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Fantasy prospects to watch at the 2016 Combine

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Super Bowl 50 is barely in the rearview mirror, but the long march to the 2016 NFL season (and more importantly the 2016 fantasy season) begins next week with the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

NFL Scouting Combine

Dates: Feb. 23-29
TV: NFL Network and NFL Combine Live


Combine coverage:

Photos:

Hundreds of young athletes will be taking (hopefully) a major step forward in their quest to join the NFL. And with that step, many will land on the fantasy football radar. While the 2016 NFL Draft will ultimately determine how much stock we put into the fantasy fortunes of each member of this incoming rookie class, the combine is one of our first chances to discover hidden gems.

Take David Johnson for example. Last season he blew up combine, and we later profiled him in our "Prospect a Day" series, helping us gain the knowledge necessary to analyze his crazy rookie season and help you know when to pick him up off waivers. Without paying attention to the combine, this third-round rookie who was also third on the depth chart to start the season could have been lost in the shuffle.

So, if you want to get the leg up on your league mates, or are prepping for a dynasty rookie draft later this year, be sure to tune into NFL Network next Saturday at 9 a.m. ET to watch the drills (or on Thursday at 12 p.m. for the press conferences if you're a real football degenerate). Below, I provide a brief breakdown of the top five wide receivers and running backs attending the combine (based on Lance Zeirlein's prospect grades), as well as 10 other names to watch.

Wide Receivers


Laquon Treadwell, Mississippi, Grade: 6.2

Treadwell is widely regarded as the top wide receiver prospect in the draft (and an option at 1.01 in dynasty) given his production and physical skills. The one thing dogging him among analysts, however, is his long speed. Unfortunately, Treadwell won't be running at the combine so we'll have to wait until his pro day to get that piece of the puzzle. Fantasy fans can still get a sense of his promise by watching him work through the positional drills and other athletic tests, like the broad and vertical jumps.

Will Fuller, Notre Dame, Grade: 6.1

A big-play threat and touchdown scoring machine for Notre Dame (29 touchdowns over his last two years), Fuller will look to show improvement in his focus and catching ability at the combine. Teams will also be interested to see if he's bulked up at all (just 172 pounds at 6 feet tall) and that his long speed hasn't dipped since college. Fuller will benefit from a strong combine, but his fantasy future is as more of a long-term prospect unless we see more immediate refinement in his route tree and catching ability.

Corey Coleman, Baylor, Grade: 6.1

Coleman is among the best pure athletes in this draft class. Case in point, he tested off the charts in several combine events before he even started training for them. While Coleman is listed at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, some scouts are concerned his real size (to be measured at the combine) is smaller than that. Regardless, teams (and fantasy fans) can fall in love with athleticism alone, and a strong combine showing from Coleman will keep him as one of the top five or so wide receiving options in this class.

Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh, Grade: 5.9

Boyd was ultra-productive in his time at Pitt, setting school records in receptions (254) and receiving yards (3,361), but scouts could be concerned about his deep speed. If Boyd can flash in the combine athleticism drills, he could seriously boost his draft stock, as he's proven to be a reliable, tough, pass-catcher. If he shows up in Indy and lands with the right team, he could be a name to circle in fantasy drafts.

Michael Thomas, Ohio State, Grade: 5.8

Thomas checks the size/weight/speed boxes many scouts desire when targeting a wide receiver, but they'll be looking for more refinement in his route-running during drills at the combine. His upside is huge if he can grow into the position, though, so dynasty league players will want to watch his combine tape closely. He's going to be a first-round pick in dynasty rookie drafts, the question is just how high he goes.

Running Backs


Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State, Grade: 7.2

Far and away the consensus top running back in the 2016 class, all Elliott needs to do at the combine is more of the same. A solid performance in the athletic and positional drills will make him a likely first-round pick in the NFL draft, enticing potentially running back-needy teams like the Cowboys, Texans or Colts. He's also the best bet to be the top rookie drafted in season-long fantasy drafts as well, while Treadwell might get the nod as the first rookie taken in dynasty formats.

Derrick Henry, Alabama, Grade: 6.1

While he took home the Heisman Trophy -- college football's top honor -- Henry still feels like he has something to prove at the combine and through the draft process. At 6-foot-3, 247 pounds, Henry is a bruising back who some have pegged as nothing more than a downhill runner. Well, Henry will have a chance to prove them wrong if he can make a splash (at his size) in the 3-cone drill and the shuttle run. Henry announced that he won't run the 40-yard dash in Indy, but a solid broad jump could also sell scouts and fantasy analysts alike on his explosion. If drafted by the right NFL team, Henry will be a name worth watching in standard fantasy drafts this fall.

