The NFL Scouting Combine is the premier pre-draft event for upcoming draft prospects to showcase their measurables. A strong or weak combine performance can make or break any prospect’s draft hopes. Take for example, the cases of Robert Nkemdiche, Cardale Jones, or Chris Johnson. Both Nkemdiche and Jones saw steep falls in the 2016 draft due to poor combine performance, while Chris Johnson went from being a mid-round pick to a first round pick in 2008 due to a record breaking 4.24 40-yard dash time.
Heading into 2017, the Bengals have plenty of holes to fill, but also plenty of draft picks to play with. Recently, the club has been very good at picking up talent in the draft, but this year the decision makers will want to make sure to get the most out of every pick. Therefore, they will want to watch for the following players who could become very appealing in the draft with a solid combine performance:
Rudy Ford, S, Auburn
The Bengals already met with Ford at the 2017 Senior Bowl. But, the prevailing opinion surrounding Ford’s draft stock is that his combine performance will largely determine where he is taken. Once considered a top safety prospect, a warm up injury before the Sugar Bowl caused him to miss the game and, ultimately, he saw his draft stock fall. If he can show enough rehab progress at the combine, teams will be more willing to pick him up as early as the third round. But, with a poor combine performance, there’s no telling how far he could fall.
The Bengals aren’t exactly hurting for help at safety right now, but we already know they have their eye on him. So, keep him in the back of your mind if he does well at the combine.
Stanley ‘Boom’ Williams, RB, Kentucky
Running back is a position the Bengals could be looking to re-tool in 2017. With Rex Burkhead and Cedric Peerman’s impending free agent status and Jeremy Hill’s continued ineffectiveness, an injection of talent at this position could be very beneficial. There’s also Giovani Bernard’s ACL recovery to consider. Receiving comparisons to Darren Sproles, Williams is an undersized back with explosive and multidimensional potential. Due to his size, whether or not he will be drafted at all is still up to question. But, with a solid combine performance, particularly in the off-tackle reaction drill, teams could see what he brings to the table and his stock could rise as high as his performance allows. He would be a perfect fit with the Bengals, should Burkhead move on in free agency.
Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
As an experienced sideline-to-sideline linebacker, Cunningham would fit perfectly in the Bengals’ defense. He is an adept pass defender, which the Bengals have lacked for a long time. Right now, he is expected to be a second round pick, with the potential to drop to the third. But, if the Bengals like his combine performance, they might want to consider picking him up with the No. 41 overall pick, if the team doesn’t take a linebacker in the first round.
Jabrill Peppers, S/LB, Michigan
It isn’t often that you hear about a top draft prospect being criticized for having a resume that is too diverse across multiple positions. Then again, it isn’t too often that you see a player like Jabrill Peppers, whose final position count in college stood at 10. He’s like the defensive version of fellow former wolverine Denard Robinson, although he has plenty of experience playing offensive roles. He would be the ultimate luxury pick, which the Bengals could potentially afford. But, the team will want to watch how he performs at certain combine events to determine where he fits best in their particular system.
Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
The Bengals should be looking to shore up their defensive end depth in this year’s draft and Barnett might be a player to seriously consider. There is a chance he isn’t even still available when the Bengals pick at No. 9 overall, but, he is definitely a player the club should keep an eye on at the combine. The biggest criticism against Barnett is his size and frame. He isn’t quite as athletic or physically impressive as scouts would like. With an impressive combine performance, it would be a shock if he stayed on the board long enough for the Bengals to have a shot at drafting him. With a poor combine performance, there is no telling how far he could fall. Barnett has frequently been mocked to the Bengals and is someone to watch for the No. 9 overall pick.