Four Maryland football alumni earned invites to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this week. The event starts on Tuesday and continues through Leap Day, at which point players adjourn and NFL Draft season heads into a practically never-ending home stretch.
For Sean Davis, Yannick Ngakoue, Quinton Jefferson and Brad Craddock, the combine is an important opportunity. Maryland gets plenty of scouting attention during the season, but not nearly as much as some of the country's most powerful football schools. It's easy for a Maryland player to fly under the radar and lose draft stock (see: Diggs, Stefon), so showing out in front of evaluators from across the league is no small thing.
Here's a brief primer on Maryland's four combine invitees (and a schedule):
Yannick Ngakoue, linebacker/defensive end, 6'2, 255 pounds
Ngakoue is Maryland's best draft prospect by a long shot. He set the program's single-season sacks record in his junior and final year in College Park, seamlessly transitioning from a 3-4 outside linebacker to a 4-3 defensive end. He can thrive either with his hand in the turf or as a stand-up backer, and he's a great pass-rusher.
Of course, NFL evaluators might see someone who's played as both an end and a linebacker and think "tweener" instead of "versatile." Here's one example:
Ngakoue is a classic 'tweener with the burst to challenge tackle's reach but only playing strength at this time, making him a stud against the pass but a dud versus the run. His instincts have improved from last season, playing with more purpose and awareness against the run and pass, alike, in 2015, leading to optimism that he may just be scratching the surface of his potential.
Ngakoue is classified as a defensive end at the combine. He'll work out on Sunday.
Sean Davis, defensive back, 6'1, