What Does The Combine Tell Us About Fantasy Football Potential?

By Marcella Surra
Marcella Surra

Every February at Lucas Oil Stadium, players are invited to test their physical and mental abilities in front of NFL coaches, general managers, and scouts at the NFL Scouting Combine. As a result in the rising popularity of Fantasy Football, more and more attention is drawn to the NFL Draft as well as how well NFL prospects perform at the Combine, which can affect prospects’ draft status, salary, and career opportunities. Invitees are judged on size, speed, skill, and strength. The results of their performance affect which players are drafted and how teams draft players. Some years, quarterbacks make a big splash and other years, it’s all about the running backs. In 2014, four of the top-ten NFL Scouting Combine performers were wide receivers.

Unlike quarterbacks, who sometimes take years to groom, rookie wide receivers can make a mark early in their NFL career if they are drafted to the right team and put in the right situation. In recent years, a pass-first offense has gained popularity with NFL teams, which has resulted in record-breaking years for NFL passing yards and touchdowns. Hence, the search for good wide receivers has broadened and close scrutiny is paid when talented wide receiver prospects perform well at the NFL Combine. Fantasy football owners who stash top Combine performers on their watch list or fantasy bench can sometimes gain the edge they need to win in fantasy football.

Last year, at the 2013 NFL Combine, WR Tavon Austin ranked third overall. During Week 10 of the NFL 2013 regular season, WR Tavon Austin went on to showcase his talents in a blow-out game against the Indianapolis Colts, where he scored a 98-yard punt return touchdown as well as a 57-yard touchdown catch. With only two receptions, he ended the game with 138 receiving yards! Certainly, WR Tavon Austin is somebody to have on your watch list or at least pick up in the late rounds.

In prior years, the NFL Combine had little or no effect on fantasy football. However, with the advancement of technology, competition amongst fantasy football owners has become fierce. Fantasy owners now receive real-time updates on players’ depth chart promotions, injuries, personal lives, as well as career-related drama. With information at the fingertips of many fantasy football owners, “sleeper picks” are getting harder and harder to come by. Therefore, a closer look at the 2014 NFL Combine’s top performers can only improve owners’ fantasy football draft kits.

This year, of the Top-Ten NFL Combine Performers, four of them were wide receivers. Ranked second overall, behind first-ranked RB Dri Archer, was WR Brandin Cooks, from Oregon State. Cooks is 5’10”, 189 lbs., has an arm length of 30.75”, and a hand length of 9.625”. He was the second-best 2014 NFL Combine performer in the 40-yard dash with a 4.33 time. He was also the nation’s top receiver and won the Biletnikoff Award. In addition, WR Brandin Cooks set the single-season Pac-12 record with128 career receptions for 1,730 receiving yards, and 24 touchdowns. WR Brandin Cooks is blazing fast and is dangerous after the catch. However, he was rated a poor blocker at the Combine. Nonetheless, his good hands coupled with his lightning-fast speed will make him a sought-after wide receiver in the 2014 NFL Draft this May.

Ranked third overall in this year’s NFL Combine, was Pittsburg State University’s (Kansas) all-star WR John Brown, who recorded 124 career receptions for 2,189, and 20 touchdowns. Brown is 5’10”, 179 lbs., has an arm length of 30.5”, and a hand length of 8.5”. WR John Brown was almost as fast as Cooks with a 4.34 40-yard dash time. However, WR John Brown has more versatility as a receiver and returner. He accelerates quickly off the line and is able to stretch the field and make deep catches. Although WR John Brown is a poor blocker and has trouble breaking through tackles, he’ll have plenty of NFL opportunity as a slot man or returner as a result of his sure hands.

WR Donte Moncrief is the next wide receiver on the list of Top-Ten NFL Combine Performers. Although he ranked eighth overall, he has something that the previous two wide receivers did not – height. Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief is 6’2”, 221 lbs., has an arm length of 32.375”, and a hand length of 9.125”. He’s had 156 career receptions for 2,371 yards, and 20 touchdowns. Unlike many super-tall wide receiver prospects, WR Donte Moncrief has good balance, body control, and speed. His 40-yard dash time at the 2014 NFL Combine was 4.40, only .14 seconds behind the best time. He’s fast and agile with amazing leaping ability, which allows him to catch balls in mid-air. WR Donte Moncrief will easily match up against NFL-caliber cornerbacks. However, one of Moncrief’s best strengths is his ability to block and engage. Unfortunately, he sometimes drops catchable balls and needs to improve his route running skills. The good news is that WR Donte Moncrief is only 21-years old and his ball-catching and route-running will invariably improve over time. Although he didn’t rank as high as the other wide receivers, look for him to have a successful NFL career; add him to your watch list.

The last wide receiver on the list of Top-Ten NFL Combine Performers is Colorado State’s WR Paul Richardson, who is not as tall as Moncrief, but is still taller than WR Brandin Cooks and WR John Brown. Richardson is 6’0”, 175 lbs., has an arm length of 32.625”, and a hand length of 8.875”. He’s had 156 career receptions for 2,412 yards, and 21 touchdowns. Although he’s smaller and weighs less than Moncrief, Richardson managed to tie him with a 40-yard dash time 4.40 at the 2014 NFL Combine. WR Paul Richardson is a fast and fluid runner; however, like Moncrief, his route running needs to improve, as does his catching abilities. Unfortunately, Richardson does not as block well as a result of his lean frame. He needs to increase his muscle mass so he does not get overpowered by NFL cornerbacks equipped with years of experience and muscle. Nonetheless, with hard work and improvement, WR Paul Richardson could have a promising career.

The NFL looks for wide receivers with speed, size, agility, blocking ability, catching skills, and decent route running. Although none of the prospects herein possessed all of these NFL prerequisites, they can strive to gain most of them over time. Meanwhile, it doesn’t hurt to keep these players on your watch list. With today’s NFL pass-first offensive mentality, even third-string wide receivers hold promise. Furthermore, you never know when a star will rise. NFL injuries leave plenty of room for up-and-coming rookies. Each one of these wide receivers holds potential. As long as they are dedicated and work hard, they’re bound to improve. It might not hurt to stash a player on your bench if you can spare the space. You never know when one of these NFL Combine prospects will break out and become the next DeSean Jackson.