With the NFL Scouting Combine (aka The Underwear Olympics) coming next week, SEC Country invokes a quick look at five SEC-based prospects who have the most to gain at next week’s league summit:
O-TACKLE LAREMY TUNSIL, OLE MISS
1. By all accounts, the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Tunsil stands well above this year’s crop of offensive linemen. As such, he’s essentially a lock to fall no further than the No. 3 overall pick, currently held by the tackle-needy San Diego Chargers — who played long stretches of the 2015 campaign with O-line backups, across the board.
2. If Tunsil’s an easy pick for No. 3, what’s left to gain? Simple. The Tennessee Titans (drafted Marcus Mariota last year), purveyors of the top pick, have no need for Cal quarterback Jared Goff or North Dakota State QB Carson Wentz at this slot. That opens the door for the patient Titans (led by new GM Jon Robinson) to opt for the best long-term cornerstone — regardless of position.
And Tunsil, a plug-and-play asset from his initial days at Ole Miss (part of the star-studded 2013 recruiting class), has the size, quickness, athleticism, raw power and footwork to become just the fourth offensive tackle since the NFL-AFL merger to go No. 1 overall — after Ohio State’s Orlando Pace (1997), Michigan’s Jake Long (2008) and Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher (2013).
Speaking of Fisher, here are the results from his 2013 combine: 40-yard dash (5.05 seconds), bench press (27 reps), vertical leap (28 1/2 inches), broad jump (116 inches), three-cone drill (7.59 seconds) and Wonderlic score (23).
CB VERNON HARGREAVES III, FLORIDA
1. Hargreaves may have the Eye Test look of a future Pro Bowler (and All-Pro), but he’ll need a great combine performance to avoid becoming the third cornerback off the board on April 30 — after Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey (likely top-5 pick) and Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander (likely top-10 pick).
2. Of course, a top-10 pick would still be a coup for Hargreaves, regardless of the cornerback pecking order — especially with the Chargers (third overall), Cowboys (fourth), Jaguars (fifth), 49ers (seventh) and Buccaneers (ninth) in the market for premium cover corners.
3. Combine prediction: Ramsey and Alexander eclipse Hargreaves in the straight-line 40; but the Florida standout blows the NFL Network analysts away with his all-around athleticism — perhaps in the class of former LSU star Patrick Peterson (No. 5 pick in 2011).
Peterson’s combine results from five years ago: 40-yard dash (4.3), vertical leap (38 inches), broad jump (10 feet, 6 inches).
D-TACKLE JARRAN REED, ALABAMA
1. There are wild swings of speculation for Reed, upon viewing various online mock drafts. Some pundits have Reed in the top 15 — ahead of Alabama teammate A’Shawn Robinson — based on his underrated gifts as a pass rusher.
The less enthused pundits have Reed in the early-to-middle stages of Round 2, among a cluster of D-linemen which include: Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins, Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler, Ohio State’s Adolphus Washington and Mississippi State’s Chris Jones, among others.
2. Reed (6-foot-3. 311 pounds) bore the look of a quick, agile and versatile linemen at the Senior Bowl. Plus, he has a cool knack of carrying 300-plus pounds very well. But will that translate to “combine” success?
Here are three Reed comps to consider from previous combines:
2015: Patriots DT Malcom Brown — 40-yard dash (5.05 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (4.59 seconds), vertical leap (29 1/2 inches), bench press (26 reps), three-cone drill (7.84 seconds)
2014: Ravens DT Timmy Jernigan — 40-yard dash (5.06) seconds), 20-yard shuttle (4.83 seconds), bench press (27 reps), vertical leap (29 1/2)
2013: Vikings DT Sharrif Floyd — 40-yard dash (4.92 seconds), vertical leap (30 inches) three-cone drill (7.40 seconds)
O-TACKLE JERALD HAWKINS, LSU
1. Hawkins’ versatility as a right or left tackle should solidify his status as a Round 2-or-higher pick. As such, Hawkins may be the present-day version of Branden Albert, the two-time Pro Bowler (2013, 2015) who logged the majority of his college starts (Virginia) at right tackle.
(Hawkins didn’t take the reins at left tackle until his final year with the Tigers — previously ceding that spot to La’el Collins.)
2. It’s both good and bad that Hawkins is part of a deep class of quality offensive linemen. On some online prospect boards, the LSU standout barely cracks the top 10. However, an O-lineman’s “beauty” remains in the eye of the “beholder” — a.k.a. NFL coaches/general managers — when assessing similarly graded talents.
Plus, as we’ve seen in previous drafts, NFL teams have a habit of freaking out once the premium tackles start flying off the board. It almost always leads to chaos.
It’s why, citing the 2008 draft, the Atlanta Falcons reached for Southern California’s Sam Baker two-thirds through Round 1 (21st overall) … and why the Houston Texans astutely sprung to action to snag Duane Brown five picks later, even though the future All-Pro (and three-time Pro Bowler) was considered a project at the time.
TE HUNTER HENRY, ARKANSAS
1. It drives me crazy when panic-stricken NFL clubs reach for tight ends in the early-to-middle stages of Round 1.
Have we learned nothing from previous years … when Rob Gronkowski (42nd overall) and Jimmy Graham (95th overall) — arguably the NFL’s best tight ends of this decade — dropped in the 2010 draft, to no one’s surprise?
The message here: ALWAYS … LET … VALUE … FALL … INTO … YOUR … LAP!
That aside, the 6-foot-5, 253-pound Henry (51 catches, 739 yards, 3 TDs in 2015) warrants a second-round selection. He has the requisite size, speed, hands and athleticism of Gronkowski/Graham, and he’s a better long-term prospect than Maxx Williams — the top tight end from last year’s draft (55th overall to the Ravens).
2. Here are some combine comps from previous years:
2015: Maxx Williams — 40-yard dash (4.78 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (4.37 seconds), vertical jump (34 1/2 inches), broad jump (117 inches), bench press (17 reps)
2014: Eric Ebron — 40-yard dash (4.60 seconds), vertical jump (32 inches), broad jump (120 inches), bench press (24 reps)
2013: Zach Ertz — 40-yard dash (4.76 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (4.47 seconds), vertical jump (30 1/2 inches), broad jump (111 inches), bench press (24 reps)
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.