In case you missed it, the official NFL Scouting Combine invitation list came out earlier this week. Considered the premier event for draft-ready prospects to showcase their skills prior to the April’s big day, the combine is far from the end all, be all of determining whether a player will boom or bust on the next level. The inevitable Wes Welker example has been echoed a thousand times over, and just as Welker went on to NFL stardom after not receiving a combine invite, we can bet this year’s list of combine “snubs” holds several future Pro Bowlers. Here are some notable offensive skill position players from around the country who didn’t get an invitation.
QB: Zach Collaros, Cincinnati- To a certain extent I can understand how Collaros gets overlooked. The Big East has been mediocre for most of his career, and his senior year was broken up due to injury. Still, it’s worth pointing out that Collaros was once the poster-boy for a dual-threat Big East quarterback, electrifying the nation as a sophomore in 2009 when he led the Bearcats to five consecutive Big East wins. A key part in helping Brian Kelley’s team get to the Sugar Bowl that season, his size (6-foot-ish) might not be ideal, but when healthy he has the kind of leadership ability and versatile athleticism to make you wonder why an NFL team wouldn’t consider him.
QB- Dan Persa, Northwestern- Wait a second. Is it just me, or were we talking about this guy as a potential Heisman darkhorse a year ago? It’s no secret Persa’ brilliant junior season was spoiled by an Achilles injury which left him in a limbo-like relationship with starting status in 2011, but he still managed to hit over 74% of his passes, and actually became the NCAA’s career leader in completion percentage. While his mobility was extremely limited last season, he’s shown proved adept at moving in the pocket, and despite standing only slightly over 6-foot, he’s got the kind of pinpoint accuracy that make playing at the next level entirely possible.
RB: Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky- This is the guy already making his name out to be “Mr Overlooked” for the 2012 draft. Passed up by the Senior Bowl selection committee as well, Rainey was the most instrumental player in the Hilltoppers’ unprecedented rise from the ranks of college football’s worst teams in 2011. His 5-foot-7 frame obviously hurts him, but he’s rumored to have sub 4.4 speed. Toughness? The guy only led the country in rushing attempts each of the last two years, and despite playing through coaching changes, poor offensive lines, and sometime nonexistent quarterback play, Rainey still managed 4,542 yards in his college career.
RB: Lance Dunbar, North Texas- Call it the curse of playing for not just a non-BCS school, but a bad non-BCS school.Dunbar was a three time First Team All Sunbelt pick and is just one of six FBS players in history with over 4000 career rushing yards and 1000 receiving yards. True, his 5-foot-8 size is far from ideal, but last I checked plenty of NFL backs weren’t built in the Adrian Peterson mold. Not sure he gets drafted, but he’s a guy who can definitely become a contributor on the right NFL team.
WR: Cole Beasley, SMU- People are going to compare this guy to Wes Welker because of his size, skin color, and the kind of offense he played in, but the simple fact is that Beasley is a receiver in every sense of the word. He’s got great footwork and feel for the dimensions of the field, and once more, he displays a level of toughness and concentration in traffic that are needed on the next level. Despite missing time due to injury as a senior, he stepped up for 79 catches in 2011, and should make a great slot NFL receiver.
WR: Jeremy Ebert, Northwestern- How a guy who caught 137 balls for over 200 yards and scored 19 touchdowns over the last two years gets left off the combine invite list is beyond me. Like Beasley, it probably doesn’t help that he’s a moderately sized white guy in the slot mold, but to say Ebert lacks ideal speed down the field is to blatantly ignore his highlight film. His numbers would have been even better had Dan Persa been injury free in 2011, but as it stands now he’s going to make one team (the Patriots, perhaps?) happy with a steal in the draft.
TE: Brian Linthicum, Michigan State- Forget for a second that at 6-foot-5, 245-pounds he has ideal size for coming off the line, but Linthicum is coming off a season in which he caught 31 balls for 364 yards. He has averaged over 10 yards a reception in a pro-style, run heavy Big Ten offense each of the past three years, and is a guy who could immediately step in and play as a second tight end on the NFL level.
TE: George Bryan, NC State- Bryan is not going to win any awards for his speed, but at 6-foot-5, 265 he has the perfect size of an NFL tight end, and the resume to boot. As a rare four-year contributor who managed to catch 126 passes in his career, he begs an invitation to the NFL combine if simply to see whether or not his much harped on “lack of athleticism” is enough to detract from his toughness as a receiver and soft hands.