The NFL scouting combine is essentially boiled down to four key phases: medical evaluation, interview, athletic testing and positional workouts.
This year, in previewing the 2020 combine, we are highlighting one prospect at each position who needs to nail (at least) one phase of the combine.
We also wanted to highlight one smaller-program prospect at each position who could make bigger names for themselves with strong performances in Indianapolis.
The NFL scouting combine workouts begin on Feb. 27 and run through March 1.
Offensive line overview
It’s an interesting year for offensive linemen in the draft. The tackle class is one of the better groups in recent history. The interior lot leaves a lot to be desired overall, but there are still some prospects who merit attention. From here on out, we’ll be separating the tackles from the interior group (centers and guards), but at the combine they all — 52 in total — work out as one group.
This year’s first round could feature as many as six offensive tackles. The players who have received the most universal appreciation in scouting circles have been Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Alabama’s Jedrick Wills Jr., Louisville’s Mehki Becton and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas.
A second tier of OT prospects — Houston’s Josh Jones, USC’s Austin Jackson, Auburn’s Prince Tega Wanogho, Connecticut’s Matt Peart, TCU’s Lucas Niang, Georgia’s Isaiah Wilson and Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland — all feature starter-quality traits.
There are only a handful of true guards who rate as top-100 prospects, but there is a solid batch of centers available. Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz has played all three interior spots, primarily at center, and is our top-rated prospect inside. Some NFL evaluators say that some of the top-rated tackles, such as Wirfs and Wills, could be very effective at guard, too.
Who needs to nail the medical evaluation
Washington OT Trey Adams
The 6-foot-8, 314-pound Adams looked to be a star in the making — and a potential early entrant during his redshirt sophomore season in 2017. That’s when Adams’ string of horrible injury luck struck.
Adams suffered a torn ACL seven games into that season and missed the rest of 2017. Then prior to the 2018 season, his back flared up and he was forced to have surgery to repair a bulging disk that sidelined him until mid-November.
Although Adams played all 14 games for the Huskies in 2019, he was forced to bow out of the Senior Bowl with a hamstring injury, costing him a chance to boost his stock at the all-star event. Despite being named first-team All-Pac-12 at left tackle this past season, there is serious long-term concern over Adams’ durability in the NFL.
Another talented blocker who has missed large portions of multiple seasons is Fresno State OG Netane Muti, whose history of Achilles and foot injuries has NFL evaluators concerned.
Who needs to nail the interviews
LSU OT Saahdiq Charles
The 6-4, 295-pound Charles protected the blind side for possible No. 1 overall selection and Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow on a unit that won the Joe Moore Award, given to college football’s best offensive line.
But Charles’ character questions are quite concerning. He was suspended for multiple games this past season by head coach Ed Orgeron, citing “coach’s decisions” as the reasons why. The 20-year-old Charles was “tremendously immature” and that he “constantly stayed in trouble” during the Tigers’ dream season, a team source told Yahoo Sports.
“He’s a follower, not a leader,” the source continued. “He gravitated toward trouble when he didn’t have money, so what’s going to happen when he does have [an NFL paycheck]?
“He makes it tough to trust him. He’s not reliable. In three years, he had a major discipline issue each year.”
Although his talent suggests he could land on Day 2 of the draft, there are several teams that already have taken Charles off their board. There are still some teams that are intrigued and could gamble on his high ceiling as a prospect with the hope that surrounding him with accountable leaders will bring out the best in Charles.
It also should be noted that LSU invited him back to play in 2020, hoping to work with him on his issues and present him to NFL scouts a year from now as a changed young man. But with Charles declaring early, there’s no question he’s going to be peppered with a gauntlet of questions about his maturity and accountability.
Who needs to nail the athletic testing
Louisville OT Mehki Becton
On tape, it’s surprising to see how easily and fluidly Becton moves for a man who is listed at 6-7 and 369 pounds. He’s actually expected to weigh in a good amount less than that, although Becton’s weight is something that has fluctuated in the past — and that worry won’t go away.
Men this size with high athletic ability do not come around often. If Becton can display some decent lateral quickness and a good 10-yard split in his 40-yard dash, there’s an excellent chance that an NFL team picking in the top half of the first round will be too enamored to pass on him.
Becton also could use a strong positional workout, as he won as much in college on his rare power, mass and length as he did with technique, hand use, footwork and balance. He has played both left and right tackle effectively but possesses boom-or-bust qualities.
Who needs to nail the positional workouts
USC OT Austin Jackson
The 6-6, 310-pound Jackson impresses with his natural feet and easy movement skills. His ceiling is certainly high, which makes him a first-round possibility. But the team that drafts Jackson likely realizes that he’s also a work in progress.
Despite Jackson being a two-year starter for the Trojans at left tackle, there’s plenty of inconsistency in his tape. Scouts believe that he possesses the ability to be a good player in time, but his hand placement, tendency to overextend as a blocker and locked hips all have caused him issues against talented rushers.
We compared Jackson to 2019 second-rounder Greg Little (37th overall pick) in our most recent 2020 mock draft, as both of their technical issues affected scouts’ evaluations. You can bet that OL coaches will be watching Jackson’s work in drills in Indy to see how big a project they have on their hands.
St. John’s (Minn.) OT Ben Bartch
Consider this the year of the surprising small-school prospect. Two years ago, Bartch was a third-string tight end for the Johnnies weighing in the 230-pound range. Now the 6-6, 308-pound Bartch is coming off an eye-opening Senior Bowl performance in which he showed he had the alligator blood to hang with the big boys.
Bartch will be the first Division-III player drafted since 2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers second-round pick Ali Marpet (61st overall), who has developed into a quality blocker. Bartch could be on the same path, both in terms of draft status and future projection, except at left (or right) tackle. He has impressed evaluators to this point despite not really being tested in college.
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