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.
Nobody takes football more seriously than the SEC and that is reflective in the league sending a whopping 70 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. National champion Alabama leads everybody with 14 players going to the even but plenty of other players from the conference will be under the microscope as well.
Who’s under the most pressure to test well and ace their interviews? Here are 10 SEC players to keep an eye on at the Combine:
1. Arden Key, DL, LSU
An invite like the Combine is made for players like Key to boost their stock given that he should be one of the more impressive players put through the paces. An athletic freak, medical checks will be crucial for some teams to give him the clean bill of health and his length will have enough defensive coordinators interested in what he can do with more time to hone his game. A good outing in Indy could be the difference between a team falling in love with his potential and taking him in the first round or him slipping to later in day two of the draft.
2. Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida
Callaway (above, right) is going to be interesting to see at the Combine if for no other reason than we didn’t see him last season because he was involved in a fraud case at Florida. He has numerous off-the-field issues so if he wants to get drafted at all, he’ll need to come clean and explain things to every team during interviews. He is a terrific athlete so he should test well and could have one of the better 40 times too. He could be a very interesting late-round pick but only if he gets his career back on track at the Combine.
3. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Guice will be looking to prove that he’s both healthy and in the same draft rung of tailbacks as Saquon Barkley. He’ll need to run well in the dash and try to convince teams that he can have a rookie season like former teammate Leonard Fournette. Showing off his hands as a pass catcher and that he can handle a full load of carries will also be major marks to check off on and off the field.
4. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
There’s a good chance that Ridley (right) is WR1 on many teams draft boards and he can solidify that status at the Combine. If he can lay down a solid 4.4 or faster time in the 40 and then look smooth during drills, that should mean mission accomplished for the former Tide star. A bigger question is if he can start to get teams to fall in love with what he can do and land in the top 10 as a ready-made impact player as a rookie.
5. Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
We probably won’t see as many tight ends in the first round as we have in recent years but there’s a good chance that Hurst can be the first off the board at the position after impressing at the Combine. He’ll need to convince teams that being a very old (25) rookie is actually an advantage during meetings and that he still has plenty of upside going forward. If he can put up good times during the running events and haul in every pass during drills, the former baseball player will hear his name early later on in Dallas.
6. Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
There may not be a more polished prospect on defense than Fitzpatrick, who is versatile, fast and smart. He’ll be on the field early in his career given that he can play anything from nickel corner to safety to linebacker but he’ll also need to convince teams as to what his best spot is and how he can be an All-Pro there over the long haul. The former All-American seems like a lock to go in the top half of the first round but he could solidify top-10 status at Lucas Oil Stadium.
7. Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
You could make an argument that there was not a better defensive player in the country than Smith (right), who was a rare star on that side of the ball who earned Heisman votes last season. It would not be surprising to hear that after talking to him and watching the numbers roll in during testing that multiple teams are falling in love with the former Bulldogs star. He is a tad undersized for the position in the NFL but most probably won’t be talking about that after he takes the field for the Combine.
8. Nick Chubb/Sony Michel, RBs, Georgia
These two were a productive tandem for years at Georgia so they will probably go through the Combine process tied at the hip but looking to create their own paths in the NFL. Michel is already rising up draft boards and can make the case that he has the skills needed to be the next edition of what Alvin Kamara was in 2017. Chubb will need to get his knee fully checked out and run a fast 40-yard dash but he could turn into much more than a solid value pick during day two with a good Combine outing.
9. Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama
The Alabama tailback is no sure thing at the next level but he’s got a chance to turn heads at the Combine. That starts when the measurements are taken and goes all the way through to the drills. While everybody knows he’s a load of steam coming downhill with the ball in his hands, proving that he’s got some quick-twitch ability during testing and that he can catch the ball is going to be big.
10. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
If he were a few inches taller, you’d probably be hearing more about Kirk going in the top 10. As is he could sneak into the latter part of the first round with a good effort in Indianapolis and that will start and end with running a quality 40 time to show he’s got the speed to succeed in the NFL. He brings plenty of value as a returner and should be excellent in the short meeting time with teams too.
Don’t sleep on: Danny Etling (QB, LSU); Kerryon Johnson (RB, Auburn); John Kelly (RB, Tennessee); Kamryn Pettway (RB, Auburn); Darrel Williams (RB, LSU); D.J. Chark (WR, LSU); J’Mon Moore (WR, Missouri); Javon Wims (WR, Georgia); Will Clapp (OL, LSU); K.J. Malone (OL, LSU); Frank Ragnow (OL, Arkansas); Martinas Rankin (OT, Mississippi State); Braden Smith (OL, Auburn); Isaiah Wynn (OL, Georgia); Taven Bryan (DL, Florida); Da’Shawn Hand (DL, Alabama); Marquis Haynes (DL, Ole Miss); Kahlil McKenzie (DT, Tennessee); Da’Ron Payne (DL, Alabama); Davin Bellamy (LB, Georgia); Lorenzo Carter (LB, Georgia); Rashaan Evans (LB, Alabama); Shaun Dion Hamilton (LB, Alabama); Jeff Holland (LB, Auburn); Skai Moore (LB, South Carolina); Tony Brown (CB, Alabama); Carlton Davis (CB, Auburn); Duke Dawson (CB, Florida); Ronnie Harrison (DB, Alabama); Kevin Toliver (CB, LSU); Armani Watts (S, Texas A&M); Daniel Carlson (K, Auburn); Shane Tripucka (P, Texas A&M)
— 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.