Friday marks the first day of real action at the NFL Scouting Combine, as running backs, offensive linemen and special teamers will hit the field for drills. They will all be in the weight room on Thursday, which also marks a big day in terms of psychological testing, interviews, and their introduction to the NFLPA.
But Friday marks the first chance for players to show they can run fast, jump high and out-perform their peers on the field.
There are some elite prospects in this first group, which will feature more than a few Round 1 talents. With that in mind, here are 10 players you won’t want to miss on Friday.
Orlando Brown, offensive tackle, Oklahoma
You cannot teach, coach or inspire the biggest asset Orlando Brown brings to the table, which is pure size. He’s a behemoth, measuring in at nearly 6-foot-8, 345 pounds and possessing the wingspan of an adult albatross. Brown also has NFL bloodlines, his late father having played in the NFL 11 years.
Brown does have some issues that NFL teams will have to carefully evaluate, however. He tends to lean too much and struggles with leverage. He might end up being a better right tackle in the NFL than on the left side, because he’s such a mauler in the run game. But if he comes out and looks agile, runs well and shows he’s coachable, teams might consider taking a shot at drafting him in Round 1 this April.
Ronald Jones II, running back, USC
Some folks out there believe Ronald Jones is going to actually be the best running back to come out of this year’s draft class. He’s a guy who can do it all, a true three-down back who put up nearly 4,000 yards from scrimmage, along with 42 touchdowns, the past three years at USC.
Better yet, Jones has the kind of home-run speed teams covet. He was known for breaking off huge gains and leaving defenders in his dust at USC (like this), and has a chance to cement himself as a first-round talent with a blazing 40 time. It’s also going to be fun to see how Jones tests in the three-cone drill, the vertical and broad jump, not to mention seeing him catch passes on the field.
Quenton Nelson, offensive guard, Notre Dame
One of the true blue-chip prospects in this year’s draft, Quenton Nelson is as close to a can’t-miss player as you’re ever going to see. Watching him play at Notre Dame, his physicality, nasty demeanor and pure skill all stand out as huge pluses that will translate to the NFL level. Just look how he slams this poor defender to the turf here.
He also has incredible size, measuring in at 6-foot-5 and 325 pounds at the combine Wednesday.
What Nelson has shown on tape proves he’s capable of moving with agility and speed as well. Really, all he has to do at the combine Friday is show off the same skills he displayed the past couple of years at Notre Dame and he’s a lock as a top-10 pick in the upcoming draft.
Nyheim Hines, running back, North Carolina State
Thanks to the emergence of Alvin Kamara last year, teams are going to be looking for similar running backs in the middle of the draft. Nyheim Hines isn’t quite as agile or elusive as Kamara, but he does have the kind of raw speed that you just cannot teach. He’s a legitimate track star who took third last year in the 100m at the ACC Championships, and he’s one of the players that makes the combine must-see TV.
In his first year as a starter for the Wolfpack in 2017, Hines totaled 1,264 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 5.7 yards per touch. He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands.
What’s even more intriguing about Hines is that he’s not just this small guy who can fly. He’s 5-foot-9 and nearly 200 pounds, so if he lights up the track and looks good on the field he’ll be a player teams will want to take a deeper look into heading into the draft.
Kolton Miller, offensive tackle, UCLA
There is not a consensus about Kolton Miller’s draft value at this time. Some analysts see him as a fringe first-round talent, while others believe he’s a solid Day 2 pick. The one thing nobody can deny is that Miller is a huge, athletic young man who has the potential to develop into a special NFL player.
Coming in at more than 6-foot-8, Miller weighed 309 pounds during his combine measurement. He’s very tall, but he moves extremely well for a man of his size. Watching him perform in the drills will be very interesting, as we’ll get a chance to do an apples-to-apples comparison to his peers. Should Miller impress teams during interviews and perform well on the field, he could be a big-time riser heading into the draft.
Derrius Guice, running back, LSU
Derrius Guice surprised some folks when he showed up to the combine measuring in at 5-foot-10 and 224 pounds. He gained some weight since last season, and it’s going to be fascinating to see how he carries that extra bulk during the combine drills.
In particular, we expect Guice to wow on the track, and during the vertical and broad jump. He’s an explosive athlete who oozes strength (just watch this) and is a three-down back who can do it all at the NFL level.
One of the best power backs in this year’s draft, Guice has a real chance to be selected in the first round of April’s draft. He was an extremely effective player for LSU when healthy, despite the fact he played on an offense that couldn’t pass the ball to save itself.
Will Hernandez, offensive guard, UTEP
Teams looking for a dominant guard and find themselves out of the Quenton Nelson sweepstakes will be wise to key in on Will Hernandez. He opened up a lot of eyes during Senior Bowl week, as opposing defenders were constantly finding themselves over matched going up against this UTEP product.
Hernandez is a huge man. His combine measurement shows he’s over 6-foot-2 and weighs 327 pounds. A four-year starter at UTEP, he has proved durable as well, which is a huge bonus to him as teams look for potential red flags.
Nobody should expect Hernandez to run a sub-5-second 40 time. That’s not why you should tune in to watch this young man on Friday. Instead, we’ll key in on how well he moves for a man of his size. And we anticipate a whole heck of a lot of analysts gushing over his potential.
Rashaad Penny, running back, San Diego State
Nobody can say anything bad about Rashaad Penny. After all, he led the nation in rushing last year, going for 2,248 yards. He also scored 25 total touchdowns, 23 of those coming on the ground.
The thing is, despite his otherworldly production, Penny isn’t seen as a top prospect this year, which just so happens to be one of the deepest in recent memory at the running back position. The big issue is that Penny doesn’t seem to be all that fast (though he did break off plenty of huge runs), and speed is what’s hot in the NFL these days. You can find running backs who grind out yardage every single year, and you can find them late in the draft.
So, we’ll be watching Penny run his 40 with great interest. He’s not a small back, coming in at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds. So it’s highly likely his draft stock will depend heavily on how fast he is, both on the track in Indy and then again during his pro day later this spring.
Chukwuma Okorafor, offensive tackle, Western Michigan
Another player who is just huge, Chukwuma Okorafor measured in at 6-foot-6, 320 pounds with a wingspan of 83 3/8 inches on Wednesday. That kind of size and length makes NFL coaches quiver. And while his tape shows a player that needs plenty of work mechanically, Okorafor moves extremely well and has elite athletic potential.
He’s the kind of player who could legitimately sneak into the first round with a dominant combine performance. Teams won’t be eager to put him into the starting lineup at left tackle right away, but given his size and athleticism, Okorafor looks the part of a bookend, franchise cornerstone.
Saquon Barkley, running back, Penn State
Oh, you thought we might forget about Saquon Barkley?
With all due respect to everyone else who’ll be competing on Friday, Barkley is worth the price of admission, all by himself. We’re talking about a young man who is fully 6-foot and weighs 233 pounds, yet based on what we’ve been hearing for years it would be a huge disappointment if he didn’t run a sub-4.4 40 on Friday. He’s also expected to wow in the vertical, broad jump, three-cone drill, and pretty much everything else.
Barkley is a freak among freaks. Not only that, but he’s got the tape to back up his athleticism, which quite honestly is not human. Just watch him blow past everyone on this huge run during the Fiesta Bowl.
He’s so good that it will likely be hard for teams picking in the top three to not take him this year. They’ll literally have to talk themselves out of it.
So, if you can only watch one player on Friday, make sure it’s Barkley. He’s going to be phenomenal.