Eastbay is going to be on the scene in Indy next week, taking in all the action from pro football’s biggest scouting event and interviewing many of the year’s biggest names. We know you’ll be tuned in to the action as well, so before the 40-yard dash whistle blows and press conference cameras start rolling, two of Eastbay’s writers, Chris Wolff and Jake Zipperer, had a discussion about the names you need to pay attention to this year.
Jake: Alright Chris, in about a week, we’ll be on the ground in Indy, interviewing some of the biggest names of the 2018 rookie class. But before everything gets underway, let’s take a second to talk about some of the players we’re most excited to see this weekend. So, I’ll let you start — who’s the first guy that you’ll be looking out for?
Chris: It has to be a quarterback, right? That’s the talk of the draft this year with a stacked class that includes Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, and Lamar Jackson. I’m most excited to see Josh Allen, the Wyoming prospect who seems to be one of the draft’s biggest wild cards.
this is exactly the type of thing that's gonna get him drafted entirely too high, but damn it, it's cool to see Josh Allen hit the crossbar from the 50 on his knees pic.twitter.com/plMnG8oVDM
— Jordan Zirm (@JordanZirm) February 20, 2018
He has the prototypical QB frame at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, and a cannon of an arm. His numbers didn’t jump off the page last season with just 1,812 yards, 16 touchdowns and a 56.3% completion percentage, but he has all the physical tools that scouts look for. This weekend will be an opportunity for him to showcase his skill set and stand out against some of his fellow projected first round QBs.
Is there another QB that stands out to you or are you looking elsewhere?
Jake: Yep, Allen is the definition of a boom-or-bust pick, but tons of teams will fall in love with his potential. I could talk about the QBs in this class all day, but figured I’d throw in a curveball and highlight a RB: Rashaad Penny.
San Diego St RB Rashaad Penny setting up his block nicely while pressing the LOS, solid burst to accelerate past the first wave of defenders. pic.twitter.com/G0DcbES4y9
— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) February 10, 2018
He’s the type of player who’s hard to get a read on at this point in the process. It may be impossible to be any more productive than he was last season (2,248 rushing yards, 23 touchdowns), but his team at San Diego State wasn’t exactly facing the Alabama’s and the Georgia’s of the world week after week. It’s the classic ‘is the small school guy going to be able to adjust to the speed and talent of the pro game’ dilemma. If I had to guess, I’d say Penny can make the jump — he’s a quick, shifty back who can gain yardage in a variety of ways. Oh, and he can return! This weekend will go a long way toward deciding his draft stock.
Who’s the next guy on your list? Got a prediction on who will post that ridiculous 40 time?
Chris: If we’re talking about running backs, we have to mention Saquon Barkley.
I will never, ever get tired of watching Saquon Barkley carry the rock. It's like the football gods created some inhuman hybrid of LeSean McCoy and Ezekiel Elliott. What an insanely gifted football player.
— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) February 13, 2018
I don’t know how fast his 40 time will be, but the Penn State star captured the attention of the entire college football world this season with more than his fair share of jaw-dropping plays. He’s a do-it-all back that can pound the rock (three straight 1,000 yard rushing seasons), catch the ball out of the backfield (54 catches for 632 yards this year), and hit homeruns (23 total touchdowns this year, including two return touchdowns). We saw a resurgence of first-round running backs last season with Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey, and Saquan Barkley is poised to join that list. He’s full of talent, built for today’s pass-heavy offenses, and will make an instant impact next year. The only question is how high will he go in a draft class full of stars?
Let’s switch to the other side of the ball — what defensive prospects will you have your eyes on?
Jake: To me, the name to watch on defense is Tremaine Edmunds from Virginia Tech.
Watched tape on Tremaine Edmunds (VA Tech). 6-foot-5, 240. Rare size & athleticism at LB. He can move. Puts a good hit on Clemson QB Kelly Bryant here. pic.twitter.com/6XMI0S9c84
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) February 19, 2018
He’s just such a unique player. Edmunds is so tall for a linebacker (6’5″), and he’s freakishly fast and strong. Athletes like him don’t come around very often, and when they do, they usually post some ridiculous testing scores in Indy. But more importantly than test scores, he’s the ideal type of linebacker for modern defenses. Fast enough to cover RBs and TEs, powerful enough to generate a consistent pass rush, and aggressive enough to never give up on a play — he can do it all. Defensive coordinators have to be salivating at the idea of having Edmunds as the centerpiece of their defense.
But that’s a name I’m sure many people will be watching closely — Chris, do you have any dark horses that you think will take scouts and GMs by surprise?
Chris: Everybody’s always looking for steals, and this is the perfect time for teams to start identifying guys that they might be able to get in the later rounds. Josey Jewell is a guy who’s projected to go on day three of the draft, but I think he’s going to end up being a valuable piece for some team.
Josey Jewell isn't going to test as well as the top off ball linebacker names at the Combine, but he has one of the best processors in the class, shows an excellent sense of timing on the blitz, and his change of direction is more than good enough to corral Josh Allen. Impressed pic.twitter.com/3UePXt8KSt
— Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) February 18, 2018
He doesn’t have the same elite athleticism and explosiveness as some of this year’s deep linebacker group, but he can flat out play football. He lead the Big Ten in tackles, racked up 13.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and 2 interceptions at Iowa this year. He’s proven his productivity on the field at the college level, so this weekend will be important for him to show scouts that he has the physical abilities to continue that at the next level. He might slip due to his deep position class and lack of flash, but someone’s going to get a steal and a guy who can be a starting linebacker in the league for a long time.
Alright, let’s get to your final one. Does anyone in the secondary stand out to you?
Jake: Well, versatile defensive backs are all the rage in pro football nowadays and Florida State safety Derwin James fits that to a T.
Derwin James' closing speed is incredible. pic.twitter.com/JefManF7dl
— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) February 12, 2018
In fact, it’s probably unfair of me to call him a safety. He has the insane athleticism, solid tackling prowess, and alpha-dog mindset needed to be a true chess piece for creative defenses. You want him to line up near the line of scrimmage as a hybrid backer? No problem. He can do that, he can play deep safety, he can play cover corner. I can’t wait to see what his 40 time is and I can’t wait to see how he’s used in a smart defensive scheme in the pros.
There will be a lot of great prospects in Indy this year, but make sure to keep your eyes on these six players. Do you agree? Disagree? Hit us up in the comments with your own opinion and make sure to stay locked in to Eastbay’s IG account and our Live Content Hub for a backstage pass to all of the action in Indy.