The beginning of NFL Draft season is different for every person. For some, it’s a constant, a year-round mindset where watching every single college football game is viewed with future NFL undertones. For other, it’s after the season is over, like when the East-West Shrine game and Senior Bowl weeks roll around. But for others – we’ll call them late bloomers – the NFL Combine is when their interest officially switches from the end of last season to the beginning of the next one.
For one weekend, Indianapolis, Indiana becomes the mecca for all things NFL draft. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fifth-year senior or a true junior who isn’t even old enough to legally drink yet, the NFL Combine is where the best talent comes to prove itself.
Fans have a tendency to get obsessed with each drills as some of the most athletic young men on the planet get to show their abilities to future employers, but it’s important to keep a level head as a fan. When watching the weekend’s event unfold, remember that these athletic test are compliments to game film, if a player separates well with defenders, his speed should prove that. If a player has the quickness to change direction in games, their numbers should reflect that. That’s what the Combine is for.
Not only that, but a big reason for bringing all of these players here is to get official measurements and official medical checks with no school biases to skew them. All that along with interviews with teams make this one of the biggest sports weekend on the football calendar., and for a team on the cusp of the playoff like the Tampa bay Buccaneers, who they choose to draft this year could go a long way in solidifying being a playoff team for the foreseeable future.
With that in mind, here are 20 offensive players (10 studs and 10 sleepers) who Bucs fans should keep an eye on this weekend.
Table of Contents
WASHINGTON WR JOHN ROSS
With Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis unable to participate in drills, the main outside receiver the Bucs should be taking note of is Ross. Ross was known for his 4.3 speed at Washington, and his numbers need to reflect that his speed is elite to make up for his smaller measurables. However, what might be the biggest win for Ross is being able to prove that his knees are good to go. Ross missed the 2015 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and a meniscus tear in his right knee. Ross also needs offseason shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum.
TEXAS A&M WR JOSH REYNOLDS Reynolds has been on PewterReport.com’s radar since mid-way through the 2016 seasons. Reynolds, on an offense that had a lot of passing options, commanded many of the team’s biggest catches. Reynolds is a great all-around receiver who is strong at the catch point, but he’s not the fastest player. How runs could be the difference of him as a second round pick or a fourth round pick. Is he a sub-4.5 guy or is he a plus-4.6 guy?
FLORIDA STATE RB DALVIN COOK
Over the last three years, it’s hard to find a more dynamic running back than Dalvin Cook. Every time he got the ball, he had the potential to take it to the house – and he did just that on more than a few occasions. Cook will likely be in the top of the running back class in almost every drill, but what’s important for him are his medicals. He’s had some shoulder issues and nagging injuries throughout his career, but as long as nothing is chronic, he’ll be fine. If not, and there are some questions there or about some of the people he associated with, he could drop. Perhaps all the way to No. 19.
MIAMI TE DAVID NJOKU
If Alabama’s O.J. Howard ends up testing well, his stock may be too high for the Buccaneers. But that doesn’t mean they will go away form the tight end position completely. Njoku isn’t as complete of a tight end as Howard is, but he may be even more athletic and an even better asset in the passing game. Right now he’s a projected fringe first round player, but if he tests off the chart athletically, No. 19 might be a sweet spot.
USC WR JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER
There might not be a prospect who has more to gain at the Combine than Smith-Schuster. He;s one of the youngest players in this draft class and his measurables will surely make him even more alluring. What’s important for him, however, is his speed. If he runs below a 4.6 (he’s projected between a 4.65 and 4.7 right now), his stock will soar. He’ll be on the Bucs radar, but how he tests athletically will determine whether that’s in the first or second round.
ALABAMA TE O.J. HOWARD
The Buccaneers would like to take an outside receiver, but if Davis, Ross and Clemson’s Mike Williams are all off the board by pick 19, there’s a chance they look at a different kind of receiver weapon. If Tampa looks at the tight end position, Howard should be at the top of their list. How he tests athletically will go a long way into telling if he, too, will be available for Tampa Bay in the first round. If he runs anything in the 4.5’s and can jump both vertically and board in the top 10 percentile, he might be gone by the time the Bucs hit the clock.
Alabama TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: Getty Images
OHIO STATE WR CURTIS SAMUEL Samuel was another player who commanded an entire defense’s attention when he got the ball in his hands. His coach, Urban Meyer, compared him to another athletic freak in wide receiver Percy Harvin. Samuel, like Harvin, played both receiver and running back in college. He’ll follow Harvin’s footsteps and make the transition to receiver for the NFL. This week we’ll get to see just how athletic he really is, and if it’s eye-popping enough, he could be a dynamic Top 50 selection.
VIRGINIA TECH WR ISAIAH FORD
Ford is a player who some Bucs fans might be unfamiliar with, but that could change rather quickly after this weekend. Ford was one of the better deep ball receivers in the country this year and if he runs at speed relative to the other top deep threat receivers in this class, he’s a player who could gain a lot of steam for the Buccaneers to pick up in the second round to compliment Evans.
