The annual NFL Scouting Combine begins this week, with on-field workouts beginning on Friday, February 20th. As a lead-up, here are the top-5 players at each position based on game evaluation so far.
I’m not done watching many of these positions, and certain Combine results will weigh on some players as well. In addition, these rankings largely ignore off-field issues other than injuries or criminal convictions.
This is not a prediction of draft order.
Without further ado…
1. Jameis Winston, Florida State
2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
3. Chris Bonner, CSU-Pueblo
4. Brett Hundley, UCLA
5. Garrett Grayson, Colorado State
Notes: Winston’s on-field skills are easily the best of any QB since Andrew Luck. Even with the INT issues in 2014, Winston handily grades out on top when not factoring in the off-field questions. Mariota has no such issues off the field, but his adjustment from his go-go spread Ducks offense to more traditional NFL sets looks to be vast. Bonner is a D-II stud with ideal size and outstanding arm strength but he needs experience versus the big boys. Hundley has lots of potential but lots of warts. Grayson has all the makings of a long-term career backup.
1. Todd Gurley, Georgia
2. Duke Johnson, Miami FL
3. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
4. Tevin Coleman, Indiana
5. Jay Ajayi, Boise State and Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
Notes: Gurley is coming off a torn ACL but he’s a rare top-10 prospect of a runner. His power, burst, vision and speed are all outstanding. Johnson gets a slight nod over Gordon for being a more accomplished receiver and more instant with his acceleration. Gordon reminds me very much of Robert Smith. Coleman is an aggressive one-cut blazer who sometimes lacks patience and vision but is great at bouncing runs inside-out. Ajayi is a powerful grinder with great burst but balky hands. Abdullah is lightning with the ball in his hands but slightly built and a liability in pass protection. This is a very deep and talented class; my 11th-rated RB right now is David Johnson of Northern Iowa and he would have graded third last year.
1. Amari Cooper, Alabama
2. Devante Parker, Louisville
3. Kevin White, West Virginia
4. Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
5. Jaelen Strong, Arizona State
Notes: This class is all about desired roles for teams. Cooper is ideally a #2 wideout, an outstanding complement to a strong #1, but has polished skills and some playmaking ability. Parker brings great length and strong hands but isn’t physical and doesn’t have great speed. White echoes of Larry Fitzgerald at times but struggled wen facing NFL-caliber corners. Lockett is smallish and a body catcher as a function of small hands, but he’s electrifying with his agility and routes and a nightmare in the slot. Strong is big and has field-stretching speed but looks clunky on shorter routes. The value at wideout is in the second through fourth tiers, which starts at Lockett and Strong and extends down to guys like Duke’s Jamison Crowder and East Carolina’s Justin Hardy, who will go in the 3rd or 4th rounds.
Bonus note: I have not evaluated Dorial Green-Beckham yet. His character flags are Lawrence Phillips-bad.
1. Maxx Williams, Minnesota
2. Clive Walford, Miami FL
3. Tyler Kroft, Rutgers
4. Jesse James, Penn State
5. Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State
Notes: This is unquestionably the weakest position group in the entire draft. Williams is the only player worthy of consideration in the first two rounds, and he’s not to the level of recent top draft TE’s. Walford stood out during Senior Bowl drills with his downfield speed and ability to track the ball, attributes he didn’t get to display at Miami. James is raw but has great athleticism and size. Kroft is a good catcher of bad throws, an underrated skill, but struggles with physicality. Heuerman is a better athlete than football player but offers intriguing potential. I like Delaware’s Nick Boyle and Kent State’s Casey Pierce more than most do, both could overtake Heuerman and James.
1. T.J. Clemmings, Pittsburgh
2. La’el Collins, LSU
3. Ereck Flowers, Miami FL
4. Andrus Peat, Stanford
5. Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
Notes: There is very little differentiation between Clemmings at the top and Williams at 5 or even the next two, Donovan Smith from Penn State and Cedric Ogbuehi from Texas A&M. Clemmings needs experience but has all the tools; he will struggle early on. Collins is a mauler who brings the intensity but can struggle with speed on the edge. Flowers needs work with his hands, although his feet are quick and he has great core power. Peat has wildly uneven game tape and will be the first tackle drafted, though his bad tape makes you wonder how he started at Stanford. Williams is a bruising, physical right tackle who compares to a less confident D.J. Fluker.
1. Brandon Scherff, Iowa
2. A.J. Cann, South Carolina
3. Laken Tomlinson, Duke
4. Arie Kouandjio, Alabama
5. Ali Marpet, Hobart and Jamil Douglas, Arizona State
Notes: You will see Scherff listed at tackle on many sites, as that’s what he played for the Hawkeyes. He would rank 7th at tackle. His skills translate perfectly to left guard, where he has All Pro potential quickly. Cann almost never gets beat and is technically sound despite lacking any one outstanding trait. Tomlinson Marpet shined at the Senior Bowl with his excellent hand placement and base strength. He repeatedly whipped far more prominent pass rushers in drills and thrived in team portions, too. Kouandjio is a more athletic, healthier prospect than his older brother, a 2nd-round flop for the Bills at tackle. Douglas also played tackle for the Sun Devils but his limited range makes him a better prospect inside. Louisville’s John Miller and Oklahoma’s Adam Shead are very close to making it here.
1. Cameron Erving, Florida State
2. B.J. Finney, Kansas State
3. Andy Gallik, Boston College
4. Hroniss Grasu, Oregon
5. Greg Mancz, Toledo
Notes: Erving made a wise business decision in switching from tackle, where he was a mid-round talent. His athleticism and range inside is worthy of a top-40 pick. Finney will not be the second pivot drafted but he’s very good at the second level and seldom gets beat. Gallik and Grasu both need to play stronger. Gallik gets the edge for handling nose tackles better. Mancz will likely miss his rookie season with a shoulder injury, otherwise he would be #2 with a bullet. He’s the rangiest, most athletically sound center since Alex Mack.