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NFL Scouting Combine: Under-the-radar storylines to watch

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The list of participants for the NFL Scouting Combine has been announced, allowing us to examine some under-the-radar storylines to follow during the event.


» Prospects invited to the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine


A long road

Besides possibly being the best punter available, Portland State's Kyle Loomis has a back story that causes folks to sit up and take notice.

Loomis is 27 years old -- numerous 27-year-olds in the NFL have just finished their sixth or seventh pro season -- and has taken a circuitous route to get here. He was Oregon State's punter as a true freshman in 2006, but was unhappy and left school in the summer of 2007.

Almost a year later, in July 2008, he joined the Army. He served almost four years in the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, N.C., though two surgeries kept him mostly behind a desk.

He received a medical discharge in February 2012 and went to work for the Oregon Department of Transportation for six months. He regained his love of football and walked on at Portland State in 2013. He became the Vikings' punter that fall and averaged 46.5 yards. He averaged 46.0 yards this past season, when 30 of his 75 punts went at least 50 yards and 32 of them were downed inside the 20.

Loomis is one of seven punters who has been invited to the combine.

Who is that guy?

Two FCS quarterbacks at the combine have interesting back stories.

Southeastern Louisiana's Bryan Bennett played two seasons with the Lions; he threw for 5,522 yards and 39 touchdowns and rushed for 1,715 yards and 31 TDs. He only played two seasons because his first two were spent at Oregon. Bennett (listed at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds) was the quarterback Marcus Mariota beat out to earn the starting job at Oregon in 2012. Bennett was considered the better runner at the time, with Mariota being the better passer. Bennett went to the Senior Bowl but did not stand out.

The other FCS quarterback at the combine is Prairie View's Jerry Lovelocke (6-5, 200). He threw for 16 TDs and ran for 10 more in 2014 for Prairie View, a Texas school that hasn't had a player drafted since 1969. Prairie View does have some famous football-playing alums, among them Hall-of-Fame safety Ken Houston and star wide receiver Otis Taylor. Lovelocke is a long shot to get drafted, but he has a nice arm and his height is a big selling point.

No time on the field

Two combine participants didn't play a down of college football in 2014.

Notre Dame wide receiver DaVaris Daniels was suspended in August, when the school began to investigate academic fraud, and he left school in October. He applied for early entry into the draft. Daniels (6-1, 203) had 49 catches for 745 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013, and was expected to be the Irish's go-to receiver this past season. Daniels' dad is Phillip Daniels, who starred at Georgia before playing defensive end for 15 seasons in the NFL.

Dorial Green-Beckham (6-6, 225) will be one of the most polarizing prospects in the draft. He is the No. 17 overall prospect in NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah's rankings, and fellow analyst Lance Zeirlein has him as one of the most freakish athletes in the draft. At the same time, Zeirlein quotes an NFC director of personnel saying Green-Beckham's off-field issues are a big red flag. "Why would you take a guy like that before the third day?" the exec asked. He was kicked out of Missouri last spring and transferred to Oklahoma, but didn't play in 2014.

On the mend

Numerous combine participants are coming back from injuries that cut their college season short.

WR Dres Anderson, Utah: Anderson, the son of former NFL WR Willie "Flipper" Anderson, suffered a knee injury in late October and missed the rest of the season.

OLB Neiron Ball, Florida: Ball suffered a knee injury in mid-November that required microfracture surgery. He also has an inspiring back story: Both of Ball's parents died before he was 10 (one from a heart attack, one from cancer) and he missed the 2011 season because of a rare condition that caused blood vessels in his brain to rupture; he recovered from brain surgery and was able to return to the field in 2012.

DT Christian Covington, Rice: Covington missed the final three games of the season after having surgery Nov. 11 for a dislocated kneecap. At the time, it was expected his rehab would take six months. His dad, Grover Covington, is in the CFL Hall of Fame as a defensive end.

