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 what was in many respects a banner year from top to bottom of the league on the field, the Big Ten is sending an impressive 50 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. Ohio State is naturally leading the way with the second-most invitees of any school but plenty other players from the conference will be under the microscope.
Who’s under the most pressure to test well and ace their interviews? Here are 10 Big Ten players to keep an eye on at the Combine:
1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
The best player in the draft? There are going to be plenty who think Barkley (above, right) is just that. We’ll know for sure after he makes it through the gauntlet at the Combine. Given how many freakish plays he turned in for the Nittany Lions, it will surprise nobody if he tests off the charts from start to finish at Lucas Oil Stadium. He’s a special player and can lock up being a top-five pick during his short stay in Indianapolis.
2. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
The next first-rounder in the secondary from the Buckeyes could have the best overall Combine performance if Ward lives up to the billing in Indy. The jumping and agility drills could be his bread and butter on the turf, making teams forget that he’s just a tad undersized based on the trend of bigger corners nowadays. The 40-yard dash will be a must-see when he runs at the very least and could be enough to be the first off the board at his position.
3. DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State
It’s a really crowded field of receivers but Hamilton has been seeing his stock increase this offseason with some good work down in Mobile at the Senior Bowl and beyond. He ticks off a lot of the boxes that you’re looking for and is going to be much more polished than some of his peers running routes and catching the ball. You hate for teams to put too much into the 40-yard dash but that’s going to be critical for him to help continue his rise.
4. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
Desmond King’s productive rookie season has many thinking that Jackson (right) could be the next big thing as a corner. He’s a straight up ball hawk that always seems to haul in the football when it’s in the air and has the potential to be the first corner taken. Proving he is fast enough with a good 40-yard dash time will be critical but Jackson could be one player that teams really evaluate thoroughly at an event like this.
5. Troy Fumagalli, TE, Wisconsin
There’s going to be a lot of value on Day 2 and 3 when it comes to the tight end position and Fumagalli has a chance to be a steal in the middle rounds. A lot of attention is going to be paid toward his missing finger but that certainly never hampered him at the college level and is really not that big of a deal — yet still one he’s going to have to deal with at the Combine. Strength and speed are two things he’ll need to show off in Indianapolis though if he wants to really help his stock.
6. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
The defensive tackle spot is wide open in terms of order and the Combine will help solidify some guys as first-rounders, including Hurst. His quickness is a big selling point when you watch him and the Michigan man has a chance to put some numbers behind that during drills and testing. Coming in at a good size won’t hurt either and he could really win over some teams in meetings.
7. Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State
In today’s NFL offenses, tight ends are some of the most critical pass catchers around and the Penn State product is well suited to make an impact as a rookie. He’s got a ton of athleticism that will be on full display at the Combine but will need to confirm how fast he is and prove that he’s a little stronger than he looks. He’s not going to mistake anybody for a super in-line blocker but has the potential to go fairly early in the draft with an impressive outing at the home of the Colts this week.
8. Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa
Jewell was a tackling machine for the Hawkeyes and seems like it won’t be much of a transition at all to the faster speed of the NFL given how instinctive and smart he is. He will have to make teams overlook him being a tad undersized but could really help his case by running well in the 40 and other similar tests. Lots of evaluators will be watching Jewell closely when he goes through coverage drills to see if he can move his hips well enough to stay on the field every down.
9. Billy Price, OL, Ohio State
He’s going to get a lot of comparisons to former teammate Pat Elfein but Price probably has much more upside. The Combine is an event he can run circles around others given his athleticism and he might be able to put up one of the top numbers on the bench too. He’s going to be looked at as the top center prospect but showing he has the moves to play guard right away too will only help him move up draft boards.
10. J.T Barrett, QB, Ohio State
Barrett is an interesting prospect given that he had an overall great career at Ohio State but might not wind up even being drafted over concerns about his height and passing ability. The Combine represents a nice chance to go head-to-head with some bigger names during the throwing portion and he’s likely to ace every interview given the kind of leadership skills he displayed for Urban Meyer. Showing that he’s a better downfield passer than the tape says will be a big focus going forward.
Don’t sleep on:Tanner Lee (QB, Nebraska); Justin Jackson (RB, Northwestern); Akrum Wadley (RB, Iowa); Simmie Cobbs (WR, Indiana); Brian Allen (OL, Michigan State); Jamarco Jones (OL, Ohio State); Jalyn Holmes (DL, Ohio State); Sam Hubbard (DL, Ohio State); Tyquan Lewis (DL, Ohio State); Jason Cabinda (LB, Penn State); Jack Cichy (LB, Wisconsin); Mike McCray (LB, Michigan); Tegray Scales (LB, Indiana); Marcus Allen (S, Penn State); Rashard Fant (CB, Indiana); Godwin Igwebuike (DB, Northwestern); Damon Webb (DB, Ohio State)
— 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.