With the 2016 NFL Combine rolling, what are the backgrounds of the ex-college players who’ll be put through the ringer in Indianapolis?
Anatomy of the 2016 NFL Combine
As the NFL universe descends upon Indianapolis for that annual ritual known as the Combine, the nation’s elite college football players are about to be poked, prodded, and psychoanalyzed for days … and dollars.
What may appear to be a circus-like atmosphere is, in reality, a well-organized platform for more than 300 pro prospects to improve their draft status in front of future employers. It’s a job fair in cleats and snug-fitting clothing. Most invitees will be drafted in late April, but how high they’re plucked hinges on everything from their speed and strength to their personality and body type. One-tenth of a second on a 40-yard sprint could be the difference between the first day and the final day … and a whole stash of cash.
Exactly who comprises this next generation of NFL players? Of course, it vacillates every February, but that doesn’t mean trends are not developed over time. Geographic, institutional, and developmental tendencies will paint a mosaic of not just the athletes, but the schools that were their homes for as short as one and as long as six years.
Bragging Rights … the Universities
With 14 former Buckeyes at the Combine, Ohio State is one off the record set by, well, Ohio State a little over a decade ago. The Buckeyes’ showing, though taxing on the 2016 squad, is testament to Urban Meyer’s ability to both attract and develop talent.
North Carolina, Michigan and Houston finished last year in the top 15, despite a roster with no more than two Combine invitees.
A dozen participants finished their college ball in the state of Utah, including a half-dozen Utes and three players apiece from Southern Utah and Utah State.
Looking for tangible evidence of Texas’ struggles developing talent under Mack Brown and Charlie Strong? The Horns will have just a single rep, DT Hassan Ridgeway, at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Cincinnati is sending four former Bearcats to the Combine to lead all Group of Five programs.
No one did less with more in 2015 than Auburn, which went 7-6 with a roster filled with eight Combine-caliber athletes. A close second was 8-5 UCLA, which tied for third with Alabama with nine members.
Ohio State … 14
Notre Dame … 10
Alabama … 9
UCLA … 9
Auburn … 8
Clemson … 8
Florida … 8
Georgia … 8
Michigan State … 7
Oklahoma … 7
USC … 7
Arkansas … 6
Baylor … 6
Florida State … 6
Mississippi State … 6
Ole Miss … 6
Stanford … 6
TCU … 6
Texas A&M … 6
Utah … 6
West Virginia … 6
Bragging Rights … the Conferences
Few surprises, beginning with the SEC atop the rankings, a natural extension of the league’s perennial success on National Signing Day.
Spearheaded by Ohio State, the Big Ten delivered a very strong showing to finish in second place, comfortably ahead of the Pac-12 and the ACC.
The Big 12 ranked last among Power Five conferences, but at 10 teams it also houses the scarcest members. The ACC was actually in the basement with fewest Combine invites per member programs.
The Mountain West edged out the American in the competition among Group of Five conferences. The Sun Belt, on the opposite spectrum, had an unusually bad showing, with just a single alum, Appalachian State’s Ronald Blair.
Two dozen Combiners did not finish their college careers at an FBS school. Included are two Division II kids and a pair of Ivy League graduates, Harvard’s Ben Braunecker and Cole Toner.
SEC … 73
Big Ten … 56
Pac-12 … 49
ACC … 43
Big 12 … 35
Mountain West … 14
American … 13
Independents … 11
C-USA … 8
MAC … 5
Big Sky (FCS) … 4
Missouri Valley (FCS) … 4
Mid-Eastern (FCS) … 3
Southern (FCS) … 3
Big South (FCS) … 2
Colonial Athletic (FCS) … 2
Division II … 2
Ivy League (FCS) … 2
Ohio Valley (FCS) … 2
Sun Belt … 1
Bragging Rights … the States and Countries
California. Florida. Texas. In some particular order, these three states are always going to represent well in Indianapolis. In 2016, it’s the Golden State’s turn to look down on everyone else, followed by the Sunshine State and the Lone Star State.
All but 13 U.S. states will be represented this week at the annual NFL Combine.
Australia, with four attendees, will boast more of its residents in Indianapolis than over half of the 50 U.S. states.
North Carolina is No. 6 with 13 Tar Heel natives. However, just three kids played their college ball in state. Ditto New Jersey, as only two of 10 future NFLers elected to play for Rutgers.
It’s an uncharacteristically quiet February for Louisiana, which typically ranks much higher in this space. On the other hand, based on recent history, Arizona had a very strong showing.
California … 43
Florida … 41
Texas … 38
Georgia … 22
Ohio … 18
North Carolina … 13
Illinois … 10
New Jersey … 10
Pennsylvania … 10
Alabama … 9
Michigan … 9
South Carolina … 9
Virginia … 9
Arizona … 7
Indiana … 7
Maryland … 7
Louisiana … 5
Mississippi … 5
New York … 5
Australia … 4
Missouri … 4
Oklahoma … 4
Utah … 4
Washington … 4
Arkansas … 3
Delaware … 3
District of Columbia … 3
Hawaii … 3
Nevada … 3
Tennessee … 3
Wisconsin … 3
Iowa … 2
Kentucky … 2
Minnesota … 2
Nebraska … 2
North Dakota … 2
Canada … 1
Connecticut … 1
Kansas … 1 br />
Oregon … 1
Bragging Rights … the Cities and Towns
No city will be better represented in Indianapolis than Miami, which is sending 6 of its residents to the Combine. Two of the athletes played for the Hurricanes, with the other four completely leaving the state.
