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2024 NFL Scouting Combine Preview: Players To Watch In Indianapolis

J.J. McCarthy - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Rookies, Draft Sleepers

As the NFL Scouting Combine looms on the horizon, anticipation reaches a fever pitch among fantasy football enthusiasts. This annual event serves as a crucial battleground where college prospects showcase their athletic prowess, mental acuity, and raw potential in front of scouts, coaches, and general managers from across the league. For fantasy football managers, the combine offers invaluable insights into the next generation of gridiron talent, providing a glimpse into the future stars who may soon grace the NFL stage. With every 40-yard dash, bench press rep, and agility drill, fantasy aficionados eagerly assess which rookies possess the attributes necessary to make an immediate impact on the fantasy landscape.

The NFL Scouting Combine isn't merely a showcase of physical abilities; it's also a platform where intangibles such as character, work ethic, and football IQ come to the forefront. Fantasy football managers keenly observe how prospects navigate interviews, interact with coaches, and approach the various challenges presented to them. Beyond the stopwatch and measuring tape, these qualitative aspects can significantly influence a player's fantasy value, providing crucial context to their statistical projections. By scrutinizing every facet of a prospect's performance at the combine, fantasy managers aim to unearth the diamonds in the rough who possess the ideal combination of talent and mindset to thrive at the professional level.

As fantasy football drafts loom closer, the NFL Scouting Combine emerges as a pivotal chapter in the preseason narrative, offering a wealth of information to inform draft strategies and player evaluations. From standout performances that catapult prospects up draft boards to unexpected disappointments that raise red flags, the combine serves as a litmus test for the fantasy potential of incoming rookies. With each shuttle run and vertical leap, the fantasy landscape shifts, creating ripples of excitement and intrigue as managers eagerly await the opportunity to capitalize on the insights gleaned from this football spectacle.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers won two writing awards and received 12 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. A big congrats to our very own Byron Lindeque (Golf) and Jordan McAbee (NASCAR) for both winning Writer Of The Year awards! Be sure to follow RotoBaller's analysis and advice all year long, and win more. Win More With RotoBaller!

 

J.J. McCarthy - QB, Michigan

McCarthy has been a hot-button topic in the draft community on social media over the last few weeks. There has been a healthy debate on just how well his skill set translates to the NFL. Some analysts have him as high as QB1 in the draft class, while others (including myself) are not ready to give him such lofty praise yet. Much of the back and forth with McCarthy has been between people who are knocking him for his lack of productivity at Michigan. Others will point to his efficiency numbers, which put him among the best at the position in 2023.

The truth with McCarthy will undoubtedly lay somewhere in the middle. Sure, he never eclipsed 3,000 yards passing over the last two years as the starting quarterback of the Wolverines. The fact of the matter is the team never had to truly put the game on his shoulders. The former five-star quarterback has the tools and a solid foundation that could develop into a solid starting NFL quarterback.

Although he does lack the measurables and downfield splash throws that you would like to see, his ability to create plays outside of the pocket and out of structure are the intangibles that you cannot teach. His above-average arm strength allows him to drive throws into tight windows, but he rarely throws a receiver open. In reviewing his film, I found that he was slow in reading his progressions and was often going to his first or second option before looking to maneuver out of the pocket. He will have the opportunity in Indianapolis to dazzle the scouts with his athleticism, which could help vault him even higher in the draft class.

 

Kimani Vidal - RB, Troy

The all-time leading rusher at Troy, Vidal has come into the draft process as a less-than-heralded prospect. Coming off of back-to-back double-digit scoring seasons, he has proven that he can be quite the productive back, even if you hold the level of competition against him.

In 2023, he earned the Sun Belt Player of the Year as well as a third-team All-American nod on the heels of his 1,661 rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns. From an efficiency standpoint, Vidal was tied for sixth in PFF rushing grade (93.2) and led the nation with 47 runs of 10-plus yards.

