Things will begin to heat up over the next several days as over 300 NFL prospects arrive in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine. Groups one, two and three (special teams, offensive lineman and running backs) arrive today starting the Pre-Examinations, X-Rays, Orientation, and Interview portions leading up to the televised workouts starting Friday. Click here for the full schedule of events.
The Combine evaluation process isn’t an exact science and it certainly can have it’s fair share of objectivity. For some prospects it may require enduring a little extra prodding and probing as teams wrestle with issues between talent and character.
Here are 10 polarizing prospects the Minnesota Vikings will be doing their due diligence on as they determine value and potential fit.
Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss: A rare combination of power and athleticism makes Nkemdiche one of the most gifted and imposing defensive prospects in the 2016 NFL Draft. With the size and production to warrant a top ten selection, he will need to shine when answering questions regarding several off-field issues, one including an odd fall from an Atlanta hotel room window in December. With allegations of a past assault and a marijuana possession charge, the Vikings along with other NFL teams will be ready to ask some tough questions.
Noah Spence, DE/OLB, Eastern Kentucky: Whether lined up in a two or three point stance, Spence has the versatility to line-up on the left or right sides as well as fit in any scheme. Spence is an elite edge rusher with top 15 talent who flashed his dominance at the Senior Bowl. Teams looking for the next Von Miller might be intrigued with a similar upside from this former five-star recruit who started his college career at Ohio State. Spence’s past addiction to Ecstacy led to his permanent dismissal from the team. He transferred to Eastern Kentucky and passed numerous drug tests appearing to have cleaned up his habit since being banned from the Big Ten.
Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama: Henry doesn’t have the off-field issues to warrant landing so highly on my list, and it also seems unfair to question his Heisman Trophy production. As the featured weapon on the Tide’s offense, Henry set a new SEC record with 2,219 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns in 2015. For all of his production, however, many big backs like the 6-foot-2, 242-pounder struggle to find the same success in the NFL. So, among reports that the Vikings are rumored to be interested in Henry, I can’t help but question whether he is overrated and possibly just a product of an outstanding offensive line. His lateral footwork and his ability to create yards from scratch is certainly not on the same level as Adrian Peterson. Is a “freight train” runner like Henry worthy of a first round pick, or could this simply be a train wreck waiting to happen.
Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor: Oakman is the most freakish size speed prospect in the draft, but his hit-or-miss production doesn’t live up to the hype surrounding a physique that makes scouts gush. Oakman certainly passes the eyeball test with his tall, chiseled frame, long arms and outstanding balance and movement skills. With less power than his frame would suggest and a raw set of pass rush moves, Oakman gets stalled and is a non-factor far too often. Zimmer loves a freakish project, so just how often he’ll be willing to pass on Oakman remains to be seen.
Leonte Carroo, WR, Rutgers: At Senior Bowl practices, Carroo flashed quickness, agility and the great hands that make him a top-five senior wide receiver prospect. He is a good run blocker and he plays bigger than his just under six foot frame suggests. Carroo was targeted often and averaged over 20 yards per catch over the last two seasons and 31 of his 217 catches went for 25-plus yards. Carroo managed to be productive even though teams focused on stopping him. Guessing exactly where he will fall in the draft is a small mystery as scouts have concerns about his character and reliability. Carroo was suspended two games for his role in a domestic assault charge and he also missed the first half of the first game after being suspended for missing a curfew. Carroo is not a size speed athletic freak, but his film and production is highly impressive for someone with just average measurable.
Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU: Rick Spielman likes tall versatile defensive backs and Robinson is one of those prospects that he might want to do extra due diligence on. Robinson has not played organized football since being suspended indefinitely midway through the 2014 season. The four-star recruit worked his way into the starting line-up as a true freshman on an LSU team loaded with talent. Robinson is a long athlete with blazing speed. Scouts believe he could run one of the top 40-yard dash times at the combine. He has the traits and talent to be considered one of the best press corners in the draft. With only eight starts under his belt and character red flags surrounding his suspension for violating team rules, Robinson might fall deep enough into the draft that Zimmer would be willing to roll the dice on this talented cornerback.
Karl Joseph, SS, West Virginia: Joseph is an undersized safety at 5’10 205 pounds yet plays with extreme aggression and physicality found in bigger defensive backs. His reactionary quickness and closing speed is exceptional and Joseph’s reckless mentality and ability to explode downhill to deliver violent hits are traits NFL teams would love to inherit. However, his style of play can also be viewed as undisciplined and out of control. His pursuit angles at times are wildly aggressive and Joseph often fails to even look at what he is attempting to hit. He is a feared bounty hunter with plenty of talent, but Mike Zimmer will need to figure out if his overaggressiveness and lack of height and length will be an issue in his system.
Kenny Lawler, WR, California: At times Lawler looks like a first round prospect with his size, speed, and incredible catch radius. His highlight tape of one handed catches and his ability to climb the ladder and high point passes is as good as any wideout in the country. Lawler is a true red zone threat with the ability to take over a game. As fun as he is to watch (and he is one of my favorite players in this class), he can also be frustrating to evaluate. Lawler routinely makes the off-target one handed catch look easy, but mysteriously drops too many of the straight forward on the money throws. The Vikings may need to decide if the hot and cold nature of Lawler in the mid rounds is an upgrade over the lukewarm and some times disappearing Mike Wallace.
Conner Cook, QB, Michigan State: Cook is highly regarded as an elite prospect but the debate about his leadership ability took center stage when he was not voted as a team captain prior to the 2015 season. Rumor has it that Cook may feel entitled and doesn’t interact well with others.
On the football field however, it appears he commands enough respect and support to get the job done. The Vikings might be interested in finding a long term backup for Teddy Bridgewater and Cook might be too good to pass up if he falls to the mid rounds.
Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida: In Florida’s weak passing game, Robinson caught 53 passes for 810 yards as a sophomore and 48 receptions for 522 yards in 2015. Robinson is loaded with upside and has an elite combination of straight line speed and quick-twitch athleticism to hit the home run after the catch. His footwork is explosive, showing great burst in and out of his breaks and natural hands to make the tough catch. Robinson is likely to test off the charts and create a buzz, but his four suspensions in three years keep his draft stock well below his talent level.