The NFL combine starts on Thursday in Indianapolis, and I'll be paying attention for two reasons: to laugh at the quarterback that scores in the single digits on the Wonderlic, and to hope that a few Spartans can improve their draft stock. Four MSU players received a combine invite this year. Here are the invitees, and aspects of their games they'll be looking to improve.
Greg Jones - Pass Coverage, Athleticism
Jones was a stellar tackler, rusher, and stopped the run with aplomb for the last four years. Because he was impressive in those areas, it was easy to overlook that he could be a liability at times in pass coverage, where a lack of top-end speed and quickness made it difficult for him to cover receivers in single coverage. While Jones has the size to play linebacker in the NFL (6'1, 240 lbs.) he will have to prove that he has the ability to play both the pass and the run. Some scouts see Jones fitting best into a Tampa-2 (mostly zone coverage) system and I agree; I think he'll do better when he can mark an area rather than a man. . He's projected to go in the second round by SB Nation site Mocking the Draft. If he can show improved agility in the 3-cone drill and shuttle runs he could move earlier in the second, but I doubt that he'll move into the first round -- Jones doesn't possess the elite athleticism needed of a first round pick.
Charlie Gantt - Speed, Hands
As partly shown in Little Giants (another excuse to repost that video? HELL YES.) Gantt has the ability to find the soft spot in the defense, sit his butt down, and make the catch. Some NFL scouts doubt his hands, however, as one of his listed weakness is "Will drop catchable passes at times". I'm of the opinion that Gantt didn't have a problem with drops during his MSU career, and if that's the case it should be pretty easy for him to show those in attendance that he's sure-handed. Another knock on Gantt is that he has average speed, so running a good 40 is a must. He's projected as a 4th-6th round pick currently by Mocking the Draft which sounds about right. Good times in the speed and quickness drills will post him more towards the former end of that range than the latter.
Mark Dell - Burst, Speed
As you can see, we have a motif here with MSU prospects lacking top-end speed. Like Gantt Dell can find openings in a zone defense and unlike Gantt the scouts don't have a problem with Dell's catching abilities. What the scouts do question is Dell's initial burst off the line of scrimmage, more specifically he "lacks the short-area burst to consistently gain separation on short-to-intermediate routes." I know I'm repeating myself by saying that another player needs to do well in the agility drils, but it doesn't make it any less true - Dell needs to show scouts that he has the quickness to consistently get space on a five to ten yard out. Even if he has a less than sold performance at the combine he still has one intangible separating him from all other prospects -- the endorsement of Rick Ross. Dell's listed as a 7th round/undrafted selection currently.
Chris L. Rucker - Judgment on and off the field
Hey, a Spartan prospect for whom speed isn't a concern! Rucker's size, speed and athleticism aren't a question among scouts but his instincts are; the line here is "lacks awareness and instincts in coverage to stick with savvy route-runners". Apparently this lack of awareness extends off the field as well as he was arrested twice within a year, once for his involvement with the assault of an MSU student in November of 2009, the other for a DUI in East Lansing last October. Rucker will have to show he's matured in his interviews, but I don't think those incidents will be too severe of a red flag. The scouts say he could be a late day two (read: 3rd round) selection, which I think is a bit generous. I think he'll fall somewhere in the 4th-5th round range, but there's no doubt in my mind that he'll have his name called at some point.
The NFL Combine will be broadcast on the NFL Network from February 24th to March 1st. Charlie Gantt will be there from the 23rd-26th, Dell will be there from the 24th-27th, Jones is scheduled to appear from the 25th-28th, and Rucker will appear from the 26th to the 1st. Here's to wishing them the best of luck in Indianapolis.