What to Watch For: LSU Players at the NFL Combine

Kevin C. Cox

Paul previews the upcoming NFL combine and what to watch for from LSU athletes.

It's that time of year again. The human cattle show so labeled the NFL Combine, where grown men strip down to nothing but stretchy underwear, have their physiques extensively picked over and then get judged on whether or not they are good at football mostly by the way they look. I'm exaggerating... a little... of course. The popularity of the Combine has grown in recent years, as hungry football fans beg for more off season bacon like a dog at table side. It's somewhat of a proving grounds for players and very much an honor to be invited.

For talented college athletes, it's sometimes their first real contact with their future employers. It's a chance to exhibit the type of characteristics of a hire-able employee. We've seen LSU players excel there. We've seen LSU players tank there. The Combine is hardly the end of any player's NFL story, but it's very often the beginning. Players train specifically for it, unlike never before. They are coached up on how to interview, how to run a 40, how to do a standing vertical, how to do a standing broad jump. Many of these things can be improved through pure technique work, even in the couple-month span from Bowl Season to Combine. Others, like the bench press, are pretty much gonna be "you are what you are." Sometimes it's all a bunch of fool's gold. I remember post 2012 Combine when people tried to argue that Michael Brockers wasn't "strong enough." Right, THIS GUY, isn't strong. Sometimes, it's an exercise in proving misconceptions wrong, even to some of the best analysts. I love Mike Mayock, but his insistence that "Tyrann Mathieu was more quick than fast," last year was a bit nauseating. Glad Mathieu came prepared to prove him wrong.

At any rate, expect much of the same. Just yesterday this (really good) profile of Odell Beckham Jr. was dropped on CBS. It's a very positive piece overall, but I read this and semi-chuckled:

Sure, Beckham doesn't have super high-end explosive speed. And at only 6 feet tall, he isn't going to maul people at the line of scrimmage to gain separation, either.

Look, I don't know who suggested to La Canfora that Beckham lacks speed (lol), but it's painfully obvious that at worst, he's not watched a second of him play and at best, he's operating on poor second-hand information. Beckham himself said he's aiming for elite numbers, and sure, every player says that, but he's one that can legitimately back that shit up.

The Players

LSU's been an NFL feeding ground for much of the last decade and yet again, in 2014, we're sending 11 guys to Indianapolis for the dog-and-pony show. I believe only Alabama is sending more. Here are the list of players attending:

Lamin Barrow - Senior
Odell Beckham Jr. - Junior
Alfred Blue - Junior
J.C. Copeland - Senior
Ego Ferguson - Junior
Jeremy Hill - RS Sophomore
Anthony Johnson - Junior
Jarvis Landry - Junior
Craig Loston - Senior
Zach Mettenberger - Senior
Trai Turner - RS Sophomore

The Schedule

There's a nice break down of the schedule here.

Here's what you basically need to know from an LSU-only perspective:

Saturday, Feb. 22: Trai Turner

Sunday, Feb. 23: Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue, Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr., J.C. Copeland

Monday, Feb. 24: Anthony Johnson, Ego Ferguson, Lamin Barrow

Tuesday, Feb. 25: Craig Loston

Paul's Thoughts

Here's my quick and dirty takes on what to expect from each of these guys.

Lamin Barrow

Considered a mid-round pick across multiple publications, which surprises me, a bit. Barrow was a pretty productive SEC player that landed on the 2nd Team All-SEC squad (deservedly or not) this season. He got good reports at the Senior Bowl, so this is his second audition in many ways.

I figured Barrow to be a late-round pick after his performance this year. He's got okay speed, below average size and so-so instincts. A guy like Kevin Minter may be slow, but he makes up for being thick and instinctive. I thought Barrow's play dropped a lot once Minter left for the NFL. I'm curious what he runs. If he does put up a very good time, say in that 4.6-4.7 range, it will help his stock a ton. If, for no other reason, he then becomes more of an NFL-caliber athlete that can be used on Special Teams.

Odell Beckham Jr.

I could be way, way off on this, but I think OBJ solidifies a 1st round grade this weekend. To me, this type of event is made to showcase his talents. I'm guessing we see a 40 in the lower 4.4s. I'm guessing he blows up both the jumps. Then they get to run him on routes and catching the football, which play the strengths of his game. I see this weekend being a big win for Beckham. Like this:

Odell-beckham-one-hand-grab-a_medium

via i0.wp.com

Now, if he's slower than anticipated, or just generally performs poorly, any number of things could explain. But having watched him for three years and the fact that he's so damned explosive in the open field, I can't honestly see him pumping out a slow 40 time.

I bet he gets talk about being a "riser" after this weekend.

Alfred Blue

Blue is a bit puzzling as an NFL prospect. He didn't really get to showcase his abilities much in 2013, and in the early going looked far more tentative as a runner than he did in 2012. He's got NFL size, and in 2012 he looked like an NFL running back. But one has to wonder what a knee injury means to his career.

The plusses here are that he's not overworked. I'm skeptical of his overall vision as a runner, something I thought stood out about Ridley in his time here. I don't imagine he'll pump out a spectacular 40, either. What he needs to do is impress as a pass catcher and in the shorter area quickness drills. A guy like Richard Murphy kicked around the Jaguars' roster for a couple of seasons, and Blue may have a similar future.

Let's hope he surprises with some great numbers, because he's a high character guy that was probably staring at a decision between even fewer carries in 2014 and a tenuous NFL future.

J.C. Copeland

I really kinda wanna just leave this here and say nothing. Because: THAT. IS. AWESOME.

