On tape, an NFL Draft prospect’s entire athletic profile is available to scouts, and in the context of the game they aim to win. And yet, the NFL Combine can do wonders for prospects, even if the information gathered by scouts isn’t necessarily new information. The NFL Combine has a way of quantifying a prospect’s upside, and in that way, allows scouts to look at the tape in a different light.
For NFL Draft prospects on the cusp of early selections, but far enough removed from consensus recognition as top prospects, the NFL Combine is a crucial event; one that can vault them up into the Round 1 conversation, if they take advantage. Losers and winners don’t exist at Lucas Oil Stadium. The record of the combine team is 0-0. It’s a chance for prospects of all pedigrees to align with the NFL’s standard for potential, and these 2020 NFL Draft prospects have perhaps the best chance to do so.
NFL Combine prospects who could rise
Cam Akers, RB, Florida State
Running back is a position that relies heavily on athleticism, so it’s no surprise that the top athletes get more recognition. However, Florida State running back Cam Akers is one player who’s fallen under the radar due to the respective rises of backs like JK Dobbins, Jonathan Taylor, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Akers was overshadowed by a dysfunctional Seminoles offense in 2019, but in terms of athletic foundations, he has one of the best in the class. He’s an incredibly easy mover for his 5-foot-11, 212-pound frame, with brisk acceleration in open field and eye-turning elusiveness. Given his utility in pass protection, as well as the instability of his college situation, scouts may be willing to give Akers a fresh start with a strong NFL Combine performance.
Lloyd Cushenberry III, iOL, LSU
In an interior offensive line class that’s still very much in flux, LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry III has ridden a late wave of publicity to new heights on the draft board, and athleticism is a staple of his game. In the trenches, where the slightest variance in explosive quickness can establish an advantage or disadvantage, Cushenberry is quicker than most. He has a very good jump off the line, and while he can add more power to his game, being an easy mover is of great importance in offensive line play, where leverage beats sheer power. Cushenberry has the traits to excel there, and the NFL Combine is his next stage to shine on.
Brycen Hopkins, TE, Purdue
Tight ends are still being figured out in an ever-modernizing NFL, but having a tight end who can best some defensive backs with his movement is an undeniable plus. Brycen Hopkins is near the top of the 2020 tight end class with his long speed, burst, and smoothness as a route runner, and at 6-foot-4, 241, that’s exciting to think about. Hopkins fits the profile of the modern tight end with the athleticism to create for himself both before and after the catch, as well as the size to be a mismatch down the field. At the NFL Combine, he has the potential to establish himself as a top-tier tight end prospect, in a class that has yet to crown a consensus TE1.
Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
Denzel Mims has seen his own draft stock rise after a strong Senior Bowl campaign, as more and more are starting to see his impressive combination of size and speed at the receiver position. All that said, Mims’ prowess isn’t quite catching on in all corners just yet. He used the Senior Bowl to show off his ability to beat press coverage and his route running nuance, and at the NFL Combine, Mims can solidify his athletic profile with strong testing in crucial drills like the 40-yard dash and the short shuttle. At 6-foot-3, 206, with an all-encompassing wingspan, Mims already has traits to like. At the NFL Combine, he can show he’s the complete package.
Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
If you’ve got “I want it all” playing in your head ahead of the 2020 NFL Combine, then there’s one wide receiver prospect you want in Indianapolis: Jalen Reagor. Reagor has serviceable size at 5-foot-11, 195, and he maximizes his frame with stellar long speed, acceleration, elusiveness as a runner, and vertical explosion at the catch point. He should blow all the mobility drills out of the water, and send scouts daydreaming about his upside in a modern offense.
