Over the next few days I will be breaking down who Ravens fans should be watching at the Combine and what they should be watching for. Lets start with WRs. These are in no particular order
Luke Keuchly, Boston College-Keuchly(from now on referred to as LK) is a guy I am not very high on. I hate his size, I think he got a lot of free tackles in college because the rest of BCs front 7 was so bad and his instincts, while solid, are highly over-rated. That said I will be watching at the combine to see if he has added any bulk to his frame. If LK has added bulk(which is almost a must for him) I want to see how he carries himself. Is he still fast and does he still move with fluidity? If he has added 15 lbs or so and is still a smooth player, it might raise my opinion of him.
Donta Hightower, Alabama- I’m most interested in how fat Hightower looks. I don’t really care about his 40 time, I just want to see if he moves quickly. Can he react to a cutting RB at the speed he needs to be able to. Hightower is a big big man and he hasn’t always been the quickest (not to be confused with fastest) player on the field. To be effective in a 3-4 defense (or any NFL defense) he will need to be quick enough to react to RBs and TEs as they move across the field.
Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State- Burfict has a lot riding on the combine. Probably more than any other LB in the draft. His game relies on his athleticism, speed and strength. If he has a bad showing at the combine he could easily fall deep into the second round and maybe even to the third(though I cant imagine the Ravens passing him up in the second round). The most important thing for Burfict is the thing the fans can’t watch. the interview process. if he does well, he could really boost his stock, if he does bad, he could destroy it.
Audie Cole, North Carolina State- Audie Cole is the wild card of the LB group, I have seen him rated higher than Burfict twice and by one source he was higher than Hightower (I disagree with both however but more on that in a minute). I have Cole as the 5th best ILB in this class but I could be convinced to move him up over Jerry Franklin, especially if he weighs in at a solid size and looks strong in drills at the combine.
Jerry Franklin, Arkansas- Franklin is way under the radar right now but with a solid combine I could easily see him in the second round, as it is he is a fringe second rounder. Franklin has all the strength and speed he needs but I want to see his hips have a bit more fluidity, I will be watching his on field drills very closely. If he looks fluid in his hip flips and maintains his speed when he breaks on the ball, he will be a second rounder. He would be a solid pick for the Ravens in the 3rd but they will have more valuable picks in the second than him if they want them. Ravens fans should be hoping Franklin struggles a bit at the combine.
Tank Carder, TCU- With news still emerging about the TCU drug bust there is no way to know for sure where Carder will be drafted. A week ago I would have pegged him as a late 2nd/early 3rd round pick, but even being close to the drug bust could really hurt him(especially with the recent busts of Sam Hurd and Jerome Simpson). Carder really needs to show up big at the combine in all drills to help scouts forget about the drugs at TCU.
Bobby Wagner, Utah State- Wagner is a guy I wrote about around 2 months ago, back then I said he was probably a fourth or 5th rounder. Since then he had a great finish to his college career and had one of the better Senior Bowl weeks in the past few years. Him showing up big has forced scouts to go back and take a closer look at him and now his stock is soaring and he is a likely second round pick (though no one would be surprised to see him fall to the middle of the third). Wagner has more momentum than any other LB right now and a good combine will keep his stock on the rise. A bad combine could bump him back down to the third or fourth round.
James Michael Johnson, Nevada- JMJ is an interesting player. He is supremely athletic(as many players out of Nevada the past few years have been). And he has decent instincts. JMJ’s problem is going to be his competition in college. Playing at Nevada he rarely played top flight teams (though he had maybe the best game of his career against Boise St. last season in Boise St.’s only defeat). JMJ needs to come out and showcase his athletic ability to force scouts to go back to the tape and take a closer look at him. I expect him to be in the top 3 players in most drills among LB prospects.
Come back tomorrow to read my preview of the offensive line prospects.