Early look at the NFL Combine


Sarah Cutshall | Visual Editor

Former running back Qadree Ollison will be the only Pitt player participating in the NFL Combine this year.

By Adin Link, Staff Writer

The NFL Combine is an annual showcase for the top college football prospects to showcase their physical attributes and skills in hopes of being drafted into the league in April. This weekend, 337 prospects invited to attend the event based on their collegiate and prospective careers in the NFL will make their way to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to compete among their peers in events like bench press, vertical jump, broad jump and the 40-yard dash.

First, prospects are divided into their respective position groups and are evaluated competitively. Measurements are taken for each players’ exact height, weight and hand size. Prospects then undergo several drills that all position groups go through, like bench press and 40-yard dash. Those drills are followed by position-specific drills, like deep passes for quarterbacks and the receiving gauntlet, where receivers run across the field catching passes at full speed.

Pitt only has one player participating in this year’s combine, former running back Qadree Ollison. Ollison had quite an illustrious four-year career at Pitt, winning ACC Rookie of the Year in 2015 and finishing his career with All-ACC Second Team honors.

Ollison has quite the opportunity to impress this year, especially because the running back prospect class for this year’s draft is not as impressive as in years past. If Ollison can turn heads with his downhill abilities, fans may start to see his name creep up draft boards.

During the combine, teams are allowed to meet with prospects in a job-interview-type setting where players are sometimes asked outlandish questions. Take 2016, when former Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty was asked, “You’re on a mountain in Alaska in a bus going 100 miles per hour. Where are you sitting on the bus?”

Although these types of questions are probably not highly evaluated by team executives, it does show the teams how players react with the media and how they answer questions in team interviews.

Even though there is only one Panther making the trip, there are still more names and story lines to make this year’s combine an interesting one.

There is a lot of intrigue surrounding this year’s quarterbacks. One question in particular fans are dying to know the answer to is, “How tall is Kyler Murray?” The former Oklahoma Sooner quarterback has always been known to be on the shorter side of college quarterbacks. His height could affect his draft rankings because there is some doubt as to how successful a short quarterback will be in the pros.

There has been even more controversy around Murray after he declined to commit to participating in the quarterback throwing drills. Sometimes, quarterbacks decide not to throw at the combine, fearing that the lack of chemistry between themselves and the receivers they are throwing to will result in a subpar performance.

There is still another question to be answered regarding Murray and whether he is fully committed to playing professional football or if he will decide to seek a career in professional baseball after being drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 2018 MLB draft.

Murray’s decision might hurt this value, but there is one quarterback who can really help himself at the combine — Missouri’s Drew Lock.

Lock has been on the first-round radar for a while now and could have even been selected in last year’s draft. But Lock decided to spend an extra season at Mizzou to refine his skills and potentially solidify himself as a first-round selection. He is a great athlete with a big arm that could help him stand out against other quarterbacks ranked above him in pre-draft rankings.

Quarterbacks won’t be the only players at the combine. Ole Miss’ wide receiver AJ Brown is a player fans will want to keep their eyes on after he went viral a few weeks ago for his workout routines and physique. But he still has to prove he can match that with elite quickness. If he can do that successfully, he will undoubtedly be a first-round pick and the first wide receiver selected in April’s draft.

On the defensive side of the ball, Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence needs to have a good showing. Lawrence was suspended for the national championship game after violating a substance-abuse policy. Despite his large frame, the 355-pound defensive tackle is a gifted athlete. If Lawrence can move swiftly in the 40-yard dash and 3-cone drill while demonstrating his power in the bench press, he could potentially move into the first-round conversation.

One of the more difficult things for small schools’ prospects is finding ways to separate themselves from the competition and prove they can compete at the highest level.

Former Old Dominion Monarch Oshane Ximines has already managed to overcome that challenge just in pre-combine discussions. Ximines participated in the East-West Shrine Game in January, leading to an invitation to compete in the Senior Bowl later in January.

Both of those appearances eventually led to an invite to the NFL Combine. As a pass-rusher, Ximines must display a combination of speed and strength to show NFL organizations he can beat professional offensive linemen.

The combine always ends up playing a large part in where some players get drafted, whether it is moving them up or dropping them altogether. With NFL teams putting such stock into an event, it is imperative for the prospects invited to put on a show.

The difference between getting drafted in the first round and the third round could be something as simple as a poor 40-yard-dash time. With every NFL general manager and head coach in the stands, the 337 prospects invited had better be at their best for their first big NFL test.