As the 2020 Scouting Combine gets under way, all eyes will be on players like LSU’s Joe Burrow and Ohio State’s Chase Young. Derrick Brown of Auburn will probably meet with every team. And then there’s Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa – who won’t want to take a look at his medical evaluations?
Let’s just say some podiums will have bigger crowds than others.
But what about some of the small-school players? What about some of those “next-tier” players?
Who will cause teams and analysts alike to re-review their game tapes?
Here’s a look at 10-plus under-the-radar prospects who could see their draft stock soar – or plummet – after the Combine, which starts Sunday and runs through March 2.
As big as the medical evaluations will be for Tagovailoa, they’ll be just as crucial for massive Washington left tackle Trey Adams (6-foot-8, 314 pounds).
Injuries robbed the senior of most of the 2017 and 2018 seasons. In 2017, he started seven games at left tackle before tearing his ACL, causing him to miss the rest of the season. Then a back injury in fall camp required surgery and forced Adams to miss the team’s first 10 games in 2018, returning for the final three.
But he was solid in his final season at Washington, starting – and staying healthy – for all 12 games. And he slowly started to return to form as the season progressed, although he sat out the team’s bowl game for precautionary reasons.
“I still believe he’s very much in the top 50 mix,” NFL draft analyst Rob Rang told HuskyMaven. “Usually with a guy with his size and talent, as a four-year starter, that’s almost a guarantee of a first-round pick. This year, the talent is so good, he could drop down a few notches.”
Other OTs to watch: Saahdiq Charles (6-4, 295) started 28 games for LSU, but that comes with a bit of an asterisk – one that evaluators will drill him about during team interviews. Charles was suspended for six games in 2019, although no reasons were ever given publically. He’s also a bit small for tackle, so he may be looked at as a guard. If Charles drops out of the top-100, it’ll be because of concerns over his size and off-the-field issues. Another tackle, Alex Taylor of South Carolina State, will wow evaluators with his size (6-8 1/2, 308). He was the tallest player at the Senior Bowl and had the longest arms (36 1/8) and wingspan (88) and held his own in practice, although there were also stretches where he showed how raw he is as a prospect.
There might not be a more athletic, more complete safety in the 2020 NFL draft. And if Kyle Dugger (6-1, 217) had played at, say, Ohio State instead of Lenoir-Rhyne? Then he might not be talked about as an “under-the-radar” prospect.
Still, Dugger’s tape will make him a difficult evaluation due to the level of competition, but he’ll likely star at the Combine. Dugger is projected to run the 40 in the 4.4 range and has allegedly put up a broad jump of 10 feet, 11 inches.
Add that to the fact that Dugger was tied at the Senior Bowl for the biggest hands (10 1/8) and his arms (32 3/4) were the longest, then don’t be surprised if there’s second- or even first-round buzz around Dugger once the Combine is over. You can read more about him here and here.
Other safety prospects to watch: Two other under-the-radar safeties could see their draft stock improve with a good Combine: Utah’s Terrell Burgess (6-feet, 198) and Southern Illinois’ Jeremy Chinn (6-3, 212). Burgess has some fans among prominent NFL draft analysts, while Chinn has ideal size and was a turnover-producing machine in college, nabbing 13 interceptions and forcing six fumbles in his four-year career.
DaVon Hamilton (6-4, 327) didn’t receive a lot of playing time his first three years, starting just three contests his junior year on a loaded Ohio State defensive line. But Hamilton made the most of his opportunities as a senior, with 28 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 6 sacks in 13 starts.
Hamilton can also play as a one- or two-gap tackle.
#OhioState DT Davon Hamilton #53 is a prospect you need to know.
NFL scouts have been buzzing about his maturation as a senior. He's put himself in the top-100 conversation.
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) October 26, 2019
Hamilton’s ability to pressure the quarterback at the next level is his biggest question mark, so how he performs in the positional drills at the Combine will be essential to his draft standing.
“His draft stock could be tied to how teams view his upside as a pass rusher.”