But J.C. is a really interesting guy to project. He's got NFL measureables and skills. In college he was dominant... at times. Then also losing his job to a walk-on. He's a bit more than your typical run-straight-ahead-and-hit-somebody FB. He can catch. He has a little wiggle. So adding that with the fact that he will lay knockout blows, will be intriguing to NFL teams that still feature a FB.

If Copeland could refine his body a bit, get down to the 260 range, he could be lethal. I'm not anticipating huge numbers, but don't be surprised if a short, squatty guy like him pumps out a ton of reps on the bench press. Copeland is a pretty gregarious, emotional character. I could imagine some fun quotes springing from his combine interviews.

Ego Ferguson

Ferguson might honestly be a guy I need to revisit on film. When I heard the news that he was heading to the NFL my reaction was basically, "Well okay then." But all reports are that he's highly considered by many NFL prospects. Matt Miller says here that he's in three different team's top 50. Second round pick? Seems cray to me.

There is a good bit to like here, though. He's got pretty good size. I imagine he'll check in over 6'2", around the 315 mark without a ton of bad weight. He's active and athletic (58 tackles this year). To me, he would completely disappear at times from games. He'll need to answer to that. He's not a guy like Michael Brockers, that could completely wash out the middle of the offense or even a guy like Bennie Logan, who was always hustling. But he might be more athletic than both of them, and that's what'll get NFL scouts' attention.

Ego will have to answer to why he was suspended for the Bowl Game, which was never publicly disposed.

Jeremy Hill

You already know my stance on Hill's decision, and I'm curious to see him at the combine. To me, Hill comps pretty well to former LSU back Stevan Ridley. I doubt he'll blast a 4.4 40 out there, but he's a guy that gets to top speed quickly. And for all the knocks on his speed, people sure weren't catching the guy when he hit the open field:

Arkansas2_medium

via s3.amazonaws.com

Jeremy-hill-touchdown-run-in-the-outback-bowl_medium

via gifsection.com

For my money, you just don't generate so many explosive plays, especially in the SEC, by "not being explosive." Some scouts seem to hate Hill and think he's nothing special. I have no idea what tape they are watching. Maybe he won't be a great NFL back, but he's certainly the best back that LSU has had since Kevin Faulk.

Anthony Johnson

Well all thought this was the year. Johnson had all the look and feel of a guy that was about to step into that Glenn Dorsey stratosphere of dominance. And realistically, his Junior campaign likely wasn't nearly as poor as many say. He still did rack up 9.0 tackles-for-loss. The trouble is, he's a bit of a one-trick pony. He wasn't great in the run game. He, like Ego, disappeared at times. He wants the sexy stats... and there's reason to believe he may not give a flip if there's no chance for that.

Johnson has a first step that can't be rivaled by many his size. His up and down production may hurt though. Will he have to answer the did-you-take-plays-off question? He should check in around 6'2" or over and right around 300 pounds. Solid, not amazing size. He's still garnering projections in the top three rounds. Throwing up some impressive combine numbers would surely help that. I do think he stands a chance of going high because he has unique pass rushing tools that some team may believe they can draw the best from.

Jarvis Landry

One of the toughest, most beloved players in LSU history, Landry will move along to the NFL with a sterling reputation in Baton Rouge. I've long made the case that I see Beckham as the superior NFL prospect and nothing changes my opinion, even the endless highlight reel of spectacular catches Landry seemed to make.

The main issue here is a size/speed thing. In the NFL you can get away with not having one or the other, but rarely both. Landry won't blister the track and he's probably going to check in around 5'11"-6'0" and about 200 pounds. I think his future is at the slot in the NFL. He's going to be reliable, consistent, and tough. He'll block the dog out of you. He'll make a stupid catch. But does that make him a guy that can excel on the outside at WR? I'm not sold.

At the combine, I expect he'll run a modest 40 and test out athletically okay. Where he may shine is in the pass catching drills. That and people will love him. He's such a high character, personable guy. I think he'll nail the interviews.

Craig Loston

Loston is a guy that never really got healthy enough to be the type of player we hoped he would be. I think Craig will test surprisingly well. He's a pretty fluid, natural athlete. He can run. To me, the athletic tools are there.

What hurt him was the lack of instinct on the field. He would often go for bone-jarring hits, when he probably could have made an interception. He took poor angles in the running game. He'd wind up out of position and so on. Considering we've seen other players of his same era flourish, I don't think we can pin this on poor coaching. He's got good size and physical talent. He'll get a shot. He will be drafted. Let's hope he uses the weekend and improves his stock.

Zach Mettenberger

There's not a ton to look for this weekend, but Zach is in Indianapolis, (and look, on Twitter!). Not sure how much he'll even do, but he'll interview and if he's able to compete at all, I think it'd be impressive to scouts.

I think Zach is a developmental NFL prospect. The arm is there, obviously. I think the mental aspect of his game will need some strides for him to be an NFL starter. But there's a good chance he's drafted by a team that loves to throw the ball downfield... and won't need him to compete in the short-term.

Trai Turner

Turner is the guy most were shocked by when he declared. Rarely do OL jump to the NFL after a RS Sophomore campaign, especially not ones that are not even as much as All-Conference performers. So where does that leave Trai?

I think he's a pretty good athlete. His reputation is as a road-grading run blocker. He needs to show out strength wise. But he's got pretty good mobility too. As a HS prospect, I liked him a good bit. I think he may have declared early, but I think he may be a better NFL prospect than we give him credit for. Guys who can block like he can in the run game and get out and pull and trap, can be commodities. I really hope he tests well and gets drafted.

Summary

This will be a good day for LSU, much like NFL signing day. Having the football team's accomplishment plastered all over the television throughout the weekend will only continue our reputation as a place that pumps out NFL talent. I'll be following along all weekend, so give me a follow on Twitter and we'll do a combine dance.

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