2016 NFL Scouting Combine Preview: Top 10 players to watch

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By Brandon Knapp

The 2016 NFL Scouting Combine is Underway

The NFL Scouting Combine is a place to watch the future stars of the league show off their skill sets, and how they compare to the rest. This draft for the Detroit Lions is going to be an important one and with retirement looming over Calvin Johnson’s head, the decision he makes should have an impact on who Detroit takes and at what spot. Here I will be breaking down the Top 10 players you should keep your eye out for when watching the Combine. This list is not in order based off skill sets or position needs, it is just a list of 10 players that Detroit could take in the upcoming draft. Let’s get this started!

1. Laquon Treadwell – WR (Mississippi)

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Replacing Calvin Johnson (if he retires) is going to be a tough task to do. No receiver in this draft can come close to being an instant factor on the field except for Treadwell. The man has some height on him being 6-2, but he has the main thing everyone looks for in a receiver and that is hands. He is willing to leap up and make the tough catches and he can be a great “RAC” receiver when he can break away from coverage. Treadwell’s final season was a great one, ending with 82 catches for 1153 yards and 11 touchdowns. According to NFL.com he will not be running his 40 yard dash at the combine and will wait until his pro day to run the 40, saying “I’ve only had a week and a half here (in Miami) and want to wait ’til I’m at our facilities.”

2. Jack Conklin – OT (Michigan State)

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The main issue for Detroit in the 2015 season was the offensive line play. Conklin has been impressive his entire career at Michigan State and he could be the next elite left tackle in the NFL. Conklin has great strength and his technique along with his athleticism makes up for his foot quickness that is just average. His blocking is impressive as he is strong at first contact and he can pull defenders up to make his block a clean stop.

3. Reggie Ragland – LB (Alabama)

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Stephen Tulloch will be cut by the Detroit Lions and this man is the top target to replace him in this years draft. Ragland is a monster at the linebacker position. He is willing to get rough with the offensive line and keep his gap filled in. He is good at watching the ball and won’t over-commit on plays. The best thing about him to me is his hitting power. He can just lay a dude out and make a stop. His senior year he lead the team with 102 tackles and had seven pass defends.

4. Jarran Reed – DT (Alabama)

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The defensive tackle depth in this draft is deep, but this is one of the players on the top. Reed is a tackle that can eat up blocks and help the others get to the ball carrier. He has quick hands to get around a blocker in a one on one battle, with his great vision, he can find the ball carrier easily and quickly. In his two year career at Alabama, he ended with 111 tackles which is really impressive considering he only played in 55 percent of the snaps. He can make the tackles, not allowing players to break off him and continue the play. The lower body strength he has is huge for stopping the run game and he could start for many teams in the NFL, Detroit needs some defensive tackle help and he could fit right in.

5. Aaron Burbridge – WR (Michigan State)

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Treadwell isn’t the only receiver in this draft that the Lions should focus on. Burbridge has potential to fall in the third, all the way to the fifth round, either way would be a steal. Burbridge can make big plays with his great athleticism, whether it is a high jump ball, a low catch that is centimeters off the ground, or a diving catch on his left or right. He can create big plays over the middle and the top with his double move ability. He can be a good slot receiver to make those quick catches and make a play. Last season he ended with 1,258 yards on 85 catches with seven touchdowns.

6. Taylor Decker – OT (Ohio State)

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Focusing on offensive tackle again, Taylor Decker is a guy who fits the position well. He is 6-7, weighing 320 pounds, it’s a good frame to have as an offensive lineman. He can match defenders power at the point of attack. His hands are strong, and doesn’t put them where they shouldn’t be. Being a former basketball player helps with his body control and with that control he can just ram into oncoming defenders, pushing them back or up, creating the hole needed for the back. When he is on a double team assignment, he is a beast and doesn’t give the defender a chance to have an impact on the play.

7. Nate Sudfeld – QB (Indiana)

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Detroit had two quarterbacks last season and with no word on if Orlovsky is coming back, Detroit should look to the draft for a young quarterback who can learn the ropes and that Detroit can be confident with if Stafford goes down. Sudfeld was a good quarterback at Indiana, finishing with 7,879 yards, 61 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in his career. Sudfeld is a tall quarterback coming in at 6-6, and a big plus with a guy that size is he can run if needed. Sudfeld can tell when the pressure is coming and get the ball out of his hands, whether that is to a receiver or away, Sudfeld doesn’t try to make a play and avoids getting sacked at all costs. When he steps ups, he can make NFL type of throws, so the arm power and accuracy is there. He makes it easier for the receivers to make the grab and on touch throws, gives it air for the easy grab. A good combine performance could boost him up the boards and Detroit would have to pass up on him as backup quarterback isn’t a first through fourth round need.

8. Scooby Wright III – LB (Arizona)

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While the rest of the gang in the Mystery Van won’t be there to watch, Scooby is ready to perform and show teams he is healthy. Scooby Wright had a phenomenal season in 2014, ending with 164 tackles, 31 for loss, 15 sacks and five forced fumbles. He won many awards that year, and 2015 was supposed to be even better, but injuries ruined that. A torn lateral meniscus in this left knee and then a sprained right foot were the injuries but this guy can flat out play ball. His vision for the ball and plays overall is great, knowing where the play is headed and knows what to do to stop it. He is constantly moving around, looking for his next kill. His blitzing ability is impressive as he can time the snaps and stop the play before it even has a chance to develop.

9. Sheldon Rankins – DT (Louisville)

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Rankins is another defensive tackle that could end up in Detroit. Rankins is strong, flexible and athletic. He can knock blockers away with his strength and make them unbalanced. His quickness can have him avoid the tough blocks that the offensive linemen use in the NFL. His hands are crazy and help him avoid the blocks or push the blocker away, getting to the ball carrier. His strength can stop the point of attack and close the gaps, forcing the running backs to look elsewhere to run. His career at Louisville was impressive, ending with 133 tackles, 31.5 for loss, and 18 sacks.

10. Braxton Miller – WR (Ohio State)

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The 2016 NFL Scouting Combine will be huge for this man. The former quarterback, now wide receiver will have to show off how he can play the position at a higher level. Miller did well last year at Ohio State, ending with 25 catches for 340 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers aren’t great, but for only playing receiver for one year, it is a good start. He has that quick speed and the ability to jump up high for the big catches. You have all seen his spin moves he has put on players, that is always a plus if you can make plays like that and turn nothing into something big. Route running is something to watch here as only one year playing receiver, I am sure scouts are wanting to know if he improve on that and if that can get better, his stock rises.

Thanks for checking out my top 10 players to watch at the combine. Find me on Reddit at /u/sportsguy4life or follow me on Twitter. Let me know your thoughts on my article on the subreddit post! All stats come from http://www.sports-reference.com

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About the Author

Brandon Knapp
Brandon Knapp is a senior at Central Michigan University, majoring in Journalism, minoring in Sports Management. He was born and raised in the city of Marysville, MI. He also writes for myfantasysportstalk.com and covers the Michigan Wolverines Football team (his other love). Brandon also enjoys watching the Detroit Red Wings, Pistons and Tigers.