Plenty of eyes in Indianapolis will be on Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson
Super Bowl LII has been in the books for several weeks and everybody from the reigning champion Philadelphia Eagles to the previously winless Cleveland Browns are moving on to the 2018 NFL season and the pursuit of the next Lombardi Trophy. The first big step in that process comes in Indianapolis where more than 300 future NFL players will be poked, prodded, questioned, tested and analyzed by every team at the Scouting Combine.
After another strong season on the field in 2017, the ACC is sending 60 players to the marquee event at Lucas Oil Stadium and there are a ton of big names among the list looking to showcase their skills in front of scouts, coaches and front office executives. Florida State and Miami lead the way with nine prospects each getting an invite but schools around the conference will be under the microscope.
Who’s under the most pressure to test well and ace their interviews? Here are 10 ACC players to keep an eye on at the Combine:
1. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Forget about Johnny Football or Baker Mayfield, Jackson may be the Heisman Trophy winner who arrives at the Combine with the most diverse set of opinions about him. Some think the elusive quarterback is the second coming of Michael Vick — but a better passer. Others have spouted that he is a wide receiver in the NFL. We all know he’ll test well in the agility drills but Jackson’s throwing session and interviews will play a decent role in helping determine if clubs view him as a potential first-rounder or a mid-round prospect with upside.
2. Jaylen Samuels, TE, NC State
You won’t hear Samuels’ name mentioned among the big names but the Combine will be a big step for the former Wolfpack star to start to actually determine a position in the NFL. He might be considered a fullback by some clubs, a short tight end by others, and a general H-Back by most. In today’s matchup game, Samuels can present some problems for opposing defenses running or catching the ball but he’ll need to prove to scouts that’s he a can’t-miss talent in multiple areas and not just a versatile player. Testing well on the bench and in the 40 will have added emphasis.
3. Harold Landry, DE, Boston College
Landry (above, right) has the potential to move into the top half of the first round or slide into the second depending on how well he does over the next few months. He was phenomenal as a junior coming off the edge but injuries really limited him during his final year with the Eagles, meaning the medical checks on his balky ankle will be of huge interest to teams. He’ll need to check off boxes when it comes to his actual size and athleticism before confirming to teams that he can get back to the form he showed two years ago when he was one of the best edge rushers in the country.
4. Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
Edmunds (right) has been a fast riser the past few months as scouts have dug deeper into what he brings to the table and the Combine represents a chance to solidify him as a top-10 pick. He’s a rare blend of speed and athleticism at that size and it would shock nobody if he was a workout warrior in Indy. That puts a lot of pressure on Edmunds, who will be in town with his brother Terrell, to perform and leave teams fighting over him when it’s time to turn in cards in Dallas.
5. Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
Chubb was arguably the best defensive player in college football last season and has the potential to be one of the few non-quarterback prospects who can legitimately claim the ability to go No. 1 overall. As a result, teams in the top 10 — and especially the Browns with those two picks in the top four — will be putting Chubb through the paces and then some. Chubb should be able to solidify his status as the best defensive prospect in the draft and potentially put some distance between him and No. 2 depending on how he tests.
6. Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
Like Landry, Alexander had a great 2016 but was up-and-down during the 2017 campaign due to some injuries. He’ll need to prove he’s fully healthy with no lingering issues during medical checks and then follow that up by testing well if he wants to get his arrow pointing back up. The former Cardinal has the potential to be a high second-rounder based on what he flashed two years ago but he’ll need to reassure teams he can regain that form and has the upside to be a top corner in the league down the road.
7. Derwin James, DB, Florida State
Based on his terrific freshman season, James (right) could be a future Pro Bowler in the NFL as a versatile defensive back who can line up all over. Teams picking in the top 10 or thereabouts will want to be reassured all is clear on the medical checks given his knee injuries in the past but he’s somebody who just jumps off the tape. If he aces the interviews and runs a good 40 time, you’ll be hearing a lot more about the latest first-round FSU defensive back.
8. Mark Walton, RB, Miami
It’s a crowded year for running backs so the entire position group will be fighting for attention in Indy outside of the big names like Saquon Barkley. Walton (right) is an intriguing talent who was putting up good numbers as the Hurricanes’ top back but missed nine games due to injuries. He’s supposed to be a full go for drills at Lucas Oil Stadium and will have the opportunity to prove he’s a three-down back on the rise instead of a mid-round prospect who’s more of a third-down back.
9. Matthew Thomas, LB, Florida State
A former five-star recruit, a variety of factors limited Thomas’ time on the field for the Seminoles. While he’s a little on the thin side, he’s got the athleticism to be an interesting outside linebacker at the next level and the potential to have a better pro than college career. Still, he’ll need to reassure teams about off-the-field issues and test really well to build up some buzz heading into his pivotal pro day.
10. Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
Cain is part of a quality contingent from the Tigers and will very likely be one of the fastest players to show up to the Combine. That speed is one reason to tune in for his 40 alone but he should be excellent during drills and has a real chance to go higher than most non-ACC fans would expect come draft time. He might not go in the first round like some of his ex-teammates but good numbers in Indianapolis could make him a very interesting prospect amid a crowded wide receiver group.
Don’t sleep on: Kurt Benkert (QB, Virginia); Cam Phillips (WR, Virginia Tech); Auden Tate (WR, Florida State); Chris Herndon (TE, Miami); Geron Christian (OL, Louisville); Kc McDermott (OL, Miami); Brian O’Neill (OT, Pitt); Duke Ejiofor (DE, Wake Forest); Josh Sweat (DE, Florida State); Micah Kiser (LB, Virginia); Dorian O’Daniel (LB, Clemson); Quin Blanding (DB, Virginia); Jordan Whitehead (DB, Pitt); Chad Thomas (DE, Miami)
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.