The stakes are higher at this year’s NFL scouting combine than in years past, with a record-setting number of underclassmen (85) in attendance. It’s unsettling for teams to be less than three months away from the draft and still not have official heights and weights for approximately one-third of the players who will be drafted.
Which prospects have the most riding on their combine performances? I’ve ranked my top 10, some of whom are guys in need of strong showings in order to solidify or improve their draft status (or in some cases, to prevent their stocks from slipping), and some of whom are players with the potential to make significant jumps up draft boards by posting big numbers and handling the process well.
1. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Not too long ago, I had Barr listed as the No. 2 prospect in my Top 32 rankings. He looks the part of a premier edge-rusher, with a quick first step and very good athleticism for his size, and he was a highly productive player for the Bruins. But when I went back and studied the tape of him this year, I was kind of underwhelmed. I expected to see a little more explosiveness and physicality at the point of attack. To put it simply, I just did not see a consistent finisher when studying Barr's tape.
Remember, Barr only played two seasons on the defensive side of the ball, so he’s still a work in progress. There were a few games this year where he was a bit handcuffed as a playmaker because of defensive scheme (against option offenses and/or mobile quarterbacks), and Barr received a lot more attention from opposing offenses than he did in his first season at his new position (2012). So the combine is a great opportunity for Barr to show off his natural skill set. If he can put up some “wow” numbers, it will pique the interest of defensive coaches in attendance -- and this is the portion of the draft process when coaches are starting to play catch-up to the scouts in the evaluation process. Coaches see opportunity in a player like Barr, who has limited experience but undeniable ability and a strong work ethic to match.
The broad jump and vertical jump will be good measures of his lower-half explosiveness, and the shuttles and three-cone drill will let us know more about his change-of-direction ability (that was another area of weakness I noticed on tape), but two measurements that historically have been big indicators of a player's potential explosiveness as a speed rusher are the 40-yard dash and, to a lesser degree, the 10-yard split. Running a 40 time of 4.70 seconds or faster and a 10-yard split of 1.60 seconds or faster will be important for Barr.
2. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Lee is on this list for the same reason he is one of the top wide receiver prospects on our board: speed.