Starting today, the Combine process starts winding up for quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs – the players that, when they become stars, sell more jerseys than the other position players combined. They put butts in the seats of NFL stadiums. Always have. Always will.
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Here’s our take on the players to keep an eye on at these positions. Fortunately for the Vikings, they have no interest in the top quarterbacks and hope that either both of the top two go before they pick or Marcus Mariota is still on the board at No. 11 and someone like Chip Kelly and the Eagles are willing to give up a king’s ransom to move up nine spots.
These aren’t necessarily the top five players at their position, but they’re the players with the ability to prove at the Combine that they should be in the top five.
QUARTERBACKSJameis Winston, Florida State – There is no questioning his success or his physical gifts, having lost just one game in two years as a college starter. He has a strong arm and can make all the throws needed at the next level. The only thing that will prevent him from going No. 1 overall is his numerous off-field red flags, some of which are considerable (an alleged sexual assault leading the way). Given the Bucs dropped veteran starter Josh McCown, all signs point to a QB going No. 1 with Winston holding the early edge.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon – The Heisman Trophy winner is extremely intelligent and makes very quick reads and makes plays on the move with both his arms and legs. However, some scouts view him as a system quarterback who will need refinement at the next level and he does have some significant weaknesses (not picking up blitzes quickly enough, 27 career fumbles, etc.). His upside will likely be enough to have him off the board early, but more likely to a team like the Jets at No. 6.
Bryce Petty, Baylor – Petty has a strong arm and good size for an NFL quarterback. He has good deep ball accuracy and very solid mechanics. The knock on him is the same that followed Robert Griffin III that he came from a one-read, quick-release system that doesn’t translate to the pro game. He will likely be a Day 2 pick for a team that is looking to line up a young QB to eventually replace a vested veteran.
Garrett Grayson, Colorado State – He has a strong arm and excellent accuracy on deep passes. He has very good fundamentals and looks the part. He made big strides in 2014 but is viewed as a work in progress who didn’t face elite competition on a regular basis. He needs to speed up a lot of things, from his drop-back to his release, which might push him into the third day of the draft.
RUNNING BACKSMelvin Gordon, Wisconsin – He was as dominant a runner as any of recent Big 10 vintage, averaging 7.6 yards a carry and had 40 runs of 15 yards or more in 2014. He has excellent vision and makes people miss in the open field but freelances too much and will abandon the hole the play is designed for, which is often a recipe for disaster in the NFL. He also has a history of fumbling. If this was four years ago, he would be a lock for the first round, but in the current era nothing is guaranteed.
Todd Gurley, Georgia – For those who follow the SEC, Gurley was Baby Beast Mode, displaying explosive power and yards after the catch. If not for injury concerns, he would have been a first-round lock despite the value depreciation of running backs in recent years. But he missed three games with an ankle injury in 2013 and tore an ACL in 2014, leading to doubts as to whether he will have the durability to hold up long-term, which will drop him out of Round 1.
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska – A strong one-cut runner who is very strong and will initiate contact to gain yards after contact consistently. His biggest issue with scouts is his size (5-9, 195). The stigma with runners like that is that they don’t have the body frame to take the pounding featured backs endure, and he doesn’t have the kind of body that can add bulk. But he will be a solid pro.
Duke Johnson, Miami – He’s an explosive runner who can take any carry the distance and kicks it into a second gear in the open field. He doesn’t get brought down easily and will make plays that look like there’s nothing there. He isn’t a between-the-tackles type of banger and has an injury history that will be a concern for some teams.
Tevin Coleman, Indiana – A powerful runner who does his work between the tackles and hits the hole at full speed. He has good field vision and makes decisive cuts to maximize yardage. He runs like a man on fire – often running into the backs of his blockers and has a style that lends itself to big hits and potential injuries. As a result, he may need to play in the right kind of system to have a long, productive career.
WIDE RECEIVERSAmari Cooper, Alabama – Possesses elite speed and plays like A.J. Green. He gets to his top speed very quickly and has a second gear when the ball is in the air, tracking down overthrown balls. He isn’t a great route runner but has been able to make up for his lack of polish with his athleticism, a gap that will close significantly in the NFL. If he’s still there at No. 11, the Vikings should jump on him.
DeVante Parker, Louisville – Teddy Bridgewater’s favorite college target, he has an elite combination of size, speed and body control to high-point deep balls and win one-on-one battles consistently. He has a thin frame and will have difficulty with physical corners who jam at the line and will have to refine his route running. He has all the tools to be a go-to receiver in a couple of years.
Kevin White, West Virginia – He has ideal size for the modern NFL receiver and has the ideal upper body strength to beat jams and create separation. Gets open because of route running, not elite speed. His main drawback is that he has limited experience, having spent time at the JUCO level to get his grades right. If motivated, he could be a steal, if he lasts into the second round.
Devin Funchess, Michigan – At 6-5, 230, he looks more like a tight end more than a wide receiver and some scouts envision him as an athletic hybrid type capable of playing both positions. He has a long frame and a huge catch radius that eats up ground quickly. However, he isn’t a natural pass catcher and drops far too many passes. He’s a work in progress who could be a star or a source of frustration.
Dorial Green-Beckham, Oklahoma – A player who has drawn comparisons to the skill set of Randy Moss. At 6-6, 225, he has physical gifts that are almost without peer in terms of pure athleticism and the “Wow!” factor. But he is an enigma who has a ton of red flags and he never actually played a down for Oklahoma. His talent will get him drafted, but he may be a character slide for a lot of times that has him available long after he should be given his talent.