Along with Miami, 32 additional towns are sending multiple citizens to this month’s Combine. Tampa surprisingly has five, as does Los Angeles. Next up with four are Philadelphia and Houston.
The home field advantage belongs to Indiana’s Darius Latham and ND’s Nick Martin and Sheldon Day, each natives of Indianapolis.
Mansfield, Tex., a DFW suburb, will be rooting for three of its former residents, TCU Josh Doctson, Texas’ Hassan Ridgeway and Boise State’s Rees Odhiambo. Doctson and Odhiambo played together at the same high school, Mansfield Legacy.
There will be 18 quarterbacks on display for NFL scouts this February. Five of those hurlers did not end their college careers with a Power Five program.
The states most likely to birth a next-level QB this cycle? California (USC’s Cody Kessler, Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld, Cal’s Jared Goff and Oregon’s Vernon Adams) and Florida (Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty, Memphis’ Paxton Lynch, Louisiana Tech’s Jeff Driskel and NC State’s Jacoby Brissett).
Playing fullback may be a dying art, but five of them will be participating in the festivities, K-State’s Glenn Gronkowski, Georgia’s Quayvon Hicks, USC’s Soma Vainuku, Nebraska’s Andy Janovich and Northwestern’s Dan Vitale.
The lone long snapper at this year’s NFL Combine will be Baylor product Jimmy Landes.
Landes, though, won’t be the only special teamer on display. A dozen specialist will be showing off their legs, six punters and six kickers.
Wishing on a Star
Naturally, sizing up high school recruits is an inexact science, but you might be shocked to learn just how imprecise the process has become. And just how many of this year’s Combine invites were scrambling just to get a free ride a few years back. Well over 10%, or 43 late bloomers, were completely off the grid and often forced to take an alternate route, such as walking on or building a body of work at a junior college. Another 40 players were rated two-stars, the equivalent of a future journeyman or part-time starter, by Rivals.com when their high school careers concluded. Hey, it’s not where you begin this journey, but where you end it, that matters most.
At least in terms of this past year, the positions most likely to produce surprises are linemen on offense and cornerbacks on defense. The state? California. The schools? Southern Utah, Temple and Utah State. The conference? The Big Ten, with the Mountain West trailing close behind.
Some of the more notable upstarts include North Dakota State QB Carson Wentz, Penn State DE Carl Nassib, Michigan State OT Jack Conklin, Indiana RB Jordan Howard, Temple LB Tyler Matakevich, Baylor CB Xavien Howard, UMass WR Tajae Sharpe, TCU S Derrick Kindred, Southern Utah S Miles Killebrew, Michigan C Graham Glasgow, Arizona LB Scooby Wright and La Tech DT Vernon Butler.
5-star … 21
4-star … 105
3-star … 123
2-star … 40
*High school rankings are courtesy of Rivals.com
A Major Issue
Each of the invitees was a student-athletes for at least the last three years. We know about their athletic prowess and resumes, but what about the academic side of these pros-to-be? They declared majors, attended classes and, in some cases, have already earned a diploma.
Their fields of endeavor are as varied as their backgrounds and skill sets. Many chose rather innocuous, broad fields, such sociology, general studies and communications. Yeah, football was their de facto major.
There are, however, intriguing classroom exceptions:
– As future accountants, Notre Dame’s Romeo Okwara, Syracuse’s Riley Dixon and Grand Valley’s Matt Judon are uniquely positioned to understand the nuances of a paycheck. Ditto the handful of players who studied economics, finance and labor studies.
– Texas A&M O-linemen Joe Cheek and Germain Ifedi studied architecture and construction science, respectively. Once football ends, the former teammates are uniquely positioned to start their own building design firm.
– Auburn LB Kris Frost was an aviation management major, with a future as a pilot, possibly with the Air Force.
– Stanford OG Joshua Garnett and Penn State DE Carl Nassib are planning on being doctors once their football careers are over.
– Four Combine invitees have engineering backgrounds, Southern Utah S Miles Killebrew, North Dakota State OT Joe Haeg, Wisconsin QB Joel Stave and Stanford LB Blake Martinez.
– As government and political science majors, odds are no one in Indy will be more interested in the 2016 presidential primary races than Harvard OT Cole Toner, Tennessee WR Marquez North and Oklahoma LB Eric Striker and WR Sterling Shepard.
– Toner’s teammate, Ben Braunecker, is studying molecular and cellular biology.
Doing Their Homework
Of the record-setting more than 100 college sophomores and juniors who declared early for the 2016 NFL Draft, only a small fraction did not receive an invitation to the Combine.
No, it does not mean that all of the decisions were sound ones, but at a minimum, the overwhelming number of early entries, about 80%, will get their chance to show they belong in the most important pre-draft event.
JUCO or not JUCO
Of the 300-plus participants in this month’s event, two dozen have done an apprenticeship at one of the nation’s junior-colleges, breeding grounds for quick fixes and future stars. No one leveraged the two-year schools better than Nick Saban and Alabama, who mined linemen Dominick Jackson, DJ Pettway and Jarran Reed from college football’s stepping stone to the major leagues.