2017 NFL Combine: Patrick Mahomes, John Ross top the Must-See Team

As the sports-loving world shifts its attention this week to Indianapolis and the 2017 NFL Combine, the quarterback generating the most buzz in the scouting community is not national title game MVP Deshaun Watson , splashy Notre Dame Fighting Irish redshirt sophomore DeShone Kizer or even North Carolina Tar Heels ’s Mitch Trubisky -- the top-rated passer on NFLDraftScout.com’s board.

Rather it is Texas Longhorns Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, who at a strapping 6-foot-3, 230 pounds with quite literally a Major League arm, is seeking to dispel the notion that his success was inflated by the Red Oakland Raiders ’ spread offense and prove that he should be with Watson, Kizer and Trubisky in the first-round mock drafts.

In an exclusive interview with NFLDraftScout.com, Mahomes said that he doesn’t feel pressure to prove that quarterbacks from the so-called Air-Raid offense can be successful in the NFL but looks forward to showing how he is different from fellow record-breakers from the system, including his former head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

“I don’t see it as pressure but motivation,” Mahomes said. “You want to break that mold. You want to be that guy who ends that stereotype.”

Mahomes confirmed reports that he will compete in every event (other than the bench press) and most looks forward to throwing and the interview process. He characterized himself as in the “best shape of my life” after dropping “four to five percent body fat” during his pre-combine training. 

The Texas Tech Red Raiders gunslinger leads this year’s Must-Watch team, a position by position preview of the players scouts are most excited to see perform at the 2017 NFL Combine.

(Players are listed by position, name, school, estimated height, weight, and 40-yard dash time, as well as their current ranking by position, overall and their current round projection)

Offense

QB Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech, 6-3, 230, 4.84
Currently ranked 4th among QBs, 70th overall and a 2nd-3rd round value

With his well-built frame, velocity and mobility (741 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns in 2015-16), Mahomes is a striking contrast to the mostly undersized and weak-armed passers who predated him at Tech. Further, as the son of a former Major League pitcher, Mahomes knows better than most the expectations of a professional athlete. Expect him to turn heads in workouts and interviews, alike, making a real push for top-32 consideration.

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Patrick Mahomes is out to prove he belongs in the first round.  USATSI

RB James Conner , Pittsburgh Panthers , 6-2, 240, 4.67
Currently ranked 14th among RBs, 158th overall and a 4th-5th round value

Conner already cleared his biggest hurdle for making a charge up draft boards with a February 23 screening that proves he remains cancer-free, an obvious concern after the 2014 ACC Player of the Year (1,765 yards and 26 TDs) missed much of the 2015 season with Hodgkins Lymphoma. If Conner is just as successful in erasing doubts about his straight-line speed, his more impressive tape might help him leave fellow big backs Samaje Perine (5-10, 235) and D’Onta Foreman (6-1, 249) in his wake. 

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James Conner is cancer-free and ready to run in the NFL. USATSI

WR John Ross , Washington Huskies , 5-11, 190, 4.35
Currently ranked 3rd among WRs, 19th overall and a 1st round value

No list of players to watch at the combine this year is complete without Ross, who is expected to prove among the fastest players in Indianapolis but comes with a lengthy history of serious injuries that will make him just as popular with teams’ medical personnel as their scouts. The speedster caught 17 touchdown passes last season and has four kick returns for scores over his career.

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John Ross enters the combine with injury questions.  USATSI

TE Adam Shaheen, Ashland, 6-5, 277, 4.87
Currently ranked 4th among TEs, 71st overall and a 2nd-3rd round value

It isn’t often that a D-II player leaves early for the NFL but with 26 receiving touchdowns in the two years since successfully making the transition from wide receiver and college basketball player, Shaheen is clearly not a traditional “small school” prospect.  Shaheen’s raw tools -- including a well-proportioned frame, soft hands and smooth athleticism -- stand out on tape.  As such, scouts are eager to get an apples-to-apples comparison between Shaheen and the rest of this year’s tight end class, considered the best since the 2010 crop that produced Rob Gronkowski , Jimmy Graham and Dennis Pitta among others.  


