Photos of the 2017 NFL Combine participants.
The NFL has invited 330 young men to take part in the 2017 Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, which begins on February 28 with registration and orientation for the first group of players. For seven days, rotating groups of players will go through medical examinations, interviews, testing and workouts, concluding with the defensive backs turn on the turf on March 6.
Alphabetically, the list runs from LSU safety Jamal Adams to Michigan defensive end Chris Wormley. The players will represent nearly 120 schools, from Air Force to Youngstown State. There will be 58 wide receivers catching passes from 15 quarterbacks, sometimes against a pool of 35 cornerbacks. There are even 11 specialists – kickers and snappers, that is – slated to show off their skills.
No matter how you rearrange those 330 names, they are the same ones, for the most part, that you will hear during the NFL's 2017 draft from April 27-29. Approximately 256 players will be selected over seven rounds on those three days, and if this year's results stick to the norm, about 85% of them will have been at the Combine. In other words, these are the names to know as you ponder who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be adding to their roster in late April.
The complete list of 2017 Combine participants can be found here. And here are a few things to know about that list:
- All but one player listed on Mike Mayock's position-by-position top five on NFL.com will be in attendance at the Combine. Former Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon is one exception, and his absence is due to a violent off-the-field incident. Other players who might be considered Combine "snubs," and therefore could be among that minority of non-Combine names heard on draft weekend, include Colorado linebacker Jimmie Gilbert, Grambling State wide receiver Chad Williams and Western Michigan quarterback Zach Terrell.
- Even without Williams, the receiver position will be very well-represented in Indianapolis. There are 58 wideouts on the invite list, the most at any position, unless one lumps all defensive ends and defensive tackles together. There are 58 total defensive linemen on the list, as well, but that covers several positions and also includes some players who might actually end up designated as outside linebackers. This is considered a deep class of receiving talent, and even though the Buccaneers spent the seventh-overall pick on wide receiver Mike Evans just three years ago, they could be ready to dip into that pool again in 2017. The Bucs are intent on adding explosiveness to their offense and they have often been paired with such receivers as Western Michigan's Corey Davis and Washington's John Ross in the mock drafts. In addition to Davis and Ross, other receivers to watch in Indy include USC's JuJu Smith-Schuster, Clemson's Mike Williams and LSU's Malachi Dupre.
- Each players is given a Combine ID based on position and alphabetical order within that position. Therefore, the wide receiver group will go from WO1 (USF's Rodney Adams) to WO58 (Florida State's Bobo Wilson). However, two of those 58 players with WO designations are also, confusingly, listed under different positions in their Combine profiles. One is Houston quarterback Greg Ward, who will be attempting a position switch as he transitions to the pro ranks. The other is a player that could be of some interest to the Buccaneers: Ohio State's Curtis Samuel. Samuel is listed as an H-back in his profile because he played a hybrid position for the Buckeyes, rushing for 771 yards and also catching 74 passes for 865 yards. At the NFL-level, Samuel could be a Percy Harvin-type of threat in the slot, which would seem to be something the Buccaneers would covet. Stanford's Christian McCaffrey is another intriguingly flexible player who will be at this year's Combine. McCaffrey, however, has been grouped in with the running backs after rushing for nearly 1,700 yards this past year.
- Samuel is a junior who declared early for the draft, and he was far from the only one. Of the 330 Combine participants, 80 are early entrants, representing nearly a quarter of the entire field. They will be disproportionately represented in the early rounds of the draft, most likely. Among the juniors who have a good shot at being drafted in the first half of the opening round in April are Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, LSU safety Jamal Adams, Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, LSU running back Leonard Fournette, Michigan defender Jabrill Peppers, Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett, Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas, North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky, Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore and Florida State running back Dalvin Cook.
- Jabrill Peppers is another player with an interesting position designation, and indeed there is some question as to where his best fit will be in the NFL. Mayock has Peppers listed as his third-best safety prospect but the Combine organizers have put the former Michigan star in the with the linebackers. His Combine ID, for instance, is LB24. Peppers moved around quite a bit in the Wolverines' defense but should get to focus on one position in the pros, while also possibly helping as a return man. CBS Sports' Rob Rang mocked Peppers to the Buccaneers in early February and Buccaneers.com contributor Joe Kania speculated that the Michigan star could fall to #19.
- Unlike the wide receiver position, this year's group of offensive linemen is not considered especially deep. From a sheer numbers, there are fewer offensive tackles set to show off their skills this year, as that number dropped from 25 in 2016 to 18 in 2017. There are five expert mock drafts currently compiled on NFL.com (Daniel Jeremiah, Chad Reuter, Charley Casserly, Bucky Brooks and Lance Zierlein) and none of them have more than four offensive linemen going in the first round. None of those mocks project a blocker in the top five, either, and three of them omit the position from their top 10. Last year, there were seven offensive linemen drafted in the first round, including two in the top 10. If the Combine invite list and the mock drafts are any indication, this could be the first draft since 2005 in which no offensive linemen are taken in the top 10.
- There are also four fewer quarterbacks headed to Indy this year; there are 15 players with "QB" ID tags, down from 19 last year. That doesn't necessarily indicate a weak class, however. There were only 15 quarterbacks at the 2015 Combine, but that group still produced the top two picks in the draft, with the Buccaneers taking Jameis Winston and the Titans following with Marcus Mariota. Of course, Winston and Mariota engendered much more of a consensus opinion about their worth in 2015 than do this year's top prospects, which include North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky, Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer and Clemson's Deshaun Watson. Significant questions, from a relative lack of experience to unimpressive college results, surround most of this year's passers…and that actually makes it a more interesting position to evaluate during this year's Combine. It's likely that the Buccaneers and Titans already felt pretty strongly about their pending picks when they went to Indy two years ago, while this year, QB-needy teams may still be sorting out their draft boards.
- The school with the most participants in this year's Combine is not National Champion Clemson or runner-up Alabama (they have nine and 10 players in Indy, respectively). Nor is it perennial draft-filler Ohio State, though the Buckeyes are still well-represented with eight players at the Combine. The leader by a healthy margin is a different Big Ten school – Michigan, with 14 players getting Combine invites. Surprisingly, Peppers is the only one in that bunch who is a junior. Among the other Wolverines who could go early in the draft are defensive end Taco Charlton, cornerback Jourdan Lewis and tight end Jake Butt. ESPN's Mel Kiper paired the Buccaneers with Charlton in his first mock draft in January but has since switched his pick to Washington wide receiver John Ross.