Combine: Shortening list of players to watch

Here's a shorter list of NFL Scouting Combine players who the Colts should be watching closely this week at Indianapolis.

After analyzing a lengthy list of offensive and defensive players who the Indianapolis Colts should be watching closely at this week’s NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium, it’s time to merge and shorten the possibilities.

While a lot can happen between now and draft day, this is the best educated guess of the players who should be high on the Colts’ draft board as likely selections in the first couple of rounds on April 30 and May 1 in Chicago.

There’s so much to like about Clemson outside linebacker Vic Beasley, it’s difficult to see him dropping to the Colts at 29. At least one mock draft had him as the Colts’ pick, but most suggested he could go in the top 10, one board having him sixth overall.

Standout pass rushers seem to be so difficult to discover — the Colts are still waiting for 2013 first-round pick Bjoern Werner to show he was worthy of that selection. So this list of players to watch at the combine starts with Beasley, however unlikely it seems he will be available. For what it’s worth, Scout ranks him as the 26th-best prospect.

Sticking with that position, Florida defensive end Donte Fowler was also projected as the Colts’ pick on one board, but most mocks have him going higher. Again, the Colts will check him out thoroughly just like Beasley, perhaps knowing that if they don’t move up he won’t be an option. Fowler ranked 10th on Scout’s list.

Another undeniable talent who seems to be more in range is Oregon defensive end Arik Armstead, a physical freak at 6-8 and about 300 pounds. Ohio State needed to double team him for a while in the NCAA Championship Game. Like any other NFL rookie, he’s got a lot to learn but his physical attributes are exceptional. He’s ranked 47th.

Scout NFL draft rankings

If the Colts are going to be tougher on the defensive line, then Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman (20th), Oklahoma defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (25th) and Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett (56th) and Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis (57th) should get some attention, too. Davis is ranked among the higher players at the position on some boards, but down the list on others. Bennett looks like he could fall to the second round.

The Colts’ needs suggest Florida State offensive lineman Cameron Erving makes this short list. He’s played offensive tackle, guard and center. If Khaled Holmes or Jonotthan Harrison aren’t long-term solutions to this problem, this guy might make a lot of sense. Problem is, that would mean the Colts would have to admit mistakes in sticking with Holmes and Harrison last year, and NFL general managers can be stubborn about giving up on their guys.

While an offensive selection might raise eyebrows if it’s at a skill position, the guys who are intriguing are running backs Melvin Gordon (13th) of Wisconsin, Todd Gurley (23rd) of Georgia and Jay Ajayi (61st) of Boise State.

Gurley has shown the ability of a can’t-miss NFL player, but he’s also coming off an ACL injury. That means he probably drops on many boards. And it would make sense if the Colts aren’t enthused about taking a running back in the first round who might not be back to his dominant form for at least a year.

Gordon is listed higher on so many boards, he probably goes before the Colts are on the clock. And that’s OK, really, because the hunch still is that this team needs strength on both lines more than a running back with the first pick.

Scout NFL free agency rankings

Ajayi gets mentioned because at least one board had him jumping up to the Colts, which seems like a real reach, but he scored one fewer touchdown than Gordon last season and has all the skills. Not to knock the Mountain West, but his level of college competition probably counts against him. But he still could be there in the second round.

If the Colts go offensive line, Pittsburgh tackle T.J. Clemmings is mentioned in a couple of mocks as being a possibility. He practiced well but that didn’t translate as much on the field when he participated in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. It’s been suggested his skill set eventually translates to playing left tackle in the NFL. That means he could play guard for now if the Colts chose him. It seems like the Colts are set at tackle, though, if they re-sign left tackle Anthony Castonzo in the next year and with Gosder Cherilus still signed for three more seasons.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.

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