Even though he might be slightly undersized, Vidal successfully blends a mixture of an elusive running style that you see from a smaller back with an attacking style in which he never avoids contact with the defender. His 94 missed tackles forced and 1,056 yards after contact were both tied for second in the country. Coming off an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl, Vidal will be coming to the NFL Scouting Combine looking to keep the positive momentum going. Another round of solid testing could go a long way toward increasing Vidal's draft stock and putting him in the discussion for one of the top running backs in this year's draft class.

 

Jaylen Wright - RB, Tennessee

Jaylen Wright is another prospect who seems to be gaining a lot of momentum from the draft community as they are doing their due diligence on him. Although the numbers will not stand out, he is coming off his best statistical season at Tennessee (1,013 rushing yards and 22 receptions).

Wright was somewhat held back by the committee approach that was utilized by the Vols over the last couple of years, with a high of only 146 yards in 2022. Even though he had fewer attempts in 2023 (137), he was much more efficient with his touches, resulting in a PFF rushing grade of 91.2.

Wright is one of the more explosive and versatile running backs in this year's draft class. Sometimes his patience, although a positive, can be a detriment as it slows his initial explosion and leads to fewer yards after contact. Another box that Wright can check is his ability to be used in both gap or zone running schemes. This fact can help to be somewhat landing spot-proof in the draft as he acclimates to a new team.

If you want to nitpick him as a prospect, one thing to lean on is his overall lack of usage as a receiver out of the backfield and his limited route tree will be something that needs to be developed at the next level. After not participating at the Senior Bowl, the Scouting Combine will be pivotal for Wright to show scouts that he has what it takes to be one of the first running backs off the board during the 2024 NFL Draft.

 

Malik Washington - WR, Virginia

Malik Washington is coming into the draft cycle as an older prospect, which is sometimes frowned upon by the draft community. With Washington, the seasoning and extra year of work did wonders for his draft stock. After four years of limited production at Northwestern, he transferred to Virginia and put together a monster final campaign.

His 110 receptions was the best in the country, combined with 1,426 yards and nine touchdowns, helped Washington accumulate a PPF receiving grade of 92.4. His work out of the slot of why Virginia funneled the majority of their passing game through him as the offense in general did not offer a lot of upside in 2023.

Even though Washington operated primarily out of the slot (87.9%), his short-area quickness allows him to separate from defenders at all levels of the field. His top-end speed may not be the best in the class, but what he does as well as anyone is that he has a knack for finding soft spots in zone coverage and working his way back to the quarterback for easy windows to throw into. Even as a smaller prospect, he uses his elusiveness to avoid tackles (led the nation with 35 missed tackles forced in 2023) and strength to haul in contested catches (11 in 2023).

As he heads into the Scouting Combine, Washington should test well overall. His numbers in the 10-yard split of the 40-yard dash are what I'm most interested in seeing as they should show his explosiveness. I believe some scouts will come away viewing Washington similarly to how Jayden Reed has developed for the Green Bay Packers.

 

Malachi Corley - WR, Western Kentucky

How could I write an article discussing college prospects without talking about one of my favorites in the 2024 class, Malachi Corley? He is coming off back-to-back seasons with more than 900 receiving yards and finishes his career at Western Kentucky as one of the more productive receivers in the last few seasons with 29 touchdowns. Over his time with the Hilltoppers, Corley was simply no match for the defenders in Conference USA.

His blend of speed, strength, and route-running ability is what draws the attention of many pro scouts, especially when you are dominating the players at your competition level. Even though he played a majority of his snaps out of the slot in 2023 (85.9%), he has all the tools to excel on the outside in the right offense as well.

As you may have seen by now, since the Senior Bowl, Corley has drawn comparisons the Deebo Samuel. That comp could very well be spot on as Corley is the type of player that likes to punish defenders with the ball in his hands. He uses his strength and explosiveness to consistently run through tackles and generate yards after the catch, which he was fifth in the country in accumulating (683). His route-running ability is as polished as any other receiver in this class.

His start-stop ability helps him create separation at the top of routes, while the explosion can minimize cushion and get a defender out of position. The flexibility he has in his skill set will allow NFL offensive coordinators the ability to move him around formations and identify mismatches. After showcasing these skills at the Senior Bowl, Corley will look to use the Scouting Combine as just another step to insert his name into the top of this year's draft class of wide receivers.



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