NFL Combine: Potential Risers, Fallers and Sleepers

NFL Combine: Potential Risers, Fallers and Sleepers

This article is part of our NFL Draft series.

The NFL combine is largely about the stars of a given draft class – everyone wants to see a preview of the soon-to-be highest picks, if only to hold themselves over until we can watch real games again – but some of the biggest movement at the combine happens instead with players caught up in the shuffle, shaking their way through the filter of the pre-draft process. There are some players whom the league and public are less familiar with who can make their presence felt in this venue – think Rashee Rice and Jayden Reed last year, for instance – and it helps that many top prospects concede the spotlight a bit by skipping testing altogether (Marvin Harrison and Malik Nabers are two examples from this year).

This article will look at some of the RBs, WRs and TEs who can rise or fall the most with their combine showings, as well as sleepers who might force their way into the conversation more. There will also be a quick list of players who figure to test the best at the bottom.

MOST TO GAIN/LOSE

Adonai Mitchell, WR, Texas (6-foot-4, 196)

Mitchell is probably an example of a player with more to lose than gain at the combine. That's not to say Mitchell has no use for good combine testing – indeed, it's more the contrary: Mitchell is already known as an elite athlete, and that assumption is already baked in to his projection as a prospect. Therefore, if a size/speed guy like Mitchell does well at the combine it's mostly not actually news. It would be news if Mitchell turned out to not be one of the top athletes in the draft. So for a guy like him, testing poorly has a high cost and testing well mostly solidifies his place at Square One.

The good news for Mitchell – who had some of his best games against Texas' toughest opponents – is that he's just about a lock to do great in whatever testing he does, especially tests like the 40-yard dash, vertical jump and broad jump. For Mitchell to log a sub-4.5 40 along with a 40-plus vertical and 11-foot broad jump would be completely unsurprising.

Projected round: 1-2

Ja'Tavion Sanders, TE, Texas (6-4, 252)

Sanders is a very good prospect and a solid bet to crash the first round of the draft, but with the right combine showing he could go from a solid bet to a near lock. As much as Brock Bowers won't be challenged as the TE1, Sanders looks like he could be something like what the Lions hoped Eric Ebron would be – harnessing athletic ability similar to Ebron but with a more complete game, especially when working in traffic. If Sanders tests right he could push for the first 20 picks.

Projected round: 1

Roman Wilson, WR, Michigan (5-10, 186)

Wilson is known as a strong athlete so he needs to test very well at the combine to preserve his stock, but the difference between an expected top tester like Wilson versus one like Adonai Mitchell is that Wilson didn't get the role opportunity at Michigan to demonstrate as much on tape as Mitchell did at Texas. So while Wilson is expected to test well and won't get as much credit for good testing as most other prospects, Wilson's visibility should be greater since his otherwise mediocre Michigan production would be partially explained away if he torches as expected in the 40-yard dash -- fundamentally changing the narrative rather than merely reinforcing it.

Projected round: 2-3

Keon Coleman, WR, Florida State (6-4, 215)

Coleman is a case much like Mitchell's in that while Coleman is likely a standout athlete and could very well do great at the combine, he also needs to confirm as much since it has long been assumed that Coleman is one of the most athletic receivers in this class.

Except Coleman's situation is worse than Mitchell's. Coleman's production at Florida State was sketchy and at the very least not particularly close to the level Mitchell produced at for Texas. So Coleman would be penalized more than Mitchell for poor testing and would have no more to gain from good testing. Tough spot.

Coleman is known as a standout athlete because there is a wealth of plays in his collegiate career where he accomplishes feats that can be only described as Stunts, reaching elevations at speeds that only the daring could stomach. To be fair to Coleman and his shoddy Florida State production, he was more cleanly productive with Michigan State the year before, notably keeping up with the highly impressive Jayden Reed.

