Players to watch at NFL Combine

By: Joe Pohoryles

The NFL Scouting Combine takes place every year just a couple months before the draft, where teams can scout prospects in a number of drills and interviews. Every year, fans marvel over the player with the fastest 40-yard dash time, check Twitter to read about the weirdest interview questions, and laugh at quarterbacks whose hands are measured 1/8 inch below the 9.7 inch-average. (How embarrassing for them.)

One key member of the Redskins’ draft plans, Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young, will not be participating in any workouts, and will only be there to be interviewed by teams. The Combine workouts are aired on NFL Network, but the only place you’ll usually see them is on muted TVs at your local sports bar. No matter where you watch, Young will be no where to be seen.

While fans will miss out on watching the man widely expected to be the Redskins’ first round pick (barring any unforeseen changes), the team still has five other picks to fill, which could become more if they decide to make any trades. With 330 invites to the combine, a handful of the guys taking the field this week will soon be donning the burgundy and gold.

Most fans’ attention is directed towards the upcoming free agency class (which I will write about in the near-future), but a major part of building a strong franchise is good drafting. The Combine numbers are never a tell-all about a player’s ability, but this week is as good a time as any to learn more about some prospects that you’re eyeing for your team. There is no guarantee the Redskins will draft any of the players below, but when looking at team needs that should be filled, these guys are worth a look:

TE Cole Kmet (Notre Dame), TE Adam Trautman (Dayton), and TE Thaddeus Moss (LSU)

This year’s tight end class is fairly weak this year. There’s no TJ Hockenson or Noah Fant this year, but there are several intriguing options that should be available by the time the Redskins pick in the third round with the 66th overall pick. Former standout Jordan Reed never touched the field in 2019 due to injury, and he was released from the team on Feb. 20, so the Skins are back in the market for a difference-making tight end.

It is presumed the team will pursue Austin Hooper and/or Hunter Henry in free agency, but whether they land one of them or not, drafting a quality tight end could set up the team well down the road.

The general consensus at this stage is that Cole Kmet and Adam Trautman will be the first two TEs off the board, in either order. Kmet played a significant role in the receiving offense in South Bend, finishing second on the team in both yards and receptions. The numbers don’t pop off the page in a vacuum (43 rec, 515 yards in 2019), but he is a physical presence who can block well and should be a serviceable pass-catcher at the next level.

Trautman played in the FCS, but looks every bit like a top college football prospect at his position. Reed was an imposing force for the Redskins at 6’2″, 243 pounds; Trautman was measured at the Combine as 6’5″, 255 pounds. He also reeled in 916 yards and 14 touchdowns on 70 receptions with the Flyers last season. Getting a big body to push around linebackers while also posing a threat downfield is exactly what the Skins could need.

There’s obviously a difference in dominating against Jacksonville University compared to the Jacksonville Jaguars, but if his play can translate to the next level, he could become a steal.

Thaddeus Moss, meanwhile, played a reliable role in LSU’s record-breaking national championship offense. Son of NFL legend Randy Moss, Thaddeus will look to pave his own path, and maybe it will begin in Washington. Moss never dropped a pass in 2019, and would slot in nicely behind a free agent like Hooper, allowing him to develop into a top tight end over time.

The Redskins need a tight end desperately, so any of these guys could boost the offense immediately.

KJ Hill

Speaking of boosting the offense, how about getting another familiar face for Dwayne Haskins Jr. to throw to? KJ Hill is on the smaller side, standing at 5’11”, but is incredibly strong and has been a consistent threat at Ohio State for the past couple years. He caught 57 passes for 617 yards and 10 touchdowns, but had even better numbers in 2018 with Haskins under center. In 2018, he had 885 yards on 70 receptions (twice as many receptions as breakout rookie Terry McLaurin had in 2018, and nearly 200 more yards).

With McLaurin leading the way, and Steven Sims Jr. looking like a strong all-purpose threat, the Redskins could continue to build on an already young receiving core by bringing in a receiver Haskins already has rapport with.

There’s no guarantee Hill will be the next McLaurin, and that should not be the expectation. If he can develop into a reliable option, then the Redskins should be thrilled to take him if he is still around in the early fourth round.

Mid-round OL

With the uncertainty surrounding Trent Williams, and Brandon Scherff and Ereck Flowers about to enter free agency, the team could lose a couple important bodies on the offensive line. Hopefully, at least one of the two free agents return. Ideally, Williams agrees to play and both Scherff and Flowers re-sign, but in any case, O-line depth would be much needed, especially with the injury history of this team.

It’s difficult for a non-scout to compare the abilities of linemen based on a few Combine drills, but these are names that are at least worth looking out for in headlines.

One guy that comes to mind who could be available in the fourth/fifth round is South Carolina State’s Alex Taylor. At 6’8″, 308 pounds with an 88″ wingspan, this guy is an absolute monster. From what I’ve read up on him, it appears his technique could use some work, and his legs could get stronger, which is why he is popping up in the 4-5 round range. He would not be a viable starter right away, but if developed correctly, he could become a stud in the next couple of years.

Another option is Jonah Jackson of Ohio State. The Redskins offense would begin to turn into the Buckeyes, but Jackson spent the bulk of his career at Rutgers before transferring to OSU to play out his final season. While he never played with Haskins, he would be a welcome addition to an offensive line that has a lot of question marks.

Jackson’s ceiling may not be as high as the early round linemen, but his floor appears to be that of a solid NFL starter, which is the most you can ask for in a fifth round pick. He has experience at center and guard, and scouts have raved about his football IQ. He performed well at a top tier college program, and looks like a solid add for the Skins.

There are certainly other names, and the Redskins moves in free agency should further influence the types of players they will look for on draft day, but if you’re looking to find some interest in the NFL Combine, keep track of these guys.

(Cover Photo Credit: CBS Sports)

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