Which B1G players will get biggest boost from combine?
With the NFL Scouting Combine in full swing, the only major question worth asking is who will benefit the most?
There figures to be a ton of B1G players that will put some more money in their pocket with their performances this week in Indianapolis.
Here are my five picks to do just that:
Eli Apple, Ohio State CB — It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle at Ohio State. With 14 guys competing at the combine, Apple might be viewed as just another fringe first-rounder. But Apple has explosiveness that will be highlighted in Indianapolis. Physically, he looks like he’s in the best shape of his life after training at EXOS in San Diego. Apple might be young, but he’s played in plenty of big games and has good tape against elite competition. There’s a market in this draft for an elite, NFL-ready cover corner. Apple fits that bill. He’s going to show scouts that he’s worthy of a mid first-round selection.
Anthony Zettel, Penn State DL — I think people forget how much of a physical freak Zettel is. He might not have had the senior year some were expecting him to. In fact, Zettel’s draft stock likely took a hit because of Carl Nassib and Austin Johnson both exploding. But keep in mind that Zettel is the one who tackles trees and trains with mixed martial arts. He does things that most linemen shouldn’t be able to do. The combine is the perfect place for his unique skill set to shine. Zettel has been slotted as a possible fifth or sixth-rounder, but if he’s able to place in the upper echelon of the weekend drills, don’t be surprised if Penn State’s defensive line trio is all off the board by the middle of the fourth round.
Jihad Ward, Illinois DL — Ward was built for the combine. There’s a reason he dazzled so much at the Senior Bowl. The former JUCO product is still raw as a pass-rusher, but he has the build that scouts look for in defensive ends. He could put up somewhere in the mid 30s on the bench press, record one of the top five quickest times among linemen in the shuttle/40 and we know he can jump. All signs point to Ward ending the weekend with one of the most impressive performances. There are some who have already put Ward into the first-round conversation. After his work is done in Indy, that’ll be a more consensus thought.
Aaron Burbridge, Michigan State WR — Ok, Burbridge doesn’t have big hands and he isn’t going to run one of the fastest 40-yard dash times for a receiver. But I think when scouts actually watch him run routes, he’ll help himself. His understanding of a pro-style offense is going to leave a lasting impression in meeting rooms, too. Believe it or not, there are more ways to improve your draft stock in Indianapolis than by running a quick 40. In today’s era of pass-first offenses, a sure-handed, crafty receiver like Burbridge — who had 85 catches, by the way — is going to rise on several teams’ draft boards, which will make him an early Day 3 selection.
Dan Vitale, Northwestern FB — Vitale had two things working against him coming into Indianapolis. Northwestern isn’t exactly an NFL factory and he plays a position that’s nearly extinct. But Vitale isn’t your typical fullback. He already tied with Nebraska’s Andy Janovich for most bench press reps among running backs at the combine. Vitale is also going to impress with his route-running and lateral quickness for a guy his size. This weekend is going to show that he can play in single-back sets, he can play as an H-back and he can catch passes like a tight end. There was talk that he could slip to the seventh round or potentially go undrafted. But Vitale’s demand will rise enough after the combine to safely make him a fifth or sixth-round pick.