NFL Draft season is swinging into full force with the 2016 NFL Combine starting on February 23.
For the most part, this is a pretty deep draft, especially on the defensive side, but there are still plenty of question marks at each position.
Here are the top storylines to look out for when following the combine next week:
1. Which quarterback will look the best?
Compared to recent years, the 2016 quarterback class is actually pretty deep with talent. It may not have a Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota leading the class, but there are still plenty of names that could have good NFL careers.
With that being said, in an exciting turn of events, every quarterback invited to the combine will be throwing. That means the three quarterbacks at the top of the class; Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and Paxton Lynch will all be duking it out.
As it stands, Wentz seems to be gaining steam as the top quarterback in the class, but a good combine from Goff or Lynch could change things dramatically.
Not to mention, there are plenty of other quarterbacks, that with good performances, could find themselves being draft much earlier than expected. Those names include Dak Prescott, Connor Cook, Jeff Driskel, Cardale Jones and a number of other quarterbacks. It should be a good combine to watch.
2. Who is the best running back behind Ezekiel Elliott?
It goes without saying, Ezekiel Elliott has already been anointed the top running back in the class, but who is right behind him? The battle for second best running back is likely between the likes of Derrick Henry, Alex Collins, Kenneth Dixon and Kenyan Drake.
All those running backs had good collegiate careers, but a lot can change depending on who looks best running in shorts.
Sure, Henry ran for 2,219 yards and a whopping 28 touchdowns in 2015 at Alabama, but there are plenty of questions about his workload, speed and ability in the passing game.
Personally, my money is on Alex Collins becoming the number two running back in this class. Like Henry, he had a great 2015 season, but Collins is a more fluid runner and is also adequate in the passing game.
Regardless of what happened in 2015, we all know it just takes an impressive 40 time for someone to break away from the pack.
3. Smaller, faster linebackers are going to gain more momentum.
This is more of a prediction, but with the way the NFL is going and the success of safeties turned linebackers, small linebackers with speed are going to start being more favored over bigger, traditional two-down linebackers.
Up until recently, a linebacker was supposed to be at least 6’3″ and weight 250 pounds. However, guys like Deone Bucannon, Mark Barron, Ryan Shazier and Telvin Smith proved that smaller linebackers could succeed.
In the 2016 draft class, there are quite a few linebackers that are under 6’2,” 230 pounds that are going to dominate the combine. At the top of the class, there are guys like Darron Lee, Su’a Cravens, Deion Jones, Dominique Alexander and Travis Feeney that are going to pass the eye test at the combine.
The traditional inside linebacker group is pretty weak in the 2016 class, so it will be interesting to see how Reggie Ragland, Kentrell Brothers and Tyler Matakevich fare in comparison to the smaller linebackers.
4. How will the offensive lineman class sort itself out?
Like I said at the top of this article, there a lot of deep position groups at the combine that aren’t exactly sorted out just yet. The same goes for the offensive linemen class.
At the top, it’s obviously Laremy Tunsil and Ronnie Stanley, but who is after that? And also, which linemen will look like tackles and which will look guards.
Guys like Jason Spriggs, Vadal Alexander, John Theus, Denver Kirkland and others, all played across the line in college, but where are they best suited in the NFL.
It will be important to see which linemen move the best and how well they can carry their huge 330 plus pound bodies.
5. Who is going to come out of nowhere and win the combine?
Every year, there’s someone that no one knew heading into the combine that steals the show and winds up getting drafted much higher than expected. That won’t change with the 2016 combine, someone is going to be a breakout star.
I already wrote about some of the names that I expect will be gaining a lot from the combine, but to reiterate, I expect Marquez North, Travis Feeney and Rashard Robinson to make a bit of money at the combine.
North is a former four-star recruit from Tennessee that never quite panned out, but at only 20-years-old, he’ll get a chance to show his physical ability at the combine. He has impressive size at 6’3,” 220 pounds for some just 20-years old. If he runs well and catches everything thrown his way, I would not rule out an early fourth round selection.
As for Rashard Robinson, he’s an ex-LSU stud freshman cornerback that was kicked off the team in 2014. He hasn’t played in over a year, but had a few notable performances as a freshman, such as shutting down Mike Evans.
In Robinson’s favor, he won’t be playing against any competition, so it’s not like his football rust will be showing. He’s an interesting, tall and lanky cornerback that could be project for coaches in the NFL.
With his size and speed, Feeney has the potential to turn into a Telvin Smith or Ryan Shazier-esque linebacker. Those are pretty big comparisons, and even though he didn’t really live up to the hype at Washing, Feeney still managed a solid 8 sacks and 17.5 tackles for a loss in 2015.