Since the start of last week, several NFL draft prospects have received invites to the Feb. 21-27 scouting combine in Indianapolis. The majority of them are underclassmen, but there are a few specialists and seniors among the invitees.
The newest additions are: Texas/Texas College running back Ramonce Taylor; Minnesota running back Gary Russell; UTEP long snapper Aaron R. King; James Madison quarterback Justin Rascati; Syracuse punter/kickoff specialist Brendan Carney; Boise State wide receiver Drisan James; Texas Tech punter Alex Reyes; Oklahoma quarterback Paul Thompson; San Diego State defensive end Antwan Applewhite; Auburn kickoff specialist Matt Clark; and Notre Dame running back Darius Walker.
Walker, like many prospects this time of year, already finds himself facing rumors and misinformation. The 5-foot-9 junior running back, expected to weigh in between 205-210 pounds at the combine, has been labeled "short and slow," according to a web-site report. However, most NFL evaluators in attendance at the Sugar Bowl for Notre Dame's game against LSU rated him one of the five fastest/quickest players on the field. So while he may be seen as a change-of-pace back for the NFL, the assertion that he is headed for the "AFL" is ludicrous.
King, joining Virginia Tech's Nick Leeson and TCU's Jared Retkofsky, was one of three long snappers invited although a handful of others, including Brown University senior linebacker Zak DeOssie and possibly Washington State senior defensive end Mkristo Bruce could be asked to snap as well.
Keep an eye on Clark, a backup kicker, whose ability to consistently knock kickoffs into the end zone could excite a team in need of an improvement on their special teams.
Thompson, who spent time as a wide receiver at Oklahoma, will work out as a quarterback and, according to his agent, has been working with former NFL QB Ty Detmer in Austin, Texas. Applewhite could perform double duty, working out at both defensive end and outside linebacker for 3-4 teams that want to observe him in that capacity, according to his agent.
Meanwhile, former Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball will work out with the wide receivers and Missouri Western tight end Gijon Robinson could be asked to perform some drills out of the backfield as most teams now consider him more of a fullback/H-Back.
Clemson's Gaines Adams, Michigan's LaMarr Woodley, Colorado's Abraham Wright, Georgia's Quentin Moses, Nebraska's Jay Moore, Purdue's Anthony Spencer, UCLA's Justin Hickman and Oklahoma's Larry Birdine are among the pass rushers who could be included in the group that does both DE and OLB drills.
By the numbers: Here's a final breakdown by position of the prospects invited to the NFL combine: DB (55), DL (50), LB (36), OL (51), QB (21), RB/FB (32), TE (16), WR (49), K/P (14), SPT (3).
Party crasher: Sam Houston State running back D.D. Terry will challenge to be the highest rated player drafted this year who is not attending the combine. Terry fell through the cracks early as he was switched from linebacker to running back late last spring, so scouts were unable to view and grade him at his best position.
However, if you look at the numbers posted by many of the top-rated backs in the draft, they will pale in comparison to what Terry compiled in '06. So, while Terry may not initially seem like he should be included in a list that would comprise names like Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Antonio Pittman, Tony Hunt, Darius Walker and Kenny Irons, Terry is the only back in the bunch that had over 200 rushes, 1,000 yards, averaged over 6.0 yards per attempt and scored over 10 touchdowns.
Terry is just over 6 feet tall and plans to work out at about 200 pounds next month, similar in size/speed to backs like Derrick Blaylock (5th round, 2001), Curtis Keaton (4th, 2000) and Tony Hollings (2nd, 2002 supplemental), all of whom were overlooked until draft day.
The two greatest issues for scouts when measuring Terry's potential are his lack of running back experience and the level of competition he faced. But when you consider his straight-line speed (4.30 range), multiple 200-yard games (3) and production in the recent Texas vs. The Nation contest, he has a chance to be taken in the 5th-7th round of the April draft.
Another small-school prospect: North Carolina Central senior outside linebacker Naim Abdul-Malik, who began his career as a wide receiver at Illinois, has started to make a name for himself behind the scenes.
At 6-4¾, 231 pounds, Malik had 85 tackles (seven for loss), two sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery as a senior. His athletic ability jumps out at times on film, but he is raw. He looks like a "workout warrior" who could impress a team enough to give him consideration either late in the draft or as a priority free agent.
Abdul-Malik is the kind of guy that teams love to keep under the radar because he'll need two to three years of refinement and hiding him on a practice squad can become difficult word of his athleticism leaks.
SENIOR-TO-BE UPDATE – FIRST LOOK AT 2008 PROSPECTS
Newberry (S.C.) senior-to-be offensive tackle Heath Benedict, who nearly declared a few weeks ago, will likely enter next year's NFL draft as one of the top-rated small school prospects after an eye-opening workout on Monday. He ran between 4.92 and 5 seconds in the 40-yard dash, while measuring 6-5 5/8 and weighing 332 pounds. His 8-foot-10 broad jump is also very solid for a lineman of his proportions.
Benedict will shift from right tackle to left since the team's new starting quarterback is right-handed. His move should be aided by his long arms (nearly 34 inches), big hands (9 5/8 inches) and good footwork. He needs to play with more of a nasty streak and improve at finishing his blocks.
The former Tennessee recruit felt that another year of growth and refinement would help push him towards a late first-day grade, even though all 32 teams came to watch film of him this past season.