The official list of NFL combine invitees has been released, and the 333 prospects who make up the group now have a chance to showcase their skills in Indianapolis in front of anyone who matters in scouting/coaching/front-office circles.
The selection committee for the combine is made up of the directors of both the National and BLESTO scouting services, which include representatives from 25 NFL teams. Those directors formulate their list based on the grades NFL scouts give to players, but being left out of the combine doesn't necessarily mean a player has no future at the next level.
Approximately 10 percent of the players drafted every year are not invited to the combine. Current NFL standouts like Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo, New England Patriots WR Wes Welker, Pittsburgh Steelers OLB James Harrison, Patriots OT Sebastian Vollmer and Houston Texans RB Arian Foster were all snubbed by the combine committee, and things have turned out pretty well for them.
In 2012, Miami (Ohio) G Brandon Brooks was our highest-rated player not invited to Indy, and he ended up being drafted in the third round by the Texans. That should give some hope to the players listed below, who are the highest-graded 2013 prospects to be passed over.
Florida State ILB Vince Williams: A late addition to the Senior Bowl roster, Williams came to Mobile, Ala., and immediately stood out as the physical and emotional leader of the South defense. He is a big-time hitter, shows good instincts and is at his best against the inside running game.
Williams' estimated 40 time is in the 4.9-second range, but he makes more plays outside the tackles than you would expect from a player with his timed speed. Patriots ILB Brandon Spikes -- who ran in the 4.9s at his pro day workout -- has shown inside linebackers can overcome a lack of elite speed, even in today's pass-happy NFL.
Overall, Williams (6-foot-0.5, 247 pounds) grades out in the late-third or early-fourth round area.
Arkansas RB Dennis Johnson: He was overshadowed by teammate Knile Davis for much of his career, but Johnson has good measurables (5-9, 213) and lateral quickness. He is a tough runner who catches the ball well out of the backfield.
Johnson doesn't accelerate upfield very well, though, and ball-security issues will hurt him on draft weekend. He looks like an early Day 3 prospect.
Tennessee OLB Herman Lathers: This omission is not much of a surprise. Lathers comes with durability concerns and is undersized (5-11⅝, 224) compared to the prototypical weakside linebacker prospect. And like Williams, he lacks ideal top-end speed.
On the positive side, Lathers is an instinctive, highly productive player with above-average cover skills and the tackling skills and toughness to be a great special-teams contributor. Just take a look at his South Carolina tape from this season (15 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 1 sack) to see what kind of overall player he is.
Lathers will enter the league with a chip on his shoulder after being snubbed by the combine, the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game. He is smart on and off the field, has solid intangibles and, as a Day 3 pick, will be looking to prove wrong everyone who doubted him.
Other notable snubs
Florida State DT Anthony McCloud (6-1⅝, 309)
Tennessee WR Zach Rodgers (6-0, 175)
Boston College DT Kaleb Ramsey (6-2.5, 285)
Alabama TE Mike Williams (6-5.75, 269)
Princeton DE Mike Catapano (6-3⅜, 270)
Louisville C Mario Benavides (6-2⅝, 279)
South Carolina State S Jakar Hamilton (5-11, 196)
Mississippi State WR Chad Bumphis (5-10, 202)