2014 NFL Combine Preview: Players to Watch

Story posted February 21, 2014 in CommRadio, Sports, NFL Draft by Patrick Woo

Tom Savage, QB, Pittsburgh

A.J. McCarron will throw for scouts for the first time at the NFL Combine after skipping the Senior Bowl while other Senior Bowl quarterbacks Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo and Tajh Boyd have more to prove in Indianapolis.

With most of the attention on those senior quarterbacks and Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel, Tom Savage could turn some heads and open some eyes.

Savage has all of the physical tools and caught the eyes of scouts when he started 10 games as a true freshman at Rutgers. Since then, it’s been a long road for Savage that took him to Arizona and then back to his home-state to play for Pittsburgh.

In Savage’s only year with the Panthers, he threw for 2,958 yards, 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions while completing 61.9 percent of his passes.

While it was once a promising career for Savage, it didn’t end well as the fifth-year senior missed the second half of his final bowl game with a bruised kidney. Savage has faced pressure his entire career playing for inferior offensive lines and it’s affected his development as a decision-maker. Savage also doesn’t have the mobility that is in high demand these days in the NFL but he is a solid pocket passer with the prototypical size at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds. Savage’s big arms and accuracy could wow some scouts in Indy.

Dri Archer, RB/WR, Kent State

Dri Archer returned to Kent State for his senior year after considering declaring for the NFL Draft after rushing for more than 1,500 yards as a junior. Why did Archer come back? While talking to him at MAC Media Day in Detroit in July, Archer told me he was getting feedback telling he’d go anywhere from the fourth round to undrafted. That wasn’t good enough and he thought he could create a Tavon Austin-like dynamic in his senior season.

Unfortunately, Archer battled injuries starting from the season opener and his production saw a seismic decrease. Archer rushed for just 527 yards in 2013 while getting less than 100 touches on offense. There’s no denying Archer’s speed and shiftiness though and the former Golden Flashes star is setting his sights on the fastest 40-time at the Combine that will certainly keep his name mentioned in the NFL Draft circles.

Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State

Carl Bradford did it all at Arizona State, arriving as a fullback and playing some defensive end, outside linebacker and inside linebacker. Bradford’s speciality though is rushing the passer. He is on the short side at just 6-foot-1 while being 241 pounds. However, his production is undeniable. In the last two seasons, Bradford recorded 20 sacks and six forced fumbles. He is a high-motor player and speaking with Arizona State’s other top defensive prospect, Will Sutton, I’m told Bradford is simply “the truth.” Sutton garnered the most attention on the Sun Devils defense but the best player is arguably Bradford.

Bradford is a freak athlete that was on CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman’s “Freak’s” List before the season. In Indianapolis, Bradford will be able to show his burst and acceleration as a rush linebacker.

Other than his size, Bradford’s critics will mention the highly aggressive defense he played in where he didn’t have to make very many decisions, read or react or drop back into coverage. Those will all be questions Bradford will have an opportunity to answer. If Bradford blows up the Combine, he could get into the second round.

Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU

The junior Beckham finally gets his opportunity after leaving LSU a year early for the NFL Draft. He has the bloodlines with his father being a running back for LSU and his mother being a track-star in Baton Rouge. Beckham averaged 19.5 yards per catch this season and was first-team All-SEC.

His counterpart, Jarvis Landry, is also at the NFL Combine and should wow a lot of scouts with his freakish athleticism and hands. Landry may have the best hands in the draft but Beckham is getting more buzz because of his potential upside. Beckham’s hands have improved a lot but he’s also valuable in special teams. Beckham won the 2013 Paul Hornung Award for the nation’s most versatile player after racking up 2,222 all-purpose yards.

In Indy, Beckham will have a chance to showcase his improved hands catching, his agility and acceleration and impress a lot of teams in meetings with his football intelligence.

After the Combine, don’t be surprised if Beckham receives a lot more first round consideration over Penn State’s Allen Robinson and Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks.

Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood

Desir is a small-school prospect that few had heard of prior to the NFL Draft process and all-star circuit. Desir, out of Division-II Lindenwood, which is outside of St. Louis, had a great week at the East-West Shrine Game. That week earned Desir an invitation to the Senior Bowl the following week and Desir continued to garner attention.

His lean but long 6-foot-1 frame is intriguing and his ability to locate the ball and finish plays. Desir had 25 career interceptions in college and showed the same play-making ability against the best players in the country at the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl and in practices.