WR Stefon Diggs, Maryland: He missed the final month of the season and a bowl game with a lacerated kidney. Diggs, a big-play threat, also missed the second half of the 2013 season with a broken leg.

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CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon: Ekpre-Olomu, who went into the season considered the nation's top cornerback but had an uneven senior year, missed the Ducks' participation in the two playoff games with a knee injury.

RB Todd Gurley, Georgia: Gurley, who had been considered the top running back in the nation, suffered a torn ACL in mid-November and missed the Bulldogs' final three games.

QB Connor Halliday, Washington State: He suffered broken bones in his ankle and leg in early November. At the time, it was thought he would not be 100 percent healthy again until sometime this spring.

CB Byron Jones, Connecticut: He suffered a shoulder injury in late October and missed the rest of the season. His size (6-1, 196) and his versatility (he began his career at safety before moving to corner) make him an intriguing prospect.

OT Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M: Ogbuehi's senior season didn't match the preseason hype, but he remains a top tackle prospect despite suffering a torn ACL in a late-December bowl win over West Virginia. He has said he will participate only in the bench press at the combine.

Where did he come from?

Massachusetts tight end Jean Sifrin is another who has not taken a normal route to the combine.

Like Kyle Loomis, Sifrin -- who was born in the Bahamas -- is 27 years old. He played basketball and football at powerhouse Miami Norland -- other former Norland players in this draft include Miami tailback Duke Johnson and UM offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, and Pittsburgh Steelers star Antonio Brown is another ex-Norland player - but dropped out in 2005, his senior year, to work.

He eventually received his GED and decided he wanted to give college a try. He attended two junior colleges, one in New York and one in California; UMass found him at El Camino CC in California, where he played the 2013 season.

Sifrin had 42 receptions for 642 yards (15.3 yards per catch) and six TDs this past season at UMass; he then decided to enter the draft a year early.

He was listed at 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds by UMass, and for a guy that big, he moves well and is surprisingly agile. While raw, he has good hands and put up solid stats in UMass' pass-happy offense (the Minutemen coach is former NFL assistant Mark Whipple).

He is looking to become the second consecutive UMass tight end to go in the draft; Rob Blanchflower went in the seventh round to Pittsburgh in 2014.

Small-school standouts

There are two Division II players and one from Division III at the combine. Harding (Ark.) wide receiver Donatella Luckett and Newberry (S.C.) linebacker Edmond Robinson are the D-2 guys, and Hobart offensive lineman Ali Marpet is the D-3 participant.

Luckett (6-0, 206), who was at the Senior Bowl, started his college career as a running back, but was moved to receiver as a sophomore and was a three-year starter. Harding is a run-first (and run-second) team and Luckett finished his career with just 79 receptions, but 15 went for touchdowns. His speed is a huge selling point: He ran the 100 meters for Harding and qualified for the NCAA Division II track championships; his best time in the 100 meters is 10.44 seconds.

Marpet (6-4, 307) also was at the Senior Bowl and handled himself well. While he played tackle in college, he seems likely to move inside in the NFL. He has been clocked as fast as 4.91 seconds in the 40-yard dash and showed at the Senior Bowl that he has the needed strength to play guard or even center. He was a three-year starter at Hobart. A guy who grew up in Hastings-on-the-Hudson, N.Y., and played collegiately at Hobart might not sound like a guy who can play in the NFL, but Marpet is an exception.

Robinson (6-3, 244) was one of two D-2 players at the East-West Shrine Game. He grew up on Wadmalaw Island, S.C., which has a land area of about 40 square miles and has around 2,600 people, but he won't be awed by his surroundings in Indy. Robinson is a good athlete and played outside linebacker at Newberry, but he was not asked to rush the passer or do much blitzing. Instead, he often dropped into coverage. In some respects, then, he is the opposite of most athletic college outside linebackers; generally, they have been asked to rush the passer and need work in coverage. Robinson looks to be the opposite.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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