This week, the NFL world will be focused in on Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, as the annual NFL Scouting Combine gets underway. The Combine is where scouts and team officials from all 32 NFL teams get a chance to meet with draft prospects. They get to watch them work out in shorts to get a feel for how a player performs under the spotlight of the NFL. These next few days will be crucial, as players can make or break their draft prospects during this week. As the Houston Texans get ready to evaluate the next wave of NFL talent, here are some names to keep an eye on in Indy:
QB: Pat Mahomes, Texas Tech
The Texans’ top needs heading into 2017 are clearly focused on getting better play at quarterback. The team is nearly certain to hang on to incumbent starter Brock Osweiler, but reinforcements are needed. Picking 25th in the first round, the Texans will miss out on the top prospects. However, Pat Mahomes has the raw (emphasis on raw) ability to be a nice upside play for the team. Mahomes plays a backyard style of football, but he has ridiculous arm talent that could flourish in his home state. The team will be watching this young gunslinger closely, as he could sit behind Osweiler for a season before taking the reins in 2018.
LB: T.J. Watt, Wisconsin
When looking at potential draft targets for the Texans, they may come to find out that 2 Watts are better than 1. Texans’ superstar pass rusher J.J. Watt’s brother, T.J. is draft eligible this season. He isn’t just a famous athlete’s brother, either. T.J. showed the ability to play the run well at Wisconsin, and brings some juice as a pass rusher. At pick 25, Watt may be a little bit of a reach. However, if Watt tests well at the Combine, the team could view him as an upgrade on pending free agent linebacker John Simon.
LB: Jarrad Davis, Florida
With a budding young player at inside linebacker in Benardrick McKinney, the position may not look like a massive need heading into 2017. However, the team could stand to get depth behind him. Veteran Brian Cushing has battled numerous injuries over the years, and is only getting costlier to retain. While the team probably won’t move on from Cushing, Houston would be wise to line up a replacement. Jarrad Davis could be a combine riser, as he doesn’t get the national attention of Alabama’s Reuben Foster or Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham. Reed is a quick twitch player, as he showed sideline-to-sideline quickness at Florida. He does have a lengthy injury history, though. His showing at the combine could vault him higher up the draft board, and he could be a nice player in the Texans’ aggressive 3-4 defense.
DB: Sidney Jones, Washington
In this year’s draft, the talent at cornerback looks to be one of the deepest in years. The Texans could benefit as a result. As A.J. Bouye heads for free agency, the team could look at adding a cheaper option at cornerback in the draft. I would watch the entire cornerback group at the combine, but Jones, particularly has the size to play outside at the NFL level. Jones shows nice coverage skills to be a replacement for Bouye if he departs, or depth behind Bouye if he returns.
DB: Budda Baker, Washington
The Texans could use help at safety heading into next season. Quintin Demps was the team’s best safety last season. However, he is slated for free agency. The team may decide to go younger and target a centerfielder at the position. Baker’s smaller size will be important to note, but he shows the innate ability to make plays on the ball in coverage, and is a good tackler. If Baker shows well in tests, he may be a top target for the Texans on draft night.
DB: Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
Peppers is an explosive athlete. Period. He was in the discussion for the Heisman Trophy at Michigan. However, Peppers has questions to answer at the Combine. Peppers looks like an NFL safety, but he struggles to play in coverage and tackle in space from time to time. Peppers will work out with the linebacker group at the Combine, according to Bleacher Report’s Gary Davenport. Teams will have different perspectives of Peppers, as he seems like a safety without the coverage skills, or a linebacker without the requisite size. In Houston, Peppers could be an intriguing hybrid player for Romeo Crennel and Mike Vrabel to work with. The team could use him all over the field. His test results in combine drills will hopefully give scouts a better idea of where his future lies in the NFL.
As the Combine gets underway, be sure to stay tuned to Pro Football Spot for all the latest on the next generation of NFL stars.