Nine 'Canes will dodge, sprint (in some cases backpedal) and shuffle over the next several days to determine their merits as an NFL player. The annual NFL Scouting Combine held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis will see QB Brad Kaaya, TE David Njoku and CB Corn Elder grind to showcase their athleticism in front of decision-makers that wield the authority to say 'yay or nay' to granting their NFL dreams.
Every participants shares a common goal of attempting to improve their draft stock, attract more attention, ultimately attempting to convince personnel they're as good or better athletes than what their college film indicates.
Most of the weekend can be seen live on NFL Network, hosted by Mike Mayock and Rich Eisen, with cameos from NFL stars such as former Hurricanes TE Greg Olsen who served as an analyst during TE drills last year.
While the first 3 groups arrived and registered on Tuesday, the actually on-field workouts do not begin until Friday. Before then players will have taken the wonderlic, hit the bench, and met with teams with anywhere from a passing interest to overwhelming infatuation with them before they’ve taken a single rep on the field.
On-Field Workout Schedule
Friday - Group 1 (Kickers, Punters, Specialist), Group2 (Offensive Linemen), Group 3 (Running Backs)
Saturday - Group 4 (QB/WR), Group 5 (QB/WR), Group 6 (Tight Ends)
Sunday - Group 7 (Defensive Lineman), Group 8 (DL), Group 9 (Linebackers)
Monday -Group 10 (DB), Group 11 (DB)
The crème da la crème of the group is David Njoku. It has to be pretty flattering to receive praise from just about every draft guru that is worth their chops. He's been projected to go anywhere from as high as 10 to at worst among the final selections of the 1st round. If Njoku runs a good 40-yard dash and shows off the athleticism we all know he's got, then he should have the luxury of standing by his numbers come Pro Day later this month. An intriguing factor will be if he feels the need to match what Alabama TE O.J. Howard did during Senior Bowl week, competing in practices and playing extensively in an all-star game he did not need to do much in. However, there is such a good buzz about Njoku heading into the week, simply being the athletic freak he showcased throughout this past season will qualify as a successful weekend for the TE.
Since he's declared until now, it's been a tumultuous ride for Brad Kaaya's draft stock. Regarded as a top 5 QB in this class at the very least with a mid-3rd round selection, his value now is projected as a “developmental” QB with a 5th-6th round selection with other "project" prospects such as Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes surpassing him in mocks and projections. For most players the combine offers a great shot at confirming who they are on tape or forcing evaluators to shuffle their boards before the Pro Day phase of evaluations. For a QB however, it can be hit-or-miss. With the exception of a few instances where a teammate could be throwing to a fellow former teammate (No idea if Kaaya, Coley or Njoku will be in the same group), there will be zero chemistry with the much of the members of each group.
There's been a growing trend among passers who opted to throw at the combine, as the fear of hurting your stock by throwing to guys you don't know seems to have vanished. Last year Carson Wentz, Jared Goff and Paxton Lynch all threw during passing sessions. Given the uncertainty around Kaaya’s stock, especially with his inaccuracy from a throw-to-throw basis, it would serve him well to be a willing participant. Honestly, there isn't an arm in this class that should feel secure enough to skip throwing this week based upon the lack of excitement around the group.
There are a couple guys who will excel during positional workouts over the course of a few days. Al-Quadin Muhammad is one of them. Again, all the guy does is work out, which he had plenty of time to do after he was booted off the team for infractions in 2016. Sadly, we won't be able to see the most important exercise for AQM over the weekend, which is the one-on-one meetings with team representatives. Having to explain what it was like for football to be taken away from him for a season, what he did while not with the team, why he choose not to transfer are just the softball questions sure to be peppered his way in every interview he enters. Secondarily, I'm sure he'll give a politically correct answer of "I'll play wherever they put me, but there is still the question of what his best position will be in the NFL. Having collected 7 sacks over the course of his time as 'Cane, AQM is a hybrid defender in the idea that he could be a 3-4 outside linebacker or the smaller side of a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. Whatever the position, he's a pass-rusher equipped with a relentless pursuit.
For Corn Elder, I'm not quite sure what a good or bad combine would mean. He showed up and impressed during Senior Bowl week. Entering combine week the biggest knock against him is the fact that he's not that big (5-foot-10) with executives valuing corners who are 6 feet+. Elder does his job, and does it damn well at that. If all things were equal with height being a non-factor, judging on merits of talent and strength, Corn would be ranked much higher than where he's projected at the moment. Elder is being projected as a slot corner that in today's NFL is vital with nickel formations essentially becoming the base defense across the league. In some opinions playing corner in the slot is much more difficult than on the perimeter since there is much more field to cover with the sideline being so far away to help you defend. The said, Elder plays CB with a style and swagger that will endear him to a team that will covet him for who he is.
After pulling out of the Senior Bowl in January, it will be interesting to see what Stacy Coley is able to do in the wide receiver group over the coming days. He should set a decent mark in the 40-yard dash. Aside from being a fly on the wall when he meets teams for one-on-one conversations the next drill to look forward to would be the gauntlet drill where balls will be thrown from his left than alternately from his right ending in a hard turn and run upfield to finish. While the whole sequence is amusing watching from a couch, it's not the highest concern in regards to Coley. Questions have developed in regard to his dedication to the game, a statement that surely can get someone heated in the right circumstances. Given how he played through hamstring issues, managing to slot himself second all-time in receptions at Miami, Coley should have a good response for those that question his commitment to football.
For the rest of 'Canes in attendance, S Rayshawn Jenkins, S Jamal Carter, G Danny Isidora and punter Justin Vogel should all test fairly well. A good number on the bench would be great, yet it still won't squash concerns about Isidora's ability to anchor against opponents that opt to bullrush, a common tactic used against him over the course of Senior Bowl week. Both safeties are expected to do well in drills, and it should be interesting to see how they do in coverage drills based on the read and reaction techniques. Vogel is a punter, who are people too. Vogel could surprise in a similar manner as fellow punter Pat O'Donnell, who in 2014 had 24 reps on the bench, ran a 4.64 40-yard dash and a 30.5 vertical jump, all watermarks for specialist that year.
Looking from the concourse
RB Joseph Yearby and LB Jermaine Grace were not invited to the "Underwear Olympics". Neither was CB Adrian Colbert, however there is talk that he has a decent shot at still being drafted despite the snub. Fullback are still people too, so Marquez Williams will also have to make his biggest impression March 29th when Miami hosts NFL personnel for Pro Day.