It's popular in some corners to be dismissive of the NFL Scouting Combine, the annual gathering in Indianapolis of NFL GMs, coaches, scouts and 300-plus draft prospects for medical evaluations, interviews and on-field workouts. However, the reality is that the event is an important part of the draft process.
It matters in different ways for different players. For some, the interviews with teams are going to mean everything because they will help clubs make decisions regarding a player's attitude and maturity. For other players, this is their opportunity to dispel concerns about their speed and/or athleticism. And for some prospects, they can move up or down a round based upon a tape measure and a scale.
Here are five prospects who have the most riding on this year's combine.
Allen is an extremely polarizing prospect, and with good reason. From an old-school standpoint, he has prototypical size, a rocket-launcher for an arm and good mobility. He looks the part. But what about his accuracy? Allen had a completion percentage of 56.2 at Wyoming. Some argue it's impossible to find a successful pro in the modern era of football who had a completion percentage of less than 60 as a collegiate QB. Others will argue that he's more accurate than his stats would indicate.
With quarterbacks like Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen throwing with him at the combine, any inaccuracies are going to stand out like a sore thumb because those two QBs are likely to hit the mark with most throws. However, if Allen delivers the ball with good placement and shows off the impressive arm talent he possesses, I believe he will be a lock to be one of the first two quarterbacks taken in the 2018 draft.
Jackson is sitting in a position of strength and what he does in Indianapolis can either strengthen his case as a potential top-20 pick or open more discussions about whether Jackson deserves an early selection after only one season of big production. If Jackson measures in at his listed height of 6-1 and runs a sub-4.5 40, he'll lock himself into the top 20. If he's smaller than expected or significantly slower, teams could turn their attention to Auburn's Carlton Davis instead.
Key is one of the prospects who will need to answer the bell in several areas at the combine. First off, he'll need to prove that he's in shape. Key ballooned up to 270 pounds early in camp last year, which is a huge red flag. He's also had a shoulder injury that will need to check out on the medical side. Teams are concerned about his maturity level, so that means he'll need to dispel those concerns in interviews. And when all of that is said and done, he needs to show explosiveness and quickness on the field in workouts. It's safe to say the combine is extremely important for Key.
We've heard the comparisons between Mayfield and Johnny Manziel, which have a lot to do with their similarity in size and improvisational skills. Now, Mayfield does have some edge to him and he was arrested last offseason for public intoxication, which could be interpreted as immaturity by some teams. That's why his interviews with teams will be so important. If he rubs teams the wrong way during the 15-minute interviews at the combine, it could hurt him, but I think clubs will be satisfied with his character after they meet with him, and I don't think it's fair to liken Mayfield's off-field issues to Manziel's problems.
Of course, size could be an issue for Mayfield with some teams. Like it or not, teams still have standards for size at every position, and Mayfield is at the low end of the spectrum for QBs. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner checked in at 6-foot 3/8 and 216 pounds last month at the Reese's Senior Bowl, but that was away from the scrutiny of a room full of scouts, since he missed the official Senior Bowl weigh-in after a late arrival. Teams will want to take a look at him when he's measured in Indy as they try to get a better sense of his size than they got at the Senior Bowl.
During the summer, everyone seemed to be on-board with Sutton's size and overall talent. While it was obvious on tape that he wasn't a burner, he still had the look of a future WR1. Sutton's receiving totals from the 2017 season were largely the same as in 2016, but the tape just wasn't as consistent and didn't feature as many flashes. He looked slower and unable to create separation. If Sutton runs the 40-yard dash in the low 4.5s and catches the ball well in the drills, he'll solidify his spot as a likely first-rounder. If he runs poorly, he could fall into the later portion of the second round.