2019 Scouting Combine: Three Players to Watch


It’s that time of the year when we all begin to look at the list of Combine invites and predict what a player can do. The Combine is one of my favorite events of the year for a few reasons. First of all, it gets us that much closer to the NFL Draft. Secondly, it gives us all a chance to see how fluid of an athlete a player is or can be.

One of my toughest jobs as an evaluator is how to place a player on the board after the way they test at the Scouting Combine. For example, Teez Tabor tested terribly for a cornerback two years ago and I didn’t move him too far down my board. He has not translated well as a cornerback in the NFL and has struggled for the Detroit Lions. When he participated at the Combine, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.62 seconds and only had a vertical jump of 31-inches. It’s been clear that he lacks the long speed and explosiveness to cover some of the premier receivers in the league.

Meanwhile, Orlando Brown Jr. had one of the worst combines ever recorded for an offensive tackle last year. However, he had a promising rookie season and got a grade of 66.2 from Pro Football Focus (PFF). On tape Brown was a first-round pick, but because of how he tested, he was pushed to the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. It makes sense that teams were worried about his 5.68 seconds in the 40-yard dash and only 18 reps in the bench press for a player at 6’7″ and 345 pounds. But where does that leave us? Trust the tape would be my advice, but is that enough?

It probably isn’t for most people, but these are examples of two young players. One found success as a rookie and the other has struggled through two seasons. As we approach the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, keep in mind that the tape still matters and not all athletic tests determine where a player will project at the next level. However, it does make it more clear when a player struggles on tape and helps illustrate how fluid or limited a player is or can be. With that being said, let’s take a look at three players that could help their draft stock at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine!

Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State 

More often than not, we see Kelvin Harmon and D.K. Metcalf hyped up to be the top receiver in the 2019 NFL Draft. Rightfully so, they’re very good in their own right. After the Combine, we could add Hakeem Butler to the list. Here’s a clip from last season where he posted 60 receptions for 1,318 yards and nine touchdowns:

Listed at 6’6″ and 219 pounds, Butler has pulled pro comparisons to players from A.J. Green to Plaxico Burress. You all know how I operate; we don’t do pro comparisons here. I’ll let Butler be Butler. So what is he? He’s a gifted pass-catcher who takes long strides and can climb the ladder over any defensive back and grab the ball out of the sky. He’s got good body control and is aggressive at the catch point.

Many will consider him a limited athlete, and he’s been average at best when getting separation. However, he should test well in the 40-yard dash and the vertical jump. The one drill that I’m most looking forward to him doing is the 3-cone drill. If he can show fluid hips and the flexibility to run that drill and time well, teams are going to push him up their draft boards. He’s got the size and the skillset to match the profile of a number one receiver at the next level. Now we just need to see where he is athletically.

Yodny Cajuste, OT, West Virginia

One of my favorite offensive linemen in this class is Yodny Cajuste from West Virginia. The difficult thing is that there are a lot of good offensive linemen in this class. Whether it’s Jonah Williams or Cody Ford, there’s a plethora of players and a lot of talent in this group. Cajuste is one of those players who looks like a natural fit at left tackle, but the biggest concern will be his health.

Yodny Cajuste, OT, West Virginia University

In 2015, he played half the season and then injured his knee and missed the second half. Trying to bounce back in 2016 to prove he could stay healthy was the goal, but after one game, he injured his knee again and had to miss the entire season. Fortunately, he’s proven he can be healthy by starting 24 games over the last two seasons. He was so good in 2018 that he won a share of the Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year Award with Dalton Risner (Kansas State) and Dru Samia (Oklahoma).

Listed at 6’5″ and 322 pounds, Cajuste stands out like a sore thumb on the left side of the Mountaineers’ offensive line. Reliant on his footwork and his grip strength, he’s never going to overpower defensive players. He does play with a “mean streak” but being a smooth technician is the way he’ll win on Sundays.

Testing at the Combine will be huge for him because he’ll get to show teams how healthy he is and how natural of a knee bender he can be. The Combine doesn’t necessarily help offensive linemen like it does for the skilled players, but we’ve seen what a bad combine can do to a player’s draft stock. That’s the last thing that Cajuste wants to happen.

Justin Layne, CB, Michigan State

When we get beyond the consensus “top three” on the cornerback rankings (Greedy, Baker, and Murphy), who should we be talking about? Amani Oruwariye from Penn State is a player I’ve watched over the last few days, and I’ve been impressed with what he provides. Joejuan Williams from Vanderbilt is just a name. Rock Ya-Sin from Temple has the best name of anyone in the draft but looks limited because of his size. What about Justin Layne from Michigan State?

Listed at 6’3″ and 185 pounds, the former wide receiver has converted to a pretty good defensive back for the Spartans. In fact, he’s even played some receiver for them during the 2018 season because of the injuries that occurred to the Spartans’ offense. Regardless, we should see Layne running with the defensive backs at the Combine, and it’ll be just as important for him as it will be for any of the other names listed above.

Immediately on film, his length will stand out. He wins with his aggressive behavior and physical nature when in man coverage. He posted one interception with 15 pass breakups in 2018 and will look to build on that in the NFL. One of the biggest question marks with him is hip fluidity. How fluid can he be? There have been question marks about his long speed, and overall he’s struggled against some of the real speedsters at wide receiver. Fortunately, most of those passes were overthrown and it didn’t cost the Spartans. At the Combine, he’ll have to post relatively good numbers in the 40-yard dash and 3-cone drill to show his true athletic potential. That will help solidify him in the second tier of cornerbacks outside of the consensus “top three”.

National Scout for Cover 1. Host of Cover 1 | The NFL Draft Podcast. NFL Draft Enthusiast. X's and O's. Heard on ESPN Radio, FOX Sports Radio and CBS Sports Radio.