Jordan Howard, Indiana, Grade: 6.1

Howard jumped from Alabama-Birmingham to Indiana once the UAB football program disbanded, but the jump to a big-time conference didn't slow him down. He earned All-Conference honors with the Hoosiers, and scouts know he is a talented runner with great vision. What they'll want to see at the combine is his polish in agility drills and catching passes (only 24 career receptions in college). If he can show strong hands and good quickness numbers, Howard has a chance to get drafted to a team and make an immediate impact. In the right situation, he could be a fantasy factor in 2016.

Paul Perkins, UCLA, Grade: 5.7

Perkins is a shifty runner, but it seems scouts feel they already have him figured out as a prospect. One NFC general manager told NFL Media's Lance Zierlein that the combine won't tell us anything we don't already know about Perkins: "He's not big, he's not fast, he has great feet and competes." Well, we'll leave it up to Perkins if he has any surprises left for NFL teams, and if that will help push him up some draft boards.

Alex Collins, Arkansas, Grade: 5.7

Collins overtook Jonathan Williams in many scouts' and analysts' eyes as the top rusher in Arkansas, and an explosive combine performance would help justify their opinions. Keep an eye on Collins, as he could push for carries early if he lands with the right NFL team, especially near the goal line.

Other names to watch:


» Carson Wentz/Jared Goff/Paxton Lynch, QBs

The combine drills aren't as important for the quarterbacks, but it'll be worth watching how these passers sling the rock, and as Daniel Jeremiah noted, how they look taking snaps under center." There aren't too many teams that would need to throw a rookie quarterback to the wolves right away in the NFL, which makes all of these guys really only worth watching for dynasty purposes.

» Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State, Grade: 5.6

Miller was a dual-threat quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes, but after a shoulder injury in 2014 paved the way for the rise of J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones, Miller realized his best shot at an NFL future would be to make the switch to wide receiver. Miller is still raw when it comes to the nuance of playing the position, but his athleticism and instincts are eye-popping. A good combine could push him up draft boards, both for real teams and in fantasy. The expectations for his 40-yard dash are in the 4.3-second range already.

2016 NFL DRAFT

Draft coverage:

» Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma, Grade: 5.7

A favorite of our own Matt Harmon, Shepard has been winning over scouts and analysts alike with his smooth, refined route running. While he's undersized compared to what scouts usually look for (he's just 5-foot-10, 193 pounds), a speedy 40-time and good numbers in other drills could help scouts look past his size and more at his skills and precision at the position.

» Josh Doctson, WR, TCU, Grade: 5.8

At 6-foot-3, Doctson is a big wide receiver, but his lean frame hasn't done him any favors in beating the minimal amounts of press coverage he saw in college. Still, his size and go-get-it mentality helped him secure plenty of contested catches, and he possesses really good body control in the air. The combine won't be the best place for him to show off, but top finishes in categories like the vertical jump, broad jump and 40-yard dash could help push him higher in the draft -- and some scouts already believe he will be a first- or second-round pick right now.

» Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech, Grade: 5.6

Hailing from a smaller school has done nothing to diminish Dixon's pro potential, as anyone who puts on his tape can clearly see a dynamic runner with excellent feet. Dixon will help his draft stock by posting a solid combine and strong scores in the agility drills. He showed natural hands in college and an ability to adjust to passes in the air, so erasing any concerns scouts may have about his athleticism would likely cement him as a potential Day 2 draft pick.

» Leonte Carroo, WR, Rutgers, Grade: 5.34

Carroo is a name to keep an eye on, as it seems his stock is constantly rising among both Draft Twitter and traditional football scouts. Carroo has good size and speed, and was able to create separation on a variety of routes in college. An impressive combine will only help this rising star climb hirer in the draft.

» Henry Hunter/Austin Hooper, TEs

Rookie tight ends almost never make an immediate impact in fantasy, but for dynasty purposes these are two names worth keeping an eye on. Last year, Clive Walford made an impression at the combine, and some (including me) are already circling his name as a potential sleeper in his second year in Oakland. Dynasty owners who will soon be losing a Jason Witten/Antonio Gates type from their rosters should monitor these two in the combine, and Nick Vannett from Ohio State, as well.

-- Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexGelhar.

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