In preparation for the 2014 NFL Draft, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top draft-eligible prospects from FBS-level programs. This summer series will run until the start of the college football season.
NFL Draft picks the last five years: Four
2013 NFL Draft picks: One -- OT Tanner Hawkinson (5th round, Cincinnati Bengals)
The past two seasons, Kansas has totaled just three wins and two of those victories came against FCS-level opponents (McNeese State and South Dakota State). Reflective of the Jayhawks' lackluster record in recent years, Kansas hasn't been a strong NFL pipeline with just four draft picks over the past five years. But the Jayhawks' meager NFL streak has gone back further than that with just one top-100 draft pick (CB Aqib Talib) since 1997. And with only nine returning starters, the 2013 season will be another rebuilding year for head coach Charlie Weis in his second season in Lawrence.
Top Kansas prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft
1. DT Marquel Combs (6-3, 310, 5.22)*
Widely considered the top JUCO recruit in the country, Combs chose Kansas over offers from several SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 programs. Despite his size and strength, he “didn't have any interest” in football growing up and didn't play the sport until his senior year in high school. Due to his inexperience Combs went the JUCO route after graduation, playing the past two seasons at Pierce Junior College where he improved “with every game,” according to his coaches. He carries his weight well for a 310-plus pounder with terrific balance and body control, easily moving in any direction. Combs is obviously still raw in several areas, but the size and athletic skill-set are there for him to develop into something more than a “JAG” prospect. Combs has yet to play a snap for the Jayhawks, or any other FBS team for that matter, but if his play matches the hype, Combs could emerge as one of the top interior defenders in the conference this season.
2. RB James Sims (6-0, 202, 4.53)
Despite a three-game suspension (due to a DUI arrest) to begin last year, Sims eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark over nine games, finishing the 2012 season with 1,013 yards on 218 carries with nine touchdowns. He led the conference in rushing yards per game (112.6) and set a school record with six straight 100-yard rushing games. Sims, who Weis has compared to former Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis, has the shifty feet to make defenders miss, but also runs with deceiving strength and balance, using his pad level and toughness to pick up yards after contact. He lacks elite speed and his vision seems to run hot-and-cold, but he adds value as a receiver and won't put the ball on the ground. Sims has led the Jayhawks in rushing each of the last three seasons and needs just 1,360 yards as a senior to become the school's all-time leading rusher. Entering his final season in Lawrence, Sims is likely a borderline draftable talent with some intriguing tools that will help his NFL chances.
3. WR Justin McCay (6-2, 215, 4.54)*
Three years ago, McCay was a highly-touted recruit out of high school and had a scholarship offer from just about every top program in the nation, finally choosing to play his college ball at Oklahoma. But McCay, a native of Kansas, struggled to see the field in his two seasons in Norman and decided to transfer closer to home, sitting out due to NCAA transfer rules and spending the 2012 season on the scout team. Despite zero career catches, he flashed his big-time potential in Kansas' spring game (eight catches, 99 yards, one touchdown) and is projected as a starter this fall. McCay is a long, big-framed target who uses his body well to box out targets and create separation from defensive backs. Off the limited tape out there on him, he looks like more of a one-speed athlete who struggles to explode off the line of scrimmage or in his breaks, but he works hard to get open and has the physical talent to be a productive player. Last season Kansas wide receivers combined for zero touchdown catches so McCay is a welcome addition to the Jayhawks' offense, but will he be able to live up to the high expectations from fans and scouts?
Other Kansas prospects worth watching:
RB Tony Pierson (5-10, 172, 4.55)*
The Jayhawks' starting halfback in Charlie Weis' offense, Pierson averaged 6.5 yards on the ground last season and also finished second on the team with 21 catches.
WR Chris Omigie (6-3, 200, 4.67)
Although his career stats are uninspiring (12 catches, zero scores), Omigie has NFL size and enough speed to attract attention from NFL scouts.
OT Aslam Sterling (6-5, 312, 5.42)
Down almost 50 pounds from a year ago, Sterling started at both guard and tackle last season, but is expected to settle in at right tackle in 2013.
DE Jordan Tavai (6-2, 290, 5.01)
His stat sheet from last year (his first season in Lawrence) wasn't very impressive (20 tackles, zero sacks), but Tavai routinely handled multiple blocks and has NFL size.
MLB Ben Heeney (6-0, 225, 4.63)*
The Jayhawks' leading tackler from a year ago with 112 stops, Heeney earned second team All-Big 12 honors last season, his first as the starting middle linebacker.