The NFL Scouting Combine's marquee events won't take place until the weekend, when skill players showcase their speed in the 40-yard dash while the draft's top quarterbacks throw for scouts and general managers from around the league, but the action at Lucas Oil Stadium is already underway as teams meet with prospects and draw up strategies for the fast-approaching NFL draft. The rapid rise in the combine's popularity has given fans a new layer of exposure to the best of the college game, but that extra attention can come at a price, leaving top prospects vulnerable to over-analysis and magnifying the flaws of incomplete players in the echo chamber of draft coverage.
Whose names will everyone be talking about by the time the last defensive back prospect leaves the field next Monday? In this combine-centric Cover Two, Chris Burke and Doug Farrar discuss under-the-radar prospects they'll be watching, injuries worth monitoring as medical checks begin and more questions worth following this week in Indianapolis.
Which under-the-radar prospect will make a name for himself this week?
Chris Burke: Donatella Luckett, WR, Harding
As if the 2015 draft class needed another high-upside wide receiver.
Luckett, who stands 6'0" and 210 pounds in his pre-combine measurements, averaged a whopping 26.2 yards on 23 receptions in Harding's option-heavy attack this season, then averaged 50 yards per catch in the Bison's Division II playoff game, finishing with 201 yards and two touchdowns.
That's all well and good, but it is Luckett's track background that could help him open some eyes in Indianapolis. Luckett holds the Harding school record in the 100-meter dash (10.44 seconds) and also competed in events like the high jump and long jump. He is a sensational athlete with all sorts of room to grow once he reaches the NFL.
Doug Farrar: Ali Marpet, OG, Hobart
Marpet wasn't a real factor among most members of the draft community until he put on a show at the Senior Bowl, proving that he had the toughness, tenacity and technique to face up with some of the college game's best defenders. Now, with another big platform, Marpet should nail the offensive line drills, further impressing NFL teams who will be looking to add the Division III product -- potentially in the middle rounds.
Who will run the fastest 40 time?
Burke: Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami
History has told us not to trust the 40 times that individual programs release from their workouts, so Dorsett's 4.21 mark ought to be met with a little scrutiny. Still, there's no denying that the ex-Hurricane can fly down the field, to the point that he is among the most likely candidates to challenge Chris Johnson's combine-record 4.24 time.
Miami strength and conditioning coach Andreu Swasey even told the Miami Herald that Dorsett's reported 4.21 may have sold the wide receiver short. According to Swasey, one stopwatch clocked in Dorsett at 4.18 seconds in the 40.
Though school times are notoriously inexact, Dorsett's game tape also shows rare speed. He's not a complete receiver per se—he struggles with drops and more complex route concepts—but flying down the Lucas Oil Stadium field could do a lot for his draft stock among NFL teams looking for pure vertical threats.
Which prospect will see his draft stock drop?
Burke: Quinten Rollins, CB, Miami (Ohio)
Rollins' stock may not drop as much as it could level off a little. The reason: His speed. While he showed during a strong Senior Bowl week that he can stop on a dime and change direction, the straight-line speed remains a bit of a question mark. Should Rollins land somewhere in the 4.5-4.6 range this week, it would put a bit of a cap on how high he could climb draft boards.
The 40 times remain critical for defensive backs, along with the offensive skill positions. When trying to pick out guys who could slip a bit at the combine, prospects who may be slower or weaker or smaller than advertised are the easy targets.
Rollins is likely a Day 2 guy, at worst. A slow 40 time might eliminate him from Round 1 consideration for good.
Farrar: Frank Clark, DE, Michigan
Without the domestic violence incident that got him kicked off the Michigan team, Clark would likely be a mid-round prospect, perhaps more with an excellent combine performance. But unless he looks like Reggie White during his drills, it's entirely possible that Clark could fall to the third day or go undrafted altogether. With the NFL's new emphasis on domestic violence, drafting a player who allegedly punched his girlfriend, grabbed her by the neck and threw her to the ground is a highly risky proposition, and Clark will have a lot of explaining to do when he meets with NFL teams to talk about his past.
Who will be the combine's most intriguing injured prospect?
Burke: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
What's the timetable here? What are the expectations when Ogbuehi returns? The A&M tackle is less than two months removed from a knee injury, which capped a disappointing year. Ogbuehi entered 2014 expected to assert himself as a top-five prospect and a potential franchise cornerstone left tackle. Instead, he struggled mightily—be it because of injury or otherwise—and his stock was dipping even before he got hurt.
His length and athleticism (assuming he comes back healthy) still make him an intriguing prospect for any team hoping to land a future starting tackle on the cheap. Ogbuehi almost certainly will fall at least to Day 2 and possibly even further depending on how his medical evaluations go.
For a team willing to be patient, the potential remains. The high praise Ogbuehi carried into his final collegiate season was not entirely misguided.
Farrar: Garrett Grayson, QB, Colorado State
Grayson has seen his stock rise as part of a lackluster quarterback class, but the news broke on Wednesday that he injured his hamstring during training and will not work out at the combine. However, Grayson should still impress NFL teams with his general football intelligence in interviews, and if he can put on a show at his pro day, he won't lose much.
Which player are you most excited to watch at the combine?
Burke: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
In a perfect football world, Hundley would have accepted his invite to the Senior Bowl. He didn't, so there is added pressure on him this weekend. Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota will reportedly both participate in passing drills at the combine, but if they somehow wind up sitting, Hundley would have an even better chance to separate himself as this draft's No. 3 quarterback prospect.
I'm not as down on Hundley as some others are. Should he land with a team willing to bring him along slowly, Hundley has many of the traits a front office would look for in its quarterback of the future.
Farrar: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
Of all the players I've watched in this class, Shelton has the most compelling tape, and I can't wait to see how he does in the drills. He's got exceptionally light feet and great mobility for a man his size (6'2", 350 pounds), and he's got the strength to wreck the drills that require pure power.