Let's get one thing clear: There are no perfect comparisons between players. But in scouting, it is a useful tool to find guys who possess characteristics similar to successful pros.
In this draft class, I came up with a bunch of pairings prior to the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine. After seeing these prospects in person and watching them move on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf, some comps held up better than others. Here are five comparisons -- originally hatched while studying tape -- that checked out when I saw the prospects work out in Indianapolis:
Quarterback: North Dakota State's Carson Wentz and Jacksonville's Blake Bortles
Wentz and Bortles both have big frames and live arms, and both are good athletes. They even have similar personalities; they're both laidback with a quiet confidence. Neither player came from a powerhouse program. Yes, Bortles enjoyed success at UCF, winning a Fiesta Bowl, but the Knights obviously aren't viewed among the college elite. With Wentz, there are questions about the level of competition he faced at North Dakota State -- although, like Bortles, he won big at the school. Bortles went third overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, and Wentz has a good shot to go in the top five. The system that Wentz is coming out of will make his transition to the NFL even easier than the one Bortles had.
Running back: Alabama's Derrick Henry and former pro Brandon Jacobs
You just don't find running backs with these guys' combination of size and speed. Both are tall, high-cut runners with a very physical style. I thought their top speed was comparable on tape, and it checked out at the combine; Henry ran a 4.54-second 40-yard dash, and Jacobs ran a 4.56 40 in the '05 combine. Henry isn't very elusive, but if he gets a crease, he's a load to bring down at the second and third level -- just like Jacobs during his playing days. In terms of draft position, Henry will end up getting picked higher than Jacobs, who was a fourth-round choice by the New York Giants in 2005. I would peg Henry in the early portion of the second round. Jacobs was a very, very good player early in his career before fading, and I don't know if longevity is on Henry's side, either, just because of the punishment his style invites. But I think he'll be strong early on.
Defensive back: Florida's Vernon Hargreaves and Arizona's Tyrann Mathieu
I'm very hesitant to compare anyone to Mathieu, because he's turned into such a dynamic player. But Hargreaves and Mathieu have similar builds and frames -- although Mathieu is a little tougher, a little more physical. They were both highly regarded in the best conference in college football, and both have outstanding ball skills. Watching Hargreaves attack the football in the workout felt very similar to observing Mathieu in his Indy workout three years back. Everything was very easy and natural to Hargreaves with the ball in the air. Obviously, Mathieu's off-field concerns caused him to drop in the draft, but there aren't any such concerns with Hargreaves, who likely will be a top-10 pick.
Linebacker: Ohio State's Darron Lee and Tampa Bay's Kwon Alexander
Lee and Alexander have similar body types and are ultra-explosive athletes at the linebacker position; they're both made for the way the game has evolved. They can run and cover all day long, and they're dynamic blitzers. Alexander, I believe, had a legit shot at being the Defensive Rookie of the Year last season if not for the four-game suspension he incurred at the end of the season. I won't be shocked if Lee is in contention for the same award in 2016. The success of undersized, athletic linebackers like Alexander, Telvin Smith and even Deone Bucannon is going to elevate Lee's stock; he has a great chance to be picked in the top 20.
Center: Alabama's Ryan Kelly and Carolina's Ryan Kalil
Both guys are very athletic center prospects who came from powerhouse, national championship-caliber programs. They each played with several other NFL linemen in college. Coaches from both programs said these guys were the glue that held everything together. Both are very smart and very tough, and both are excellent leaders. Kalil ended up going late in the second round of the NFL draft in 2007, and I could see Kelly coming off the board a bit earlier. He's a plug-and-play starter who will be a several-time Pro Bowler.