News & Analysis

What to watch for in the NFL combine for fantasy

Mar 6, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; A general wide angle view of Lucas Oil Stadium taken during the 2017 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

If the NFL combine is Disneyland for football stats fans, it makes sense the event takes place in Indianapolis. Warm weather and beaches would only distract from the spreadsheets of numbers collected at the event. The combine’s importance ultimately depends on the player. For some, the medicals and interviews are paramount, while others are focused on the athletic testing to answer outstanding questions. There are still pro days remaining for many of the invited prospects but the impressions made here are on a national stage and can shift expected draft position significantly. Here’s what to look out for this week for fantasy purposes (in no particular order):

Medicals

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia – Much like former teammate Todd Gurley, Chubb missed time in college with a knee injury. The difference is that Chubb’s injury occurred two years ago, giving teams time to see his recovery and subsequent play. Still, expect NFL teams to examine him thoroughly to see if there are any residual issues. That could be the difference between a possible Day One selection and taking a Jay Ajayi tumble.

Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma – The former wide receiver turned tight end has Type 1 diabetes. While other players, like Jay Cutler, have managed the condition, Andrews has had episodes with low blood sugar in the past. When healthy, Andrews is a great receiver (2.78 yards per route run, ranked fourth) but has other questions around his blocking ability.

Mark Walton, RB, Miami – Walton missed the 2017 season but has been rocketing up draft boards due to his versatility. An early-season ankle injury ended it prematurely a year after showing big-play ability, as evidenced by his 19 runs of 15-plus yards (21st-most). A small frame is also a question mark but that won’t matter if his health fails to check out.

Interviews

Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida – Among all skill prospects, no one has more of their career leveraged on team interviews than Callaway. An explosive player who was a Freshman All-American (six touchdowns including two on punt returns), he ran into problems off the field including sexual assault (charges dropped), multiple issues with marijuana, and a credit card fraud scheme that sidelined his 2017. An elite talent, Callaway will likely be off some teams’ boards regardless, but it only takes one.

Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma – A darling in the data-focused NFL draft community, Mayfield faces questions about his size and arm. The bigger question may be around maturity issues both in terms of off the field (public intoxication among others) and on the field. He has also passed on some early team interviews this offseason, rubbing some evaluators in a bad way. Mayfield should remain a first-round pick but how high he goes could be determined by these team meetings should he participate.

Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville – Some evaluations are (wrongly, in my opinion) concluding that Jackson cannot be successful at quarterback in the NFL. This is an opportunity to convince teams that he has the decision-making ability (mental mistakes have been a problem) to be a franchise signal-caller. Jackson’s character is not in question, but he needs to convince a team to build around him.

Measurements

Ronald Jones, RB, USC – The term “lean frame” gets thrown around with Jones in reference to his ability to handle a big workload in the NFL. If Jones weighs under 200 pounds, that will raise some flags to NFL teams. However, if he is over 200 pounds but struggles during the drills, that could be equally problematic. It shouldn’t matter for a player who averaged nearly 17 carries per game over the last two years, but the archetype could take precedent over his college production.

Quinton Flowers, QB, South Florida – Being (maybe) six feet tall has always put Flowers as a disadvantage with evaluators. That said, he is an inaccurate passer, finishing 97th and 102nd in adjusted completion rate the last two years. That, along with his athletic profile, has prompted most to call for a switch in position to either running back or wide receiver. How Flowers measures out in height and weight may help determine where his future lies.

Cedrick Wilson, WR, Boise State – Wilson has all the intangibles that teams are looking for with a football lineage and the nuanced techniques. That said, he can get pushed around, likely due to a thin build, weighing a reported 188 pounds despite being 6-foot-3. If Wilson wants to be more than a slot receiver, he will need to bulk up effectively and show it does not hinder the rest of his game.

Drills

James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State – A high-level college producer, Washington relies on speed and deep-ball ability (10th in yards per route run, second with 17 deep-target receptions). A criticism has been his need to build up to top speed, making the burst drills (broad and vertical jumps) along with the 10-yard split of his 40-yard dash critical drills for Washington.

Christian Kirk, WR, Texas Tech – Kirk has had some rumblings of some interest in the late first round of the draft. For any possibility for that to happen, Kirk will need to do well in the speed (40-yard dash) and agility (three-cone and short-shuttle) drills. He has the ability to be a strong slot option (94 percent of his routes in 2017, 2.19 yards per route run ranked 33rd) in the NFL but success at the combine could be the difference between a borderline first-round selection and a slip into late Day 2.

Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina – Hurst’s athletic profile is key in his evaluation. A former minor league baseball player, Hurst will be 25 before the season, which means teams will likely view him as a maxed-out prospect. Any deficiencies in his athleticism will give teams pause as they would have to exercise patience on what needs to be a polished product (Hurst finished sixth with 364 routes run last year).

Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State – Some saw Ballage as a top-12 devy option a year ago, but a horrific 2017 changed everything. He went from the eighth-highest yards per route run (2.34) to last (0.38), a devastating figure considering Ballage’s versatility being a key part of his game. Most expect him to test extremely well at the combine so anything less than elite results in the athletic drills will make him a late-Day 3 option at best.

J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State – There are no questions about Barrett’s character (three-time team captain) or his athleticism. However, Barrett completed just 34.7 percent of his deep targets (102nd), making his arm strength and deep accuracy key questions. The throwing drills will make or break Barrett being considered anything more than a late-round quarterback who is relegated to the practice squad.

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