NFL Scouting Combine Preview: Players to watch, positions to key in on

The NFL Scouting Combine is set to start this week and as Eagles fans, there are a ton of players to keep an eye on.

With three-first round picks at their disposal (assuming Howie Roseman doesn’t trade any of them), any position is on the table. The team has clear needs that need to be addressed, like safety, defensive line, linebacker, corner, and receiver, and it’s safe to assume that Howie will address these needs through the draft.

Based on Howie’s track record, defensive line and wide receiver could be at the top of his priority list. Despite the team’s attempts to fix the wide receiver position over the past few years, it’s still an apparent need heading into the offseason. Defensive line is another position that Howie values very highly. He’s spent first-round picks along the defensive line even when it wasn’t a glaring need, so now that it falls into that category, there’s no reason to think Howie will shy away from drafting at least one lineman in the first-round.

Positions like linebacker, safety, and corner haven’t been priorities in prior drafts, but there are a few players entering this scouting combine that could sway Howie into taking either a linebacker or safety in the first. Like I said, with three firsts to play around with, anything should be on the table.

Here are two dozen players to keep an eye on this week at the combine, broken down by position groups.

Linebacker: Nakobe Dean, Devin Lloyd

When it comes to linebackers going in the first-round to the Eagles, Nakobe Dean and Devin Lloyd are the only two worth discussing. The team hasn’t drafted a ture linebacker in the first-round since 1979, but these guys are both good enough to buck that trend.

They’re both reliable three-down backers who will make immediate impacts. They’re physical against the run, good in space and pass coverage, and they both have the ability to rush the passer when need be. Lloyd fits the bill as more of a traditional linebacker in terms of frame, standing at at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, whereas Dean barely reaches 6-foot. Nevertheless, they’re both capable of being difference makers at the next level.

Determining which of these backers the Eagles may value higher all depends on how Jonathan Gannon wants to utilize them. Dean would be a great fit as the team’s weakside backer where he’ll be able to cause real havoc as a pass rusher. Lloyd is a more traditional middle linebacker who can quarterback a defense.

Though the tape is a better determining factor when assessing both of these backers, their workouts at the combine could increase their value even further. The hope is that at least one of them is available at 15th overall, but if they both put on a show, there’s a slim chance both are gone by the middle of the first-round. Regardless, the Eagles should keep a close eye on both of these prospects.

Wide Receiver: Drake London, Garrett Wilson, Jameson Williams, Chris Olave, Treylon Burks

This year’s crop of receivers isn’t as prolific as past years, but each receiver listed here brings something different to the table.

Williams is the burner and easily the fastest receiver entering this year’s draft — though he won’t be able to participate in drills due to his ACL injury. London is a great red zone threat and a physical specimen, standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing in at 210 pounds. Wilson does a little bit of everything and is great with the ball in his hands. Olave has been heralded as the best route-runner in this year’s class and it’s easy to see why. And Burks is a bowling ball at the position, weighing in at 225 pounds — he draws a lot of comparisons to Deebo Samuel with his running style.

It’ll be interesting to see what kind of skill set the Eagles prioritize if they end up taking a wideout in the first-round. DeVonta Smith already brings great route running to the table along with sneaky elusiveness and speed. London makes a lot of sense as a fit opposite of Smith. With his big body and huge catch radius, he and Smith could present a lot of issues for opposing defenses. Burks is another interesting fit, with his physical nature and ability to rack up yards after the catch.

Based on prior drafts, it’s difficult to get a read on what exactly Roseman values in his receivers. He’s gone with speed (Jalen Reagor, Quez Watkins), but he’s also elected to go with the big bodied receiver (JJAW). If I had to predict how Roseman will approach this wide receiver class, I’d imagine the fit with Smith will be the determining factor. Truthfully, all of these receivers would pair nicely with Smith, it’ll just come down to which ones are available.

Cornerback: Trent McDuffie, Ahmad Gardner, Andrew Booth Jr., Kaiir Elam, Jalen Pitre, Roger McCreary, Daxton Hill

While Derek Stingley should be an interesting watch this week during drills, he’ll more than likely go within the top-5, so I excluded from this list. The rest of these players all have a chance of falling to the Eagles at 15th overall.