OL Garett Bolles , Utah Utes , 6-5, 297, 4.96
Currently ranked 3rd among OTs, 38th overall and a 1st-2nd round value

With all due respect to top-ranked Wisconsin Badgers offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk and Alabama’s Outland Trophy winner Cam Robinson , Bolles is the most physically gifted blocker in the 2017 draft. Scouts expect him to shine in workouts as he possesses the body control and speed of a much smaller man and seeks out contact. Interviews will be key for Bolles, an older prospect (he turns 25 in May) who comes with a reputation as a bully and questions about his ability to handle a pro blocking scheme after being spoon-fed his assignments with the Utes.

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Garett Bolles is the best blocker in the draft.  USATSI

Defense

DL Malik McDowell , Michigan State Spartans , 6-5, 276, 4.89
Currently ranked 2nd among DTs, 22nd overall and a 1st round value

Like Bolles, there is no denying McDowell’s raw talent. His combination of size, power and burst warrant top 10 consideration, though he recorded “just” seven tackles for loss (including 1.5 sacks) in 2016 before entering the draft. McDowell flashed rather than flourished throughout much of his career at East Lansing, however. An impressive workout and passion during interviews may be able to convince scouts that he is maturing and ready to turn his potential into production. 

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Will McDowell’s stock rise or fall in Indy? USATSI

Edge T.J. Watt , Wisconsin, 6-4, 243, 4.76
Currently ranked 5th among OLBs, 48th overall and a 2nd round value

Forget for a moment that he is the younger brother of the three-time NFL Defensive MVP, the spotlight will be shining brightly on Watt at the Combine because he left Wisconsin after just one productive season. To be fair, Watt was more than productive, he was dominant, recording 63 tackles, including 15.5 for loss and 11.5 sacks in 2016 but he recorded just eight combined tackles a year earlier while struggling with a knee injury and played offense (tight end and quarterback) in high school. 

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J.J. Watt’s brother is ready to wreak havoc in the NFL. USATSI

Off-ball LB Connor Harris, Lindenwood, 5-11, 241, 4.65
Currently ranked 6th among ILBs, 133rd overall and a 4th round value

With a stubby frame that frankly looked out of place amongst the chiseled physiques at Senior Bowl weigh-ins, Harris did not create a positive first impression for scouts in Mobile. The instincts, quickness and closing speed he demonstrated in practice, however, quieted critics and his production (663 tackles, most ever at any college level) is quite literally off the charts.


CB Fabian Moreau , UCLA Bruins , 6-0, 205, 4.43
Currently ranked 16th among CBs, 107th overall and a 3rd-4th round value

Like Harris, Moreau enters the combine with some momentum after creating a buzz at the East-West Shrine Game. A Lisfranc injury that ended his 2015 season after just three games (which may have impacted preseason workouts) reportedly earned Moreau a low grade from scouts heading into his senior season. His fluid change of direction and acceleration stood out against the Pac-12’s top receivers in 2016, however, and if he excels in Indianapolis (as sources suggest), Moreau could run himself into a top-50 grade.   

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Fabian Moreau comes into the combine with some serious buzz. USATSI

S Jadar Johnson , Clemson Tigers , 6-0, 198, 4.57
Currently ranked 7th among SSs, 178th overall and a 5th-6th round value

After struggling to find playing time behind future NFL picks T.J. Green and Jayron Kearse , Johnson excelled as a senior, earning First Team All-ACC honors in his first season as a starter, recording more tackles (60), interceptions (five) and passes broken up (seven) in 2016 than his previous three years combined (38-4-2). Johnson lacks elite size but his range stands out on tape. Sure scouts are excited to see possible first-round picks like LSU’s Jamal Adams , Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers and Washington’s Budda Baker but in a safety class as rich as this one, relatively unheralded prospects have to shine to get noticed. Don’t be surprised when Johnson again rises to the occasion. 

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