Tuls' Takes: Prospects To Watch Closely At NFL Combine

Photo: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

We are just one week away from the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine — arguably the biggest turning point of each draft cycle. Teams will finally receive the official measurements, medical information and athletic testing numbers on this year’s prospect pool that have been speculated for months.

There are several key prospects in this year’s class that have a lot riding on their performance in Indianapolis. Whether it’s in the interview room, the medical facility, on the field or on the scale, the combine can either skyrocket or sink a player’s draft stock — for better or worse. With that being said, here are the prospects you need to keep a close eye on for each day of this year’s combine.

Day 1 (Thursday, Feb. 27): QB/WR/TE

Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson

I like mostly everything about Tee Higgins’ game. He is long, fluid and arguably the best wide receiver in this class at snagging a football at the catch point. His consistency in jump-ball situations is unmatched, and he beat up top cornerback prospect Kristian Fulton multiple times in the national championship. The one question I have, however, is regarding his speed. Higgins looks more smooth than explosive, and I think the magic number for him will be to break 4.55 seconds in the 40-yard dash. If he runs faster than that, then he checks the box and will likely cement his status in the first round. If he doesn’t then he could go from a consistent fixture in mock drafts to being a consensus Day 2 selection.

Collin Johnson, WR, Texas

Like Higgins, Collin Johnson has a lot of questions to answer regarding his athleticism. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, concerns about Johnson’s ability to gain separation in man coverage have been attached to him throughout his career at Texas. After running good routes and winning several reps in the one-on-one period at the Senior Bowl, Johnson could carry over that momentum with a good 40-yard dash time. However, if he goes out and clocks 4.6 seconds, it will only amplify those concerns.

Lynn Bowden, WR, Kentucky

The do-it-all flex player for Kentucky – Lynn Bowden – is projected to work with the wide receiver group at the combine. Whether that is his best role at the next level or not could be determined with his performance in the route running drills. He currently has the label of being a gadget guy who can come in as a situational playmaker, but if Bowden wants to shed that, running sharp, quick routes in Indianapolis will turn a lot of heads. If there is one skill player that no one is talking about who could become a Day 2 pick with a good combine, it’s Bowden.

Day 2 (Friday, Feb. 28): OL/RB/ST

Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville

We all remember Orlando Brown’s combine performance a couple of years ago. It took him from a projected first-round pick all the way down to a late Day 2 selection. This year’s mammoth and physical specimen of an offensive tackle is Mekhi Becton, who is listed at 6-foot-7, 370 pounds. Now, I think Becton moves a lot better than Brown did coming out of Oklahoma, but he must avoid the same kind of performance. Essentially, as long as Becton doesn’t completely fall apart next week, it will be a win. Because if he does, concerns around the league about maintaining his weight will only get louder.

Saahdiq Charles, OT, LSU

LSU junior offensive tackle Saahdiq Charles declared after the Tigers won the national championship, and when I first watched his tape, I saw early-round traits with his excellent movement skills and fluidity in pass protection. He also has mitts for hands and decent lower-body strength to anchor down in his sets. As a pure pass protector, there will be some teams that think he is a first-round talent, and he has a chance to blow the roof off with how he looks in the drills. However, after being suspended for the first half of the 2019 season, answering questions during the interview process will be immense for his draft stock. If we start to hear reports and rumors that Charles failed this portion of the combine, his stock could sink dramatically, despite having promising traits.

Day 3 (Saturday, Feb. 29): DL/LB

Jonathan Greenard, EDGE, Florida

Florida’s Jonathan Greenard was arguably the most impressive edge defender during the week of practices at the Senior Bowl. He measured in nicely with 34-inch arms and had the best-looking physique of any pass rusher at the event. Quite simply, he looks like an NFL pass rusher. But I question how well he will test in Indianapolis. He wins a lot on his instincts and motor, but how will his agility times look? Greenard could be another instance of a pass rusher having great film, but poor test numbers. I hope that’s not the case.

Curtis Weaver, EDGE, Boise State

If you look solely at his career production at Boise State, defensive end Curtis Weaver has one of the best resumes of any defender in the 2020 draft. We’re talking about a player who has accumulated 34 sacks in just three seasons. So why isn’t he in every first-round mock draft? The primary reason is that many, including myself, struggle to find translatable traits in his game. He is not overly explosive or fluid rushing around the arc. His best plays are when he’s either unblocked or rushing from the interior. With his unorthodox build and questionable athleticism, there are a lot of boxes Weaver needs to check off before a team is comfortable spending a top-50 selection on him. I don’t think he will test as poorly as Jaylon Ferguson did in last year’s draft cycle, but brace yourselves.

Akeem Davis-Gaither, LB, Appalachian State

Akeem Davis-Gaither has the physical profile of a safety, more so than an off-ball linebacker, after measuring in at just 6-foot-1 and 219 pounds during the Senior Bowl. His Appalachian State film at linebacker is incredible though. He is a blur moving from sideline to sideline with his range and short-area quickness. In coverage, he has the potential to be a legitimate difference maker at the next level, especially with how much NFL defenses are moving to a base nickel. That ability to impact the passing game is why Davis-Gaither’s name has popped up in the second round of multiple mock drafts this month, but if he’s going to be this undersized as a sub-220 linebacker, he must test well in Indianapolis. I fully expect him to run fast and look fluid in the drills, but if I’m wrong, the combination of being undersized and poor athletic testing could tumble him to the middle of Day 3.

Day 4 (Sunday, Mar. 1): DB

Cameron Dantzler, CB, Mississippi State

Mississippi State junior cornerback Cameron Dantzler has started to emerge as a popular late-first round selection in mock drafts leading up to the combine. In order to maintain that momentum, he’s going to need to perform well in Indianapolis. Most of the other top cornerback prospects have little concerns about their athleticism, but because of Dantzler’s size, some are hesitant about his movement skills. He has a huge opportunity to put those concerns to bed with a strong day in the drills and 40-yard dash. I think he’s going to run a lot faster than expected and his superior ball skills will separate him from the rest of the group early on in the drills portion.

Stanford Samuels III, CB, Florida State

One name that has caught a lot of buzz this month has been Florida State cornerback Stanford Samuels. At 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, he is a long, wiry, press man cornerback who plays with great instincts and fluidity at the line of scrimmage. He changes direction much better than you would expect for a defensive back his size, and it shows in his ability to stay attached to the wide receiver’s hip pocket in one on one looks. His length and leaping ability also play a huge factor at the catch point. The biggest question I have with his game though is his deep speed. There are a lot of times where he lunges and fails to recover because of a lack of acceleration. I think the number to watch in his 40-yard dash time is 4.55 seconds. Anything faster than that and it would be a win for Samuels. I’m just worried that his time will creep up towards the 4.6-second range, which could be a crushing blow for his draft stock.