The NFL released the official list of participants in the 2016 Scouting Combine on Thursday. As is the annual custom, uproar quickly ensued.
Every year there are players who belong in the Underwear (or should I say Under Armour?) Olympics in Indianapolis at the end of February who are glaring omissions. This year, more than most, there are invitees who appear ponderous choices as well.
It’s time to put those hands together and fix this Combine! And I say that as one of the few draftniks who has actually operated a real combine from my days growing up on a farm in Northeast Ohio.
Here are the top five snubs, and the guys who I would kick out to include them in the Lucas Oil Field festivities later this month.
In: Michael Thomas, WR, Southern Miss. Thomas came from out of nowhere to turn in a commanding performance for the Golden Eagles. As with his phoenix-like team, the national media was late to the party on the speedy, strong wideout. He averaged just under 20 yards per catch on 71 receptions, a major spike from 41 receptions and 14 yards per in 2014. That lack of prior production apparently haunts the Chicago native. He didn’t make the cut despite dominating the NFLPA All-Star game practices, or turning in plays like this…
Michael Thomas (Southern Miss) showing off rare acceleration here. You don’t see many go 0-60 that fast. pic.twitter.com/WvBATIsvNO
— Ethan Young (@NFLDrafter) February 4, 2016
Out: D’Haquille Williams, WR, ex-Auburn. I’d say “Auburn” but Williams quit on the Tigers last fall in the midst of a second wildly underwhelming career. The former JUCO star was lazy on the field and never came close to meeting the lofty expectations. Many assumed he was done with football when he unapologetically quit on his team. The NFL should have assumed so too.
In: Jake Coker, QB, Alabama. If the Combine is a reward for a complete college career, then Coker absolutely doesn’t belong. He was a disappointing vagabond, first at Florida State and then at Alabama, where he sat for a year and then wasn’t good early in 2015 either.
Yet the game, finally, came to Coker. You could see the game slow down for him. Suddenly his considerable athletic gifts started to shine. He blew away Connor Cook and Michigan State. He outshined Deshaun Watson (next year’s Heisman favorite) and Clemson.
Surprised Jake Coker didn’t get an invite to the NFL Combine. Has great size and a good arm AND was very good in last 5-6 games for #Alabama
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) February 11, 2016
In Senior Bowl practices, I thought Coker was just as impressive as Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott. Obviously the Bulldog has a higher ultimate ceiling but Coker more than proved to me he deserved a shot. If nothing else, he’s an undrafted developmental project.
Out: Joel Stave, QB, Wisconsin. If you find any person who tells you Joel Stave is a viable NFL prospect, even as a guy who shows up in rookie camp to help throw balls, you’re looking at a delusional sycophant. Where Coker showed glimpses of promise at the Senior Bowl, Stave proved beyond any reasonable doubt during Shrine Game sessions the week earlier he is simply not worthy of the NFL’s time.
In: Darion Griswold, TE, Arkansas State. For a relative newcomer to the position, Griswold has proven a quick study. He was a basketball player who arrived in Jonesboro as a quarterback. Despite only playing tight end for three full years, the 6’4”, 253-pounder showed off real blocking chops at both the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, where he earned a call-up. He’s not the fastest guy off the line but can move pretty well once he’s going. His arrow is pointing way up, and several NFL evaluators told me so in St. Petersburg. Many expected Griswold to be a no-brainer Combine invite.
Out: Stephen Anderson, TE, Cal. This is nothing against Anderson, a former walk-on who bulked up and made something of himself. I have little doubt he’ll impress in Indy as he’s a good athlete with the versatility to play both wideout and tight end. In fact, I think he’s a better prospect than Stanford’s Devon Cajuste, who is about the same size but made the Combine as a wideout. Keep Anderson, dump Cajuste.
In: Kevin Byard, S, Middle Tennessee. Much like Griswold, the curse of playing in the #FunBelt strikes Byard. His omission is even more glaring considering his very impressive turn at the Senior Bowl. It was no fluke either, as he was fantastic in an early-season trip to Alabama.
How in the world is Kevin Byard not on the Combine list?
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) February 11, 2016
From the two watches during the season and the week in Mobile, I rated Byard as the No. 5 safety in the class and a top 100 overall talent. That he’s not in the Combine is a shameful insult.
Out: Derrick Kindred, S, TCU. If the justification for keeping Byard out is his lack of stature at 5’11” and 216, then how does Kindred make it at a generously listed 5’10” and 215? Kindred certainly earns kudos for playing with a broken collarbone and still lowering the boom with authority, but he’s vastly inferior to Byard in coverage and isn’t any faster or quicker, either.
In: Crevon LeBlanc, CB, Florida Atlantic. The Shrine Game alum offers a little bit of everything you want from a corner. He can play inside or outside, though his NFL future is likely in the slot only. He’s comfortable playing press but also proved he has the quick reactions and vision to play zone. Leblanc packs good power behind his hits and is a sure tackler. Want production? 17 PDs and 6 INTs in his final two years at a program that produced a third-round pick at CB last year in D’Joun Smith. There are not 200 prospects better than him, let alone 330.
Out: DeAndre Elliott, CB, Colorado State. I admittedly have not studied Elliott yet other than one viewing (Utah State) early in the season and the Rams’ bowl game from the prior year. Here’s what I know: he’s a great athlete, long and speedy but spindly. Elliott might wind up being a worthy invite when all is said and done, but you’ll have a hard time finding anyone–and that includes NFL scouts–who think he’s a better NFL prospect than LeBlanc. Both are better than Texas A&M’s DeVante Harris, who just missed another tackle and is smaller and slower than both.