Richard Sherman and Xavier Rhodes, and he matches up physically with larger wide receivers. Despite being slightly on the slower side, Decoud was still Honorable Mention All PAC-12 with 58 tackles, two interceptions, and 10 pass break-ups. He made multiple plays against the Ducks and the Broncos that showcased his perfect form tackling and plays in coverage. However, not everything is perfect when it comes to Decoud’s future in the NFL.
In his Combine Profile of Decoud, NFL draft analyst Lance Zierlein lists footwork as a potential weakness.
“Backpedals from a narrow base with labored feet. Will lose some balance and body control when forced to transition against in-breaking routes.”
Zierlein also went on to explain how many coaches could try to turn the lanky corner into more of a free safety to take advantage of his coverage skills and tackling ability and prevent leaving him on an island against superstars like Antonio Brown or Julio Jones. Or that Brandin Cooks fella. That would be a scary match-up to watch.
Decoud will need to turn in good numbers in every drill that he participates, but one in particular should be his main focus--the speed-turn drill. Basically, the corner or safety starts out facing a coach who will command the player to backpedal about five to 10 yards before making them quickly change direction and run forward. At that point, the coach will make the player turn-and-run to either the left or right. The quarterback will throw a deep pass toward the DB’s back, forcing them to turn and locate the ball while in a dead sprint. The DB needs to catch the ball, turn, and sprint for the end zone.
According to Mike Mayock, AKA the authority on all things related to the Draft, NFL scouts pay particular attention to this drill because it tests a defensive back’s ability to locate and catch the ball after running full speed away from the quarterback. He made a point to discuss NFL corner Aqib Talib, who won a Championship with the Denver Broncos back in 2015. Mayock pointed out that Talib was one of the slower cornerbacks in the 2008 Combine, but his lack of overall speed ultimately didn’t matter. Scouts were more focused on the fact that Talib never dropped a ball thrown his direction. He absolutely dominated the speed-turn drill with exceptional footwork and ball location. The Buccaneers fell in love with Talib and eventually drafted him with the 20th overall pick.
Treston Decoud could make a similar move with a phenomenal performance in the speed-turn drill.
Victor Bolden Jr.
Standing at 5-feet-9-inches and 165 pounds, Victor Bolden Jr. is one of the smaller athletes at the NFL Scouting Combine. However, his size won’t be much of an issue provided he excels in other areas. Remember that De’Anthony Thomas, Dexter McCluster, and Trindon Holliday all worked their way onto draft boards with explosive performances that made their size less of a discussion. Bolden is taller than McCluster and Holliday but is on the lighter side. NFL teams that take a chance may want him to bulk up at least to 170 pounds for greater durability.
Bolden is a true multi-dimensional threat given his rushing, receiving, and kick returning ability in college. As the leading performer on Oregon State’s offense in 2016, Bolden caught 46 passes for 542 yards with two touchdowns, rushed 28 times for 329 yards and two touchdowns, and returned 27 kicks for 642 yards and a touchdown.
Like Thomas and Holliday, Bolden’s best chance of turning heads will happen during the 40-yard dash. The gold standard of times is 4.24 seconds by Chris Johnson back in 2008. Bolden has a decent chance of reaching that mark given his track history and blazing speed, but it’s more likely that he will end up in the 4.32-4.35 range. Something along the lines of DeSean Jackson’s time. A solid 40 time combined with his history as a successful kick returner will aid Bolden’s draft chances.
Of course, the weekend is filled with all manner of drills for wide receivers. There is the bench press that targets both strength and endurance, the broad jump that tests lower-body explosion, and the three-cone drill that tests the ability to change direction at high speeds. Bolden should turn in solid numbers in all three of these drills, but his big test will be the shuttle run. Also known as the 5-10-5, the shuttle run tests the ability to get low and quickly move laterally before exploding into a full sprint.
Basically, the player starts in the three-point stance with a hand on the ground. They explode to their right for five yards, where they touch the ground in a low squat stance. The player pivots to the left, and sprints 10 yards in the opposite direction where they touch the ground in a low squat stance. Finally, they pivot to the right and sprint to a line five yards beyond the start point. A good time for smaller players is around 4.20 seconds, so Bolden could top out close to 3.9 seconds. Brandin Cooks had the best time back in 2014 with 3.85 seconds on the shuttle run, which is a good goal for Bolden. Collegiate bragging rights are important.
The NFL Scouting Combine starts February 28th, but the televised coverage won’t begin until March 3rd. NFL Network will air the Combine coverage March 3rd-6th, starting at 9:00 a.m. EST each day.