FRISCO, Texas – The NFL Scouting Combine begins this week as teams descend upon Indianapolis for annual evaluations of the league's best NFL Draft prospects.
The Cowboys have seven selections in this year's draft and hold the 28th overall pick in the first round. As the front office gets ready to continue its scouting process, I've highlighted eight prospects worth watching, and why, as workouts and evaluations get underway later this week in Indy.
Takkarist McKinley, DE/OLB, UCLA
Medical: McKinley will come into this Combine with a reported torn labrum and broken glenoid. Has come out recently and said he would have surgery post workout. Was likely a top-15 selection before the discovery of the injury and now could see his stock drop. Cowboys have a history of taking a shot on players that have talent if the doctors and trainers believe it's worth the risk. Will be interested to hear what their finding uncovers.
Jake Butt, TE, Michigan
Medical: Would be considered a first-round talent if he had not torn his anterior cruciate ligament in the Orange Bowl game. Was right there with O.J. Howard, who might be the first tight end off the board. Falls in that category with McKinley in weighing the value of the player to the risk where he is selected. Positive news from team doctors and trainers will go a long way in consideration if he is taken now in the second round.
Tim Williams, DE, Alabama
Interview: One of the best pass rushers in this draft. There are games where you study him and he plays better than what you see from Myles Garrett. The key for Williams is not how well he performs on the field, but whether can he convince these clubs that he doesn't have the same off-the-field issues as Randy Gregory or Noah Spence. If Williams interviews poorly then you're going to see teams drop him several rounds or even have him off the board all together. By the way, Jerry Jones takes these players case by case so a player with off-the-field concerns still will be discussed in their draft room.
Desmond King, CB, Iowa
40 Yard Dash: There are few players in this draft that have the physical toughness of Desmond King. With that being said, his biggest trait flaw on tape is his speed. There are snaps where you see separation in routes and he doesn't have the catch-up speed to close. Matter of fact, it's so noticeable that I believe you will see clubs think about him as a safety. Even as a safety, he will need to be able to run well and show the ability to make those range plays. If King could lower his 40-yard dash time from 4.53 it could provide him the opportunity to get back in consideration for talk in the first round.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
40 Yard Dash: There is a large group of wide receivers that fall in the second- to third-round range with Smith-Schuster being one of those guys. I am a big fan of the player and believe that he belongs more in the second than the third round. Like Desmond King, the trait that holds Smith-Schuster back in the eyes of scouts is his speed. He is an outstanding route runner and he will take them all over the field, but when it comes to that breakaway speed, he just doesn't have the extra gear. His size and hands are impressive but he just doesn't separate. I want to see him run in comparison to Chris Godwin, Chad Hansen and Isaiah Ford because he is every bit as good.
Garett Bolles, OT, Utah
Bench Press: Strange draft in that there is really no consensus best offensive tackle. Scouts like Ryan Ramczyk or Cam Robinson, but that top spot is really up in the air. This is where Garett Bolles comes into play and whether can he do enough to sway scouts in his direction. The issue with Bolles is he's an older guy who lacks big-time game experience, but that's not his only trait fault. When you study him on tape, he's not the strongest guy. I can deal with the age and experience but his lack of power would be a concern for me. At 6-5, 296 he is lean but very athletic. I am interested to see how strong he really is. I know that there is a difference between functional and weight room strength, but it appears that Bolles struggles in both areas.
Adam Shaheen, TE, Ashland College
Workout Pressure: Media scouts are just now catching up to what NFL scouts knew all along about Shaheen. Don't let the size of the school influence you. At 6-5, 277, he is one of the most impressive athletes you will ever see. It's rare in today's college football when you find a tight end that can not only get down the field to catch passes but also block. Shaheen is the complete package and has been steadily moving up the charts each passing day. A guy that might have been a Day 3 consideration by the media scouts has now been mentioned as early Day 2. What I am interested in seeing from a scouting perspective is can he handle the pressure of the Combine workout. The tight ends work out in one group so he will be with the other top ones in the draft and there will be no place for him to hide. Shaheen will have a chance to put his name among the best or crack under the pressure of the moment.
Curtis Samuel, WR/RB, Ohio State
Second Position Workout:One of the disadvantages for fans watching the Combine on NFL Network is they don't get to see the second position workout. This workout is pre-arranged by the Combine staff and NFL scouts of players they would like to see put through position drills at a position other than the one they play. In the past we've seen wide receivers work as defensive backs or quarterbacks as running backs. There will be plenty of those types of workouts but I am looking forward to seeing Samuel do running back drills. I have a gut feeling from just studying his tape, it could be a stretch for him to line up as a receiver in this league and have real success. His routes just aren't nearly smooth enough to be a strong consideration there. On the other hand, you hand him the ball and he can make things happen. He has the physical frame to be an every-down running back and a better player than at receiver.