These relatively unknown players have to potential to steal the show at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine
The annual NFL Scouting Combine gets underway in Indianapolis this week (runs March 1-7). Interest in the event as well as the event itself has continued to grow through the years, serving as another example of the NFL's dominance of the American sports landscape.
The Combine is a key episode in the ongoing soap opera that is the NFL. This is where we see the professional careers of future stars begin, and sometimes we're introduced to new faces that will eventually become main characters in the football universe.
Today we're taking a look at some of those more unknown players who could land leading roles in the NFL. These are players who have dominated under the radar, but could use the Combine to vault themselves into the conversation of household names leading up to the draft itself.
Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
On the surface, it might appear silly to include a quarterback projected by many to be selected in the first round. That said, the vast majority of NFL fans only know Willis' name from mock drafts. When they tune into the Combine, they are going to see a guy in Willis who reminds them of Michael Vick, Lamar Jackson, and Patrick Mahomes all rolled into one player. He has Vick's build, Jackson's agility, and Mahomes' arm strength and improvisational skills. That all sounds too good to be true, and part of it is. The level of competition he displayed these skills against – as well as the consistency with which he did it – are valid concerns. His performance at the Combine could alleviate some of those concerns and cement him as the top quarterback prospect in this class.
David Bell, WR, Purdue
Big Ten fans are very familiar with Bell. All he did in three seasons at Purdue was haul in 232 catches for 2,946 yards and 21 scores. He's got some of the best hands in the class, and he might even be the best route-runner. What's holding him back from being a higher-rated prospect are his measurables – particularly his perceived speed. He doesn't appear to play very fast, yet all he does is get open, catch balls, and produce. If Bell shows up to the Combine and posts a decent 40 time, everyone's wide receiver board will need to be rearranged.
Cam Jurgens, OL, Nebraska
Jurgens was a three-year starter at center for the Cornhuskers, going largely overlooked due to Nebraska's general performance and results during his time there. He converted to center after arriving on campus, following a high school career where he was both an elite tight end and basketball player. After gaining weight for his new role, he improved his overall strength and lost very little of his speed and athleticism. Long story short, Jurgens might be the best overall athlete of any of the interior linemen at the Combine. He's a little undersized, but if he can put up some eye-popping numbers in speed and agility drills while staying with the pack in all other exercises in Indy, he could go from a late-round reach to a solid Day 2 option.
Christian Watson, WR, North Dakota State
Watson was always recognized as a very good FCS receiver and a matchup problem at the level. Mike Evans-type size and skills allowed him to be very productive whenever he was targeted in the passing game for the Bison. Then Senior Bowl week came, and Watson established himself as one of the best receivers at the event. His stock with scouts and front offices has been on the rise since then, and the Combine will give him a chance to show the football-loving populous that he belongs in the conversation with the very best receiving prospects in this year's draft.
Tariq Woolen, CB, UTSA
Woolen is raw as a corner, having only two years under his belt at the position. The converted wide receiver has an elite combo of size (6-3, 205) and speed, and the Combine is the perfect place to demonstrate exactly that. He can run with X, Y, and slot receivers, and has the size to be effective in coverage against modern pass-catching tight ends. There's even a chance he could move to safety if he can be coached up on helping against the run. He is a project, but his raw talent makes him a value pick for any organization willing to polish him up.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! SBNation and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.