Prince Tega Wanogho, OT, Auburn
The term “raw prospect” was made for players like Auburn’s Prince Tega Wanogho. The term places a dual-sided emphasis on both the prospect’s room for technical development, while also establishing a considerable athletic foundation. Wanogho checks both boxes; he certainly has room to learn from an NFL offensive line coach, but he has all the traits to thrive at the next level. With an incredibly long 6-foot-5, 310-pound frame, and awesome lateral movement quickness and space navigation skills for his size, Wanogho’s profile is very exciting. Other big-bodied linemen like Mekhi Becton have been getting more hype as of late, but Wanogho is very much a man to remember, and he’ll prove it before March.
Other Offensive Players to Watch: Notre Dame WR Chase Claypool, Appalachian State RB Darrynton Evans, Washington iOL Nick Harris, Connecticut OT Matthew Peart, Dayton TE Adam Trautman
Ross Blacklock, DL, TCU
In congested trench battles, Ross Blacklock’s athleticism isn’t always apparent, and teams actively tried to manage it by sending multiple blockers his way. But there are flashes where Blacklock explodes off the line, sheds linemen with his impressive length and power, and accelerates into the backfield with far more speed than a 6-foot-4, 310-pound lineman should have. Out of the confines of his position, expect Blacklock to tear up the NFL Combine, and pace the prospects on the interior defensive line.
Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU
Big 12 prospects have good attendance on this list, and a surprising number of them rest on the defensive side of the ball. Jeff Gladney is just another Big 12 defender with wicked upside at the next level. He’s not the longest cornerback, but he makes up for it with torrid short-area explosiveness and foot speed. He’s also fairly instinctive, and the prospect makeup is there for Gladney to be a productive starter in the NFL. He should cement his first-round upside in the agility drills, primarily.
CJ Henderson, CB, Florida
The book is out on CJ Henderson’s athleticism, as he’s been renowned as a transcendent athletic prospect since high school. That said, it seems as though people are due for a reminder. Henderson has received some Round 1 hype this offseason, but some have been hesitant to crown him at the cornerback position due to his tackling inconsistencies. The NFL Combine is a chance for Henderson to remind scouts that he is of the highest echelon as an athlete, and a potential blue-chip prospect with his speed, explosive fluidity, length, and moxie.
Terrell Lewis, EDGE, Alabama
Once lauded as a potential Top-15 pick, the excitement has cooled a bit surrounding Terrell Lewis. The former four-star recruit ultimately chose to enter the 2020 NFL Draft, and now, he’s at the mercy of scouting opinions. Lewis is quietly one of the best athletes at his position in the 2020 class; his game features incredible acceleration off the line and long-striding speed to couple with overwhelming length. He’s raw, and he could still add mass to his relatively lanky frame, but in terms of movement freedom and sheer potential, Lewis is exciting enough to discount his past ACL injury. A strong combine performance could get him back into the Round 1 conversation for good.
Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
Isaiah Simmons is far and away the top linebacker prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft, but at the NFL Combine, Kenneth Murray has a chance to close the gap between him and the Clemson product. Murray broke out as a potential first-round pick in 2019, displaying a powerful frame and excellent short-area explosion and range to go with it. There are some concerns over his consistency and polish at this stage, but at the NFL Combine, projecting what a prospect can be is the primary focus. Thus, Murray will have an opportunity to skyrocket up the board in a weak linebacker class, by establishing his athletic upside.
Curtis Weaver, EDGE, Boise State
This prospect inclusion is of a different vein than the others. While the previous choices on this list have been stellar athletes due to re-establish their physical dominance, Boise State’s Curtis Weaver has been knocked down for his perceived athletic limitations. Weaver can prove at the NFL Combine that there’s a misconception regarding his athleticism. He won’t be a top-tier athletic tester, but Weaver can magnify the weight of his technical prowess and production with an NFL Combine performance that highlights his strong linear burst and more-than-passable flexibility when bending the corner.
Other Defensive Players to Watch: Lenoir-Rhyne S Kyle Dugger, Oregon LB Troy Dye, Oklahoma DT Neville Gallimore, UCLA CB Darnay Holmes, Tennessee EDGE Darrell Taylor