Other DTs to watch: Rashard Lawrence of LSU was once thought of as a potential first-rounder, but as the season wore on, his lack of athleticism, pass rush repertoire and size/length combination likely means Lawrence doesn’t hear his name called until Day 3. Still, scouts love his play strength and toughness, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he started early on as a rookie.
Harrison Hand fits the definition of an “under the radar” prospect, as there has been little buzz surrounding the 6-0, 192 pound junior from Temple. But Hand, who played his first two seasons at Baylor, has next-level size and put up good numbers with 59 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, 5 pass breakups and 1 forced fumble.
Draft analysts say Hand has good technique, flexibility and discipline, and they love his physicality. Therefore, a strong showing at the Combine should also serve to boost his stock, as he’s currently viewed as a third- to fourth-round prospect. One indication that he might go higher than currently projected? Hand recently signed with agent Leigh Steinberg, who typically represents the top prospects.
Other CBs to watch: If Louisiana Tech’s Amik Robertson (pre-combined measurements are 5-9, 183) was bigger and played for a more prominent school, then he’d likely go a round or two higher. However, Robertson was a turnover machine in college, picking off 14 passes in three years.
Checking in at a shade under 6-foot 6 (6-5 3/4) and 221 pounds at the Senior Bowl, Johnson will likely stand out – literally – as the tallest wide receiver at the Combine. At the Senior Bowl, though, he also had the smallest hands (8 3/4) of any receiver there. Scouts will also want to know why Johnson didn’t dominate more, given his size and route running. His medicals will be scrutinized, too, as he missed half the year with a nagging hamstring injury.
Other WRs to watch: K.J. Hill of Ohio State (6-0, 192) might not blow anyone away with his 40 time, but he should look good during receiving and agility drills. Hill did nothing but improve over his four years and looked solid at Senior Bowl practices. Denzel Mims of Baylor (6-3, 206) is another intriguing receiver prospect. His name has been all over various mock drafts, so the Combine is crucial for him to pull away from the pack.
Of the 30 running backs invited to the Combine, one of the biggest surprises was TCU’s Sewo Olonilua, who never put up gaudy numbers in college but is expected to wow evaluators with his measurables.
He measured 6-2, 232 at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, with the type of wingspan (78 7/8) usually reserved for linemen.
And he has fans among prominent NFL draft analysts. Pro Football Network’s Andrew DiCecco said Olonilua could finish the Combine as one of the event’s biggest winners, saying his patience at the line of scrimmage is reminiscent of the Jets’ Le’Veon Bell.
“… Olonilua has the intangibles to evolve into a three-down workhorse at the next level,” DiCecco said. “If Olonilua performs well next week, he has a realistic chance at improving his draft stock, effectively entrenching himself as a viable early Day 3 option.”
Other RBs to watch: DiCecco was also high on the 5-9, 190-pound LeVante Bellamy of Western Michigan. “Don’t be surprised if Bellamy contends for a top time in the 40-yard dash and catapults himself into Day 3 territory,” DiCecco said.
To say Kentucky guard Logan Stenberg (6-6, 321) wasn’t well-liked by opponents would be an understatement. Heck, even one of his teammates said Stenberg was probably the lineman SEC opponents disliked the most, due in part to his propensity for playing through the whistle, not to mention his trash talking.
But it’s his habit of drawing penalties that will put him under the microscope at the Combine. Stenberg was penalized 13 times last season, many of which were personal foul penalties.
Other IOL to watch: Wisconsin center Tyler Biadasz (6-3, 316) went from a potential late-first rounder to the third- or fourth-best center prospect in a matter of months. Aside from a few hiccups, Biadasz had a relatively solid final year at Wisconsin, and with a good showing in the positional drills, he could find himself back atop or near the top of the center rankings.
At 6-foot-4, 267 pounds, North Carolina pass rusher Jason Strowbridge has the perfect size to play as a strong-side defensive end or as a one-gap defensive tackle.