Projected round: 2-3

The Big RBs: Audric Estime (Notre Dame), Trey Benson (Florida State), Braelon Allen (Wisconsin)

This is a weak running back class, and in particular there's no size/speed/workload prospect jumping out to project as the next potential elite fantasy running back. Whether anyone does emerge as a viable high-volume, high-efficiency running back in the NFL might depend on whether any of these three 230-plus pounders comes through at the combine. If Estime, Benson or Allen tests well at the Combine they could send themselves flying upward in a draft class with poor competition. But if the big guys stumble and plod at the combine they could just as easily fall far into the third day of the draft, dashing our hopes for the next Jonathan Taylor/Nick Chubb type in the process.

Projected rounds: 3-6

Jaylen Wright, RB, Tennessee (5-11, 210)

Wright won't be able to imitate the power or workload upside of Estime, Benson or Allen, but he might make up the difference with speed. Wright is expected to test very well and in that sense doesn't have quite as much to gain as to lose, but in a class this weak Wright really could emerge as the first running back selected if he times well enough at the combine.

Projected round: 2-4

Jacob Cowing, WR, Arizona (5-9, 165)

Cowing is a former small-school guy who torched at historical levels for UTEP before transferring to Arizona in the hopes of proving himself at a higher level. He produced excellent numbers for Arizona, too, but at just 165 pounds Cowing has a narrow margin of error in athletic testing, because anything less than impressive will be held against him.

It's not easy for smaller, older prospects to get a serious look from the NFL, especially when they might attribute your production to the level of competition (UTEP) or being over-aged (Arizona). There's still a way for Cowing to prove an exception much like Tank Dell or Josh Downs, but the tiniest receivers can't slip up in their testing and Cowing is undeniably small, despite the big game he might otherwise possess.

Projected round: 3-5

Brenden Rice, WR, USC (6-2, 212)

This is the son of Jerry Rice, so there will always be the lingering hope for greatness from a player with bloodlines like these, even if the younger Rice's production at USC was somewhat disappointing. Rice played a lot at Colorado before transferring to USC, but his target rate in college indicates more of an NFL backup than a starter. With that said, Rice was very efficient with his targets at USC, and if he tests well at the combine the name recognition plus the demonstrated tools could create quick helium for Rice's draft stock. In the meantime, though, he looks like a Day 3 special-teamer type.

Projected round: 5-6

SLEEPERS TO WATCH

Isaac Guerendo, RB, Louisville (6-0, 220)

Credit to RotoWire colleague John McKechnie for tipping me off to this, but Guerendo is a good bet to be one of the fastest running backs in this class even as one of the bigger ones. Although the skill-set question will remain difficult with Guerendo given that he never fully broke out at either of Wisconsin or Louisville, if he tests well enough then he could project for a better NFL career than he did a collegiate one.

Dylan Laube, RB, New Hampshire (5-10, 208)

A guy like Laube doesn't have a realistic shot of being among the top testers, but if he tests just well enough and in particular demonstrates burst and change of direction then he could project surprisingly well in the NFL, especially for passing downs. Laube demonstrated uncommon pass-catching ability at New Hampshire, and if he has the wheels for it to translate at the NFL level then he could become a real fantasy factor.

Jaden Shirden, RB, Monmouth (5-7, 189)

Shirden is improbably small and played at a low level of competition, so there is a lot working against him. He took on a workhorse role at Monmouth, though, and was incredibly productive – the kind of numbers you only see once every 15 years or so. Shirden took big volume and produced outrageous efficiency with that volume, averaging 7.5 yards per carry and scoring 23 touchdowns over his last 427 carries in 22 games (19.4 carries per game). Shirden won't be a workhorse in the NFL, but if his exceptional production is explained by plus wheels then he could make it as a rotational back in the NFL.

TOP EXPECTED TESTERS

Rome Odunze, WR, Washington

Xavier Worthy, WR, Texas

Troy Franklin, WR, Oregon

Roman Wilson, WR, Michigan

Jaylen Wright, RB, Tennessee

Adonai Mitchell, WR, Texas

Ladd McConkey, WR, Georgia

Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia

Isaac Guerendo, RB, Louisville

Malachi Corley, WR, Western Kentucky

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mario Puig
Mario is a Senior Writer at RotoWire who primarily writes and projects for the NFL and college football sections.
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