Josh Jacobs will have the opportunity in Indianapolis to establish himself as the best running back in this year's draft class
The 2019 NFL Scouting Combine is set to get underway starting on Tuesday. As it is every year, there are a ton of intriguing prospects available that will have the opportunity to improve their chances of becoming an early-round pick in late April.
Whether it’s on the field or off it, the Combine is designed to put players through interviews and physical testing to determine whether they’re a fit or not. Included in that conversation are the following five offensive players who fans should be on the lookout as the proceedings unfold in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
1. Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
Murray has been one of, if not the most talked about draft prospects during the offseason. Yes, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner has proven to be a dynamic player on the field, but that doesn’t mean he’s without concerns.
The first question that Murray will to need answer is related to his size. According to the Oklahoma Sooners’ official website, he was listed at 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, which would already make him the smallest quarterback in the NFL. To make matters worse, there have been several people who have speculated that even those unimpressive numbers are fudged.
I’m interested in what happens to Kyler Murray, mainly because he’s not 5’10. Talk to anyone who’s been around him and he’s closer to 5’8.— Andrew G. Haubner (@A_G_Haubner) February 11, 2019
If he goes into the NFL and succeeds at the position then the position itself is about to change forever.
There’s no doubt that Murray can play. During his one year as the starter, he showed off an excellent arm and rare athleticism for the position. But if teams see that he’s closer to the 5-foot-8 range, it could ultimately hurt his draft stock – because decision-makers in the NFL can’t help themselves when it comes to measurables.
The other concern – one that some would argue is a lot more important – about the two-sport star is his commitment to football. At this point, it’s well known that the Oakland Athletics drafted Murray ninth overall last June in the MLB draft. It’s also known that despite originally planning to only play football for one more season, Murray has decided to pursue a career on the gridiron.
It’s been tough for evaluators to get a proper read on Murray, and NFL teams will do their due diligence with his commitment level prior to spending a first-round pick on him.
2. Josh Jacobs/Damien Harris, RBs, Alabama
Alabama fans will get to see not one, but two former running backs at the Combine this year. The loss of Harris was expected given his senior standing, but Jacobs, a junior, declaring early for the draft came as a surprise to the casual observer.
However, if you’ve seen Jacobs on film, it’s easy to see why he decided to put his name in this draft. The 5-foot-10, 216-pound ball carrier has a complete skill set that should effectively transition to the NFL. Jacobs brings a punishing style of running along with rare suddenness and vision, which should allow him to become a dynamic weapon in both the run and passing games for a team.
There’s also the fact that these Alabama running backs don’t have the typical usage that most do coming out of college. Jacobs only saw 299 touches (251 rushing, 48 receiving) during his three-year stint in Tuscaloosa.
Harris, on the other hand, averaged 132.3 touches per year during his four seasons. To put that in perspective, other SEC running backs such as Kentucky’s Benny Snell Jr. (255.3 touches) and Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams (222 touches) averaged far more.
3. Tytus Howard, OT, Alabama State
One of the biggest obstacles that small-school prospects face during the draft evaluation process is their level of competition. Sure, the dominance was on full display against lower-tiered schools, but could that player sustain that level of success against higher competition?
It’s a fair question, too. The good news for a guy like Howard is that there are some recent examples to prove it’s possible.
A perfect example would be Ali Marpet, the starting left guard for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He played his college ball at a Division III school by the name of Hobart. And like Howard, there were some concerns about how Marpet would do against NFL-caliber players. So far, he’s proven his worth – and then some. According to Pro Football Focus, Marpet was the league’s eighth-ranked offensive guard in 2018 with a 73.2 overall grade.
Other recent examples include Philadelphia Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert (North Dakota State) and Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard (South Carolina State).
Howard has a lot to prove at the Combine, but with his ability to be fluid in his movements, he should stand out above his peers from more well-known programs. Already possessing appealing size (6-5, 322), if Howard can continue to develop his physique and add lower-body strength, he’s got the ability to emerge as a future starter as an NFL book end.
4. Jalen Hurd, WR, Baylor
Hurd is one of the more interesting offensive prospects in the 2019 draft class. The former Tennessee running back-turned-Baylor wide receiver brings a lot of size (6-4, 227) to go along with some likable athletic traits.
For obvious reasons, Hurd isn’t a refined route-runner after spending most of his playing career at running back, but the good news is that experience allows him to be comfortable making plays after the catch. He possesses excellent hands, which could help him develop his ability to go up and win 50-50 balls more frequently.
The physical gifts are certainly there, but there still may be some questions surrounding his departure from Tennessee. From a size and rawness standpoint, he’s got some similarities to former quarterback-turned-receiver Terrelle Pryor. Since making the move in 2015, Pryor has shown flashes at his new position – which includes a 1,000-yard season in '16.
Considering Hurd has already made the transition, he could develop into an effective weapon a lot sooner is his career while also eliminating the inconsistencies that Pryor’s time in the NFL has included.
Keep a look out for Hurd at the Combine. If he tests well and gets a few questions answered, he could end up being an early Day 3 – maybe even late Day 2 – selection.
5. Jordan Ta’amu, QB, Ole Miss
We’ve seen a few Day 3 prospects emerge as quality starting quarterbacks in the NFL recently. Kirk Cousins, a fourth-round pick by the Washington Redskins back in 2012, signed a free agent contract worth $84 million over three years with the Minnesota Vikings last March.
Then, there’s Dak Prescott. The Dallas Cowboys were searching for a successor for Tony Romo prior to the 2016 season, which is why they elected to take the Mississippi State quarterback at No. 135 overall in that draft. Three seasons later, Prescott has produced 11,820 total yards (10,876 passing, 944 rushing) and 85 touchdowns (67 passing, 18 rushing) and has a 32-16 record as a starter.
If there’s a mid-round guy capable of being this sort of impact starter at the quarterback position, the smart money should be on Ta’amu. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound junior college product did an excellent job replacing Shea Patterson in 2017 after Patterson went down with an injury – and subsequently transferred to Michigan after the season.
In 19 games, Ta’amu threw for 5,600 yards and 30 touchdowns while only tossing 12 interceptions. He also added 507 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. The fact that he did it against SEC defenses makes it even more impressive.
Sure, Ta’amu isn’t a perfect prospect, but he’s got workable tools. The accuracy is certainly there, and he’s got more than enough arm strength and velocity to make all the NFL throws that would be required of him. If he can continue to develop his decision-making and mental processing, there’s a possibility that he could end up being the best quarterback in this year’s draft class.
— Written by Clint Lamb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ClintRLamb.