STANFORD RB CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY
Following his 2,000-yard rushing year in 2015, some people think McCaffrey had a down year in 2016 because of lack of hype. This is not the case. In fact, McCaffrey had an even better yards per carry average and more touchdowns than his did the year before. He’s great with the ball in his hands, but for such a patient running, some people question his athleticism for some reason. I think he puts that to rest this weekend, and give the Bucs a legitimate argument for taking him at No. 19.
TOLEDO RB KAREEM HUNT
Hunt isn’t in the same category is Cook, McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette and in terms of draft hype, but his skill set is just as well-rounded. Hunt dominated his competition in the MAC with nearly 5,000 career rushing yards and 44 touchdowns over four years, and now gets the chance to test side-by-side with the best running back from the Power 5 conferences. If he can stay with them, he’ll be a steal in the second or third round.
TEMPLE RB JAHAD THOMAS
When we talk about sleepers, we’re talking about player who might not be complete prospects, but could be considered very good or elite in one area of their game. For Thomas, that area is in explosive plays, an area the Buccaneers are coveting hard this offseason. I’m interested to see how he runs both in a straight line with the 40-yard dash and with quickness in the cone drill. he might be a home run hitter they can get later in the draft.
KENTUCKY RB STANLEY “BOOM” WILLIAMS
I mean, how can you not like a speed running back with the nickname “Boom?” Williams has been a spell back throughout his three years at Kentucky, but this year eclipse the 1,000=yard mark for the first time in his career. He’s never averaged less than 6.0 yards per carry, which is a tell-tale sign of big play potential. We’ll see how speedy he really is this week.
WR Quincy Adeboyejo – Photo by: Getty Images
OLE MISS WR QUINCY ADEBOYEJO
Adeboyejo was overshadowed by a lot of talented recievers during his time at Ole Miss. First it was Laquon Treadwell last year, then Damore’ea Stringfellow and Evan Engram this season. For that reason, Adeboyejo’s stats a pretty pedestrian. However, when I saw him practice during East-West Shrine Game week, he was the best wide receiver there. His feet were lightning quick, and he made chumps out of most of the defensive backs there. If he test anywhere above average, I’d be taking a good hard look at him as a Day 3 guy.
ALABAMA WR ARDARIUS STEWART
When it comes to the Alabama offense, Jalen Hurts got attention, Bo Scarborough got attention, Calvin Ridley got attention, O.J. Howard got attention, but Stewart (for whatever reason) never did. Now he gets the chance to prove why he was a dynamic part of Alabama’s offense for the past two seasons. I think he’ll turn some heads with how well he tests.
MIAMI WR STACY COLEY
Coley is a must-watch for all Bucs fans. After being the Canes No. 1 deep threat option for years, Coley was invited to go to the East-West Shrine Game where he was slated to be the top receiver there. However, according to reports, Coley was a no-show that week due to “immaturities”. So, instead, this weekend will be the first good look we get of Coley compared to his draft classmates. Coley never had more than 1,000 yards in a single season, but he did average 17.9, 14.7 and 12.0 yards per catch in three of his four years in Miami.
OHIO STATE WR NOAH BROWN
When Brown declared for the draft this offseason, it came as a bit of a surprise. The Buckeyes redshirt sophomore only has 33 catches and 411 yards to his career in basically one season of action. He does, however, also have seven touchdowns in that limited amount of time, three of which came in one game. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, he’s an ideal prototype receiver. How athletic he test will determine how early a team wants to take a chance on him.
Drake TE Eric Saubert – Photo by: Scott Reynolds/PR
DRAKE TE ERIC SAUBERT In a tight end class that is loaded with talent, picking up Saubert in Day 3 could be considered a steal of a pick when it’s all said and done. if the draft works out to where the Buccaneers have not taken a tight end by rounds 5 and six, Saubert would be a great option. he was the best tight end at the East-West Shrine Game, and showed that he could not only hang with, but even perform better than Power 5 players. This week he gets his chance to show if he’s athletically on their level.
TEXAS A&M WR SPEEDY NOIL
Noil, like Adeboyejo, was overshadowed by a lot of receiving talent while in College Station. Noil didn’t develop as a receiver as quickly or as naturally as coaches may have wanted him to (he was recruited as an athlete), but that doesn’t mean the natural athletic talent isn’t still there; he’s just young. If Noil proves he’s one of the most athletic players in this class, some team is going to take a chance on him late, and it could very well be the Bucs.
BAYLOR WR KD CANNON
Cannon was one of the top deep ball receivers in the entire country, plain and simple. He caught 87 passes this year for 1,215 yards on a 14.0 yards per catch average. He also recorded 13 touchdowns. He has a knack for finding open space, and is stronger at the catch point than “just a deep threat” receiver label would warrant. He’s had some drops, though. Straight line speed is his game. We all just want to see how fast he really is compared to his peers.
WEST VIRGINIA WR SHELTON GIBSON
It’s hard to call Gibson a sleeper at this point, but he’s still a projected Day 3 pick, so we’ll categorize him as such, for now. Only one player in all of college football caught more 40+ yards catches last season than Gibson and that was Western Kentucky’s Taywan Taylor. Gibson is the best overall receiver of this sleepers bunch. he runs a variety of different routes, not just vertical and post routes and is clean in and out of cuts. That means he should test very well across the board in running drills. If he does and checks all those boxes, the Bucs should be higher on him than just about any other team.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: email@example.com