And he had a solid week of practices at the Senior Bowl. So why doesn’t Strowbridge have more than 10.5 career sacks, including a ho-hum 2.5 sacks as a senior?
Regardless, Strowbridge is highly thought of among several prominent NFL draft analysts, including The Athletic’s Dane Brugler.
“Whether he lined up on the edge or on the interior, blockers had a tough time containing Strowbridge, who displayed the agility to work around blockers and the upper-body power to go through them,” Brugler wrote in his report on the players who made money off their Senior Bowl performances. “But more impressively, his handwork was violent and purposeful, using his upper and lower halves in unison to defeat blocks.”
I was really intrigued by UNC DL Jason Strowbridge on tape (No. 77 overall on my board coming into the week) and he's consistently played at a high level through two practices.
Powerful hands, agile feet. And he's been disruptive both outside and on the interior.
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) January 22, 2020
Other Edge players to watch: It may come as a surprise to list Alabama’s Anfernee Jennings as an under-the-radar prospect, but there just hasn’t been a lot of buzz surrounding the 6-2, 252 pound senior. Part of that could be due to his tweener size, which may pigeonhole Jennings as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Still, if Jennings can show some positional versatility with a good performance in the agility and positional drills, then he could see his stock rise.
You had to be a hard-core college football fan if Dayton tight end Adam Trautman was on your radar entering the 2019 season. But he’s on every team’s radars now as the 6-5, 252-pound tight end has quickly worked his way up draft boards, with most projecting the senior as the best- or second-best TE prospect behind Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet.
Trautman had a solid Senior Bowl week and caught 2 passes for 10 yards in the game, showing evaluators he could hang with the upper-division players. Trautman could hear his name called as early as the second-round with a solid Combine, much like another former small-school TE prospect, former South Dakota State TE Dallas Goedert, who was a second-round pick (No. 49 overall) in 2018 by Philadelphia. Goedert, for what it’s worth, had almost identical measureables at 6-5, 256.
Other TE prospects to watch: Charlie Taumoepeau of Portland State is a name to keep an eye on. Like most TEs, Taumoepeau needs to improve his blocking, and he doesn’t have ideal size at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds. But if the senior can put up a good 40-time and impress in the agility drills, Taumoepeau could see his name called relatively early on Day 3. And Missouri Albert Okwuegbunam has the size (6-5, 255) and athleticism teams are looking for, but how much did a challenging year at quarterback impact Okwuegbunam’s season?
Fresno State linebacker Mykal Walker rose from relative obscurity to a potential Day 2 pick after a solid week of East-West Shrine Bowl practices.
Walker (6-3, 230) has excellent size and has played in both a 3-4 and a 4-3 front.
“Walker is a good athlete with solid instincts,” said NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network. “He showed the ability to make plays in space at OLB and more importantly, stayed with his assignment rather than mindlessly chase the ball around the field. He’s going to be under-drafted this April.”
Other LBs to watch: Jordyn Brooks (6-1, 240) put up big numbers for Texas Tech the past four seasons, racking up 360 tackles, 32 TFLs, 6.5 sacks, 2 INTs and 6 pass breakups. But former Tech LB Dakota Allen also put up gaudy numbers his final year in Lubbock and wasn’t drafted until the seventh round, pick No. 251 overall, the fourth-to-last pick. So is Brooks that much better? He certainly has fans among some prominent NFL draft analysts.
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Some fairly prominent names will miss the Combine. South Carolina wide receiver Bryan Edwards broke his foot preparing for the event and said on social media that he’ll need several months to recover. … Auburn OT Prince Tega Wanogho, who was pulled from the Senior Bowl after it was discovered he had fluid buildup in his knee, won’t go through positional drills after undergoing a minor knee scope, said Tom Pelissero of NFL Media. He’s expected to be healthy enough to hold a pro day for teams prior to the draft. … Teams will likely want more information from Penn State edge Yetur Gross-Matos about the hazing lawsuit against the football team, of which Gross-Matos is a part of, but team sources told WalterFootball that it shouldn’t impact his draft stock much, if at all.