Jones vs. Pros: A Look at Buckeye Draft Stock Heading Into the NFL Combine

By D.J. Byrnes on February 16, 2017 at 2:00 pm
Noah Brown could improve his stock with a crisp NFL combine workout.

Indianapolis will host the NFL Combine later this month. Until the prospects are tested in various feats of speed and strength, we can only judge their film.

Thankfully for casual fans, there exits a subset of professionals willing to pour over hours of game tape and distill it into a few sentences.

Wednesday, the NFL officially dropped the roster to its annual meat market. Eight Buckeyes were invited, though Malik Hooker won't participate in drills he recovers from hernia and labrum surgeries.

The league also dumped a treasure trove of scouting reports on the combine's website.

We lifted a few pertinent passages (broken into strengths and weaknesses) and asked our film guru, the indomitable Kyle Jones, to draw up his own mini-scouting report for comparison. It features seven Buckeye reports (sans Cam Johnston) as well as Michigan's Jake Butt, Jourdan Lewis, and Jabrill Peppers.

The parenthetical numbers following each player's name denotes their draft grade, which looks like this:

  • 5.00: 50-50 chance to make NFL roster
  • 5.01-5.19: Better-than-average chance to make NFL roster
  • 5.20-5.49: NFL backup or special teams potential
  • 5.50-5.99: Chance to become NFL starter
  • 6.00-6.49: Should become instant starter
  • 6.50-6.99: Chance to become Pro Bowl-caliber player
  • 7.00-7.49: Pro Bowl-caliber player 

All Buckeyes are all viewed at least as potential starters.

WR NOAH BROWN (5.5) Brown is a big, physical guy whose skill set wasn't emphasized in Ohio State's limited passing attack last fall. Without the necessary athleticism to separate from a defensive back on his own, he'll need to hope a team with a creative mind building game plans calls his name this April. His combine performances in the 40, 3-cone drill, and vertical jump will be heavily scrutinized, but as he showed against Oklahoma, his physicality makes him a serious red zone threat no matter the scheme. That aspect of his game alone provides enough value to warrant at least a late-round pick in the draft.  Big receiver who plays like it. Wide frame shields defenders and maintains a catch window. Willing and able to work through traffic and can stomach collisions to secure the catch. Strong hands pluck and secure low throws and balls that sail. Uses size and strength to bully cornerbacks at top of his route when working in the end zone. Lacks desired experience thanks to age, injury, and depth at the position over the years. Targeted just 52 times with 33 catches during his career. Short strider with below average burst off the line. Cornerbacks do not appear to fear his deep speed. Has just six catches over 20 yards.
CB GAREON CONLEY (5.93) While he had a solid year in Greg Schiano's man-coverage scheme, he never evolved into the shutdown defender many expected. He's certainly an NFL-caliber player who would benefit from playing in a zone-heavy scheme. His tackling skills against the run may cause him to drop in some scouts' eyes (nine missed tackles in 2016), but a strong combine showing could vault him back near the top end of a crowded cornerback field. Has NFL size with above-average length. Plays long. At his best when playing with inside leverage and trapping receivers against the boundary. Shades receivers with a basketball stance -- wide base, bent knees and wide arms. Creates challenging throwing lanes to target. Allowed just 37 percent completion rate. Can be a little tight-hipped in his transitions. Pattern-match was just average when facing off against more advanced route trees. Michigan receivers created separation and some panic in Conley with their inside releases and crossing routes. Got caught reaching and holding in attempt to recover.
C PAT ELFLEIN (5.85) Safe a pick as you'll find in this draft, given the amount of film available on him. Scouts know what he is and what he isn't by now, and his combine performance won't do much either way to change that. He's a solid run blocker with enough strength to handle nose tackles from either guard spot or at center, meaning he's a fit on virtually any team in the league. However, he lacks the pure athleticism and length that is so valued by scouts in this increasingly pass-heavy era that his ceiling is likely the third round, despite the fact that he could easily be a day-one starter wherever he goes. Thick lower body. Team captain renown for his outrageous work ethic. Strong leadership characteristics both verbally and by example. Looks for work when uncovered. Smartly alters assignment based on flow of the defense. Not a ballerina with his feet. Footwork can be a little labored at times for the center position. Marginal twitch with short-area reaction time that is just average. A bit of a straight-line player in space. Struggles to come off initial block.
S MALIK HOOKER (6.7) Hooker possesses outstanding playmaking instincts, using excellent body control to break on the ball and make plays in the air. He had some issues against the run, missing a team-high 17 tackles last season, meaning pro teams will look at him solely as a deep safety in their evaluations and limiting the number of teams interested. If he's healthy by then, his pro day measurables will be examined closely, as many will wonder if he's an elite athlete at the NFL level, or if he only excelled in comparison to the level of competition. Overall, though, he's one of the more interesting and exciting prospects in this class of defensive backs. Outstanding instincts help him work ahead of the play despite average speed. Always probing quarterback's eyes for clues. Quick to process and is decisive in action. Flows hard to where his instincts lead him. Raw and still learning nuances of the position. More instinctive against the pass than run. At times can be a step slow to trigger downhill to take on the run. Will take some questionable downhill angles to the ball.
CB MARSHON LATTIMORE (6.52) No one benefited more from the arrival of Greg Schiano than Lattimore, who was dominant in man-to-man coverage in his only year as a starter. The Cleveland Glenville product showed a level of natural athleticism rarely seen in the Big Ten, shutting down receivers and pulling down four interceptions while still learning how to play cornerback. He still has a long road ahead in terms of learning the intricacies of the position, but if his combine numbers back up what he showed on the field, he'll likely be the first Buckeye selected in April's draft. Uber-athlete. Parks under receiver?s chin at line of scrimmage. Uses disruptive inside hand to slow the release and can punch out of his pedal. Patient from his press, utilizing well-timed opening to match the receiver. Wasn't tested by high-end receiving talent very often. Will be much tougher to consistently slow NFL receivers with jam and might have to learn to play some off coverage. Showed slight transition hitch when matched up against in inside release.
LB RAEKWON McMILLAN (5.55) Solid tackler who reads the run game well, but lacks the athleticism to be a star as an inside linebacker at the next level. He was rarely attacked in pass coverage by college offenses, but his inability to change directions quickly will force scouts to question if he's a three-down player in the NFL. Three-cone drill time will be huge for him at the combine, as will individual workouts with teams. Downhill movement after the snap is his norm. Understands angles. Can outpace pulling guards to the spot with his play quickness. Reads his keys and responds. Plays with good anticipation of lane choice by the runner.  Struggles to leverage his gap as a take-on linebacker. Gets widened out of his gap by size. Gets trapped on the wrong side of the block. Tends to play over the top of a block rather than under it.
WR CURTIS SAMUEL (5.73) The biggest question teams have is where to play him. He's likely a slot receiver at the next level but is extremely raw in this regard. His athleticism bought him space against college linebackers and safeties, but NFL slot corners are an entirely different breed. Route-running and catching drills at the combine and pro day will be important to show some natural abilities, as he must get teams to believe he has a higher ceiling as a true NFL receiver. Has crisp feet for sudden change of direction. Long-strider with deep speed to challenge press coverage over the top. Shows defender an exaggerated jab fake at top of his routes to generate lean from cornerback and create separation out of his break.  Plays with some hip tightness that make his play more linear than fluid. Needs to work on release against press. Could get hung up off the line and into his routes by athletic, press-cover slot men. Has unnatural hands that fight the throw. 


