Players such as Saquon Barkley started reporting to the NFL Combine on Tuesday to meet with teams, but the real fun starts Friday when on-field workouts begin.
Eight Penn State athletes are taking part in the Combine this year. Barkley is the obvious headliner, but there are also safeties Marcus Allen and Troy Apke, cornerbacks Grant Haley and Christian Campbell, linebacker Jason Cabinda, wideout DaeSean Hamilton and tight end Mike Gesicki.
The on-field segment of the Combine will continue through March 5. So what should you be keeping an eye on? And what numbers are key to impressing NFL teams? Take a look:
▪ Saquon Barkley will be one of the main storylines of the NFL Combine — which means plenty of love and added hype
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Barkley has the potential to post up one of the best Combine performances ever by a running back, and that’s no secret. He’s already garnered comparisons to Adrian Peterson and Barry Sanders, been part of the conversation as the top overall draft pick and been labeled an “athletic freak” by countless former players and analysts.
In other words, expect plenty of NFL Network coverage to center on Barkley — especially Friday, when the Penn State running back has on-field workouts.
If you look at Barkley’s best numbers while in college, you see why he might generate even more hype this week. (Those numbers include a 4.33-second 40, a 38-inch vertical, a broad jump of 10.10 and 30 bench-presses.) Of the last five NFL Combines, involving 150 backs, Barkley’s numbers in those drills would have placed him second, 15th, fourth and third overall.
And if he falters? He’s still a top-5 or top-10 pick. There’s very little downside for Barkley here.
▪ Mike Gesicki has the potential to post the best numbers at his position
Sure, all eyes may be on Barkley — but that doesn’t mean Gesicki doesn’t have room to impress. He’s currently looked upon as a second-round selection but could improve his stock if his numbers match what he did in Happy Valley.
He ran a 4.54-second 40-yard dash last winter and, if that held up, he’d be one of just 20 tight ends to run 4.55 or faster in the last 10 years at the NFL Combine. But what scouts are really interested in with Gesicki is how he jumps.
His best vertical was 38.5 inches back in 2014. As long as he stays at 36 inches or above, that’d still put him in the 86th percentile of tight ends. Right now, he’s widely regarded as the third- or fourth-best tight end of the NFL draft. With a good Combine, that should change for the better.
▪ Can DaeSean Hamilton’s ascent up the draft boards continue?
No player might’ve improved his stock more at the college all-star games than Hamilton. He went from being a Day-3 afterthought to a potential third-round pick, according to NFL.com’s Mike Mayock.
He’s not the biggest or the fastest, but he showed at the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl that he can ball. He runs crisp routes, can adjust his body well to make the catch and boasts a work ethic that’s hard to top. Hamilton isn’t expected to put up great numbers at the Combine, which gives him room to surprise.
According to ESPN’s Todd McShay, the five-year averages for wideouts at the Combine are a 4.55-second 40, a 35-inch vertical and a 119-inch broad jump. As long as Hamilton isn’t on the wrong side of those numbers, he should be just fine.
▪ Safety Troy Apke, linebacker Jason Cabinda trying to show they deserve to be drafted
Both of these players are considered, at best, late Day-3 selections. At worst, they should be priority free agents.
So, if they want to be drafted, this is the stage to show they deserve it.
Apke was maybe the biggest surprise invite of the NFL Combine. He earned a spot after being named defensive MVP of the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl — so he still has a lot to prove. Based on McShay’s averages, Apke will need to post better numbers than a 4.55 40 and a 6.95 three-cone for an above-average performance. For an elite performance, he’ll need a 4.45 and a 6.85.
As far as Cabinda, he boasts a lot of intangibles that won’t show up at the Combine. NFL teams are aware of that — but they’d also like to invest in a linebacker with better athleticism. For Cabinda, he needs numbers of at least a 4.75 40, a 4.3 shuttle, a 7.15 three-cone and 23 bench-presses just to be considered average.