What Desir runs in the 40-yard dash will be a key as his speed has been questioned but he has elite athleticism and has great burst with his hips that lets him recover quickly on plays. His footwork is raw but Desir performed well in press coverage during the Senior Bowl practices. Desir could work his way into the second round and looks like a future NFL starter. A good NFL Combine will help his growing momentum towards the NFL Draft .

Antone Exum, CB, Virginia Tech

Exum was once viewed as a potential first-round pick until he battled injuries heading into his senior year. Exum tore his ACL in a pick-up basketball game before his senior season and missed the first even games while recovering from that injury. Exum got into three games mid-season but then missed the rest of the season with a sprained ankle and Virginia Tech had two true freshman cornerbacks that were playing well so Exum’s presence on the field wasn’t needed.

He has the size and physicality at 6-foot-1 and 224 pounds but Exum has to show all of the NFL teams that he is healthy. The biggest part of the NFL Combine is the medical evaluations and Exum’s physical condition will be put under the microscope by several teams. If Exum can convince teams he’s healthy and runs well, he will be a big steal in the third round that could work his way into the second.

Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois

Ward is an impressive play-maker that was a first-team All-MAC performer at Northern Illinois after no other FBS school offered him a scholarship. In his senior season, Ward had seven interceptions and 17 passes defended.

He can play both the free safety spot and the strong safety spot along with the nickel corner position. His versatility is a big key and he also has four blocked kicks in his career. Teams will love Ward in the interview process and he’s a very confident player.

At just 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, can Ward hold up physically in the NFL? That’s the question that many teams want answered but it’s proven that Ward can be a play-maker. He had an outstanding Senior Bowl week and with a good Combine, Ward could solidify himself as the third best safety in this class behind Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor.

Terrance West, RB, Towson

West said it best himself, that if he played at an SEC school, he’d be a first round pick. That’s not too far-fetched of a thought. West was an absolute monster in his senior season at Towson rushing for 2,509 yards and 42 touchdowns. It’s been a remarkable path for West, who grew up in a rough section of Baltimore and began his career at Towson as a walk-on.

With a stellar performance by West, Towson advanced to the FCS Championship Game after upsetting Eastern Illinois in the semi-finals. Eastern Illinois has a highly-regarded NFL prospect in quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and Garoppolo told me at the Senior Bowl that West is the best player he’s faced. That’s high-praise considering that Garoppolo also faced San Diego State and Northern Illinois this past season.

West rode the momentum he got from the exposure in the FCS playoffs and declared early for the NFL Draft. West is a powerful one-cut downhill runner who seems to have the size and speed combination that NFL teams want in a three-down back. West does have some questions to answer though with his speed and his background when he failed to qualify academically at Maryland. If West runs an expected 4.4 40-yard dash, he could jump into the second round conversation in what is a weak running back class.

Caraun Reid, DT, Princeton

Reid is as fierce of a competitor as there is and he hit the national stage with back-to-back sacks in the Senior Bowl. Before that game, Reid was turning heads at the Senior Bowl practices. Reid is a complete defensive tackle with speed and power. He was seen as a late round prospect before he drew more raves.

Reid has an Ivy League background and a Princeton degree but is all about football. His passion for the game and competing will draw well in his team interviews at the Combine. Reid has a very likeable personality, an impeccable work ethic and a good resume on the field. He finished his career with 20.5 sacks but showed both a power game and a finesse game as a defender. He has a good toolbox of pass-rush moves, uses his hands well and is smart at diagnosing plays.

Reid is a player that could work his way into the third round as a small-school prospect.

Jordan Tripp, OLB, Montana

Tripp is an athletic freak that played for a good FCS program at Montana. With a good showing at the Combine after a great week at the Senior Bowl, Tripp could work his way into the second or third round. Tripp is a fiery competitor that will test much better with the pads on but his athleticism and intelligence in reading plays will show well at the Combine, especially in the meeting rooms.

Tripp has ideal size to be an outside linebacker at the next level and could become a play-making edge rusher.

The four-year starter has a knack for making big plays with sacks, tackle for loss, and forcing fumbles. While he is a good tackler with solid technique, his strength has been questioned and he can add more bulk to his frame so how he tests at the Combine will be big for him.

Patrick Woo is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email pww5053@psu.edu.