Ohio State fans engage in a century-long blood feud with a school up north, who will send 14 players to Indy, matching Ohio State's 2016 mark.

Here's how that school's Butt, Lewis, and Peppers graded out.

TE JAKE BUTT (5.81) Has the frame to be an every-down tight end in the NFL, with an NFL-ready skill set as a receiver. Runs good routes and knows how to use his body like a basketball player to create a target for his quarterback. Also played in a run-heavy offense and can contribute as a blocker in short-yardage situations. However, it appears he won't be a downfield threat that creates matchup problems, although some fast combine times could change that opinion for some. Has NFL size and steps up big in the passing game. Strong hands are like magnets. Can snatch and secure at the catch point. Tough and reliable when working in traffic. Fearless in the middle of the field and understands how to protect himself and the ball while there. A little cumbersome getting off the line and into his routes. Very average athleticism. One-speed runner without many gears. Lacks speed to threaten vertically. Upright into and out of his breaks. Acceleration out of his cuts can be slight. Separation often comes from rub routes and scheme.
CB JOURDAN LEWIS (5.84) Lewis dominated at the collegiate level thanks to excellent coaching and athleticism and was the best player on his team the past two seasons. Most quarterbacks avoided him completely due to his ball skills, which will translate well to the NFL. His size will be an issue for virtually every team, though, given that he's a liability against the run and in solo coverage against bigger receivers like Julio Jones or Dez Bryant. Likely second-round pick regardless of combine performance. Ultra-competitive with an overwhelming drive to succeed. Allowed just seven catches in 2016 for completion percentage against of 23.3. An annoyance from press coverage. Squats on top of his target waiting to punch and impede. Twitchy feet can stick and close to ball instantly when he reads pass. Diminutive frame. Limited in coverage options due to matchup concerns against elite NFL size. Has to work overtime to disengage from physical wideouts in run support. Tape shows small delay in reaction when attempting to mirror an inside release.
LB JABRILL PEPPERS (6.14) Despite winning the Big Ten Linebacker-of-the-year award in 2016, his future is in an NFL defensive backfield due to size. He has the athleticism and closing speed as a tackler to cover the alleys as a box safety and would benefit from playing in a system with multiple schemes and personnel packages. As of now, however, his biggest value comes as an edge run defender, not against the pass. He'll need time to settle in and actually learn one position, as he was moved around so much at Michigan that he lacks the natural instincts to play every down right away at any one spot. Someone will likely fall in love with his athleticism and draft him high, but the big question is how patient they'll be with his development, as he has a high learning curve before he becomes a regular contributor in the league. Athletic and fluid in space with desired change of direction talent. Moves with the changing flow of a play. Willing to sacrifice body to honor contain against run. Jack of all trades. Can play slot, safety or linebacker in sub-packages in any given game. Scouts question his instincts and lack of ball production. Has just one interception and 10 passes defensed at Michigan. Slow to recognize construct of play and can be found playing through a straw at times. Needs better recognition and anticipation to become an improvising play-maker. 

Michigan's highest-graded player: DT Taco Charlton (6.58).

The NFL Combine officially starts Feb. 28th.


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