This week, more than 300 players from colleges around the nation have converged on Indianapolis to be poked, prodded, interviewed and run through a set of drills to see what they’re made of at the 2019 NFL combine. Those athletes will be scrutinized by scouts, coaches and executives from all 32 NFL teams, charting the course for two final months of speculation leading up to the first round of the draft on April 25 in Nashville.
Some players enhance their stock with eye-popping combines; others spend the rest of the draft process explaining away their bad numbers. Each standout performance doubles as bragging rights fodder and marketing material for the prospect’s former college. Saquon Barkley, Troy Apke and Mike Gesecki earned Penn State plenty of buzz with the high marks they earned relative to the other running backs, safeties and tight ends in attendance, and all three had been drafted by the end of the fourth round.
If the Nittany Lions could be viewed as a winner of the 2018 combine, here are five schools that could compete for that abstract honor this weekend.
Of course the Crimson Tide are on this list. Alabama had a dozen players from its 2017 national championship team selected in last year’s draft and will have 11 representatives at this year’s combine, led by All-America defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and offensive tackle Jonah Williams.
Many mock drafts have a handful of Alabama players going in Round 1—SI’s latest mock projects both Williamses, running back Josh Jacobs and linebacker Mack Wilson as first-rounders. The Crimson Tide’s most dangerous offensive weapons have a chance to scoot up draft boards after putting their physical gifts on display in Indy, separated from an offense where they had to share touches with several other All-SEC talents. Jacobs, running back Damien Harris and tight end Irv Smith could turn a lot of heads if they test well.
The national champions also have 11 players at the combine, and they should have ample opportunity to upstage their Crimson Tide counterparts.
In a draft loaded with elite defensive line talent, Clemson has three of the best in Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence, who should all solidify their status as first-round prospects. Left tackle Mitch Hyatt may slide to guard at the next level.
The combine is not the best venue in which to appreciate slot receiver Hunter Renfrow, the unassuming Clemson legend who has always made up for his lack of size and strength with sure hands and a nose for getting open. If he pops in the drills, it would be a bonus.
Dwayne Haskins is expected to be the first quarterback taken in April after a record-setting season with the Buckeyes, and he is scheduled to throw for scouts at the combine. Cornerback Kendall Sheffield, who is the school’s recordholder in the 60-meter dash, and wide receiver Parris Campbell have an opportunity to land high up the 40-yard dash leaderboard. Defensive end Nick Bosa, who missed most of the season after a core muscle injury, is No. 1 on most draft boards and will attempt to back up that honor as a full participant in combine drills.
Iowa isn’t flooding the marketplace with blue-chip talent, but the Hawkeyes have produced solid NFL players, even though no Hawkeye has been picked in the first round since Brandon Scherff in 2015. The program boasts two of the best tight ends in this class, both of which should show off their first-round potential at the combine.
T.J. Hockenson, the Mackey Award winner for the nation’s best tight end, and Noah Fant are basically zone destroyers who beat defenders with size and speed. While Hockenson led the team in receiving last fall, Fant could be the standout in Indy, with a vertical expected to surpass 40 inches and sub-4.5 speed.
The Rebels’ three leading receivers, A.J. Brown, DaMarkus Lodge and D.K. Metcalf, all possess traits that have scouts drooling, and anyone who has seen Metcalf’s workout pictures lately can understand why.
Brown, Lodge and Metcalf combined for 176 catches, 2,766 yards and 15 touchdowns last season as part of the No. 5 passing offense in the FBS, and they are three of the nine Rebels at the combine.
Metcalf, who missed half of 2018 with a neck injury, could make a big leap with a spectacular performance and is expected to join offensive lineman Greg Little as Rebels who are taken off the board on Day 1.