This cornerback class is very deep and there’s not much differentiation between the players listed here. Using tiers to break these prospects up a bit, McDuffie and Gardner are tier 1. Then Elam, Booth, Pitre, McCreary, and Hill come in the second tier.

As far as I’m concerned, McDuffie and Gardner are day one starters and would make a huge impact on the Eagles defense. They both have the ability to play on the outside and they’re scheme versatile.

As for the tier 2 prospects, not all of them would fit perfectly into what the Eagles want to do defensively. For example, both Hill and Pitre played primarily in the slot for their respective programs. The Eagles are already set in the slot with Avonte Maddox. McCreary played on the outside at Auburn, but he has very short arms for the position, so placing him in the slot at the next level may be the best route to take.

That leaves us with Elam and Booth, both of whom would fit nicely opposite of Darius Slay. Elam shutdown some of the best talent in the nation playing in the SEC, and Booth is an ascending player with all the physical tools needed.

McDuffie, Gardner, Elam, and Booth are the corner prospects to pay extra attention to this week. At least one of them will be available at 15 and they all have day one starter potential.

Safety: Jaquon Brisker, Lewis Cine, Kerby Joseph

Like Stingley, I excluded Kyle Hamilton here because he won’t be available when the Eagles are on the clock. Truthfully, I’d be shocked if the Eagles took any of the prospects listed here in the first-round. They all have late first, early second-round written all over them, but they still all have the potential to start from day one.

Starting with Penn State’s Jaquon Brisker, he’s a high-floor player who brings a lot of physicality to the position. He routinely finds himself in the backfield disrupting run plays. He projects as a box safety at the next level, but he shined in coverage this past season, posting a PFF coverage grade of 89.5. If Brisker continues to show improvement in that area during the coverage drills this week, he could push his way into the back-half of the first-round.

Cine is in the same basket as Brisker. A very solid tackler who operates well around the line of scrimmage, but he leaves a little to be desired in pass coverage. He’ll be another one to keep an eye on during coverage drills.

Then we have Joseph, who’s a prototypical split-field safety. He possesses outstanding ball skills for a safety and really excels in zone coverage. He only has one full year as a starter under his belt, so some of his traits are a bit underdeveloped, but he has all the tools to become a solid starting safety at the next level.

EDGE: George Karlaftis, Travon Walker, David Ojabo, Jermaine Johnson, Kingsley Enagbare, DeMarvin Leal, Drake Jackson, Boye Mafe, Nik Bonitto, Arnold Ebiketie

As you can see, there are a lot of pass rushers worth watching this week at the combine. Even the top two guys, Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux, will be fun to watch — though they’ll be long gone by the 15th pick.

Out of the 10 edge rushers listed here, only about half of them will be first-round picks. Karlaftis, Walker, Ojabo, Johnson, Enagbare, and Leal are all first-round talents. As for Jackson, Mafe, Bonitto, and Ebiketie, some of them may go in the second, while some may slip into the third or fourth.

The prospect who may steal the show this week is David Ojabo out of Michigan. He’s a athletic freak who could really cement himself as a top-15 pick with a solid showing at the combine. I’d venture to say he’ll dominate all the physical drills (40-yard dash, bench press, broad jump, high jump, etc.).

Karlaftis will more than likely be gone by 15, but it’s not a foregone conclusion. He’s a bull-rush master and provides so much power in his pass rushes. He could legitimately play along the interior if he wanted to.

Walker, Ojabo, Johnson, and Enagbare could land in that 15-20 sweet spot. Each of them have a solid pallet of pass rushing moves already, they’ll just need a little more polish at the next level before being full-time starters. As for Jackson, Mafe, Bonitto, and Ebiketie, they all have specific roles they could excel in during their rookie seasons, but they’re limited in what they can provide outside of rushing the passer in clear passing situations.

Nevertheless, each of these prospects should be on the Eagles radar. Getting after the passer is the name of the game on defense, and all of these guys have proven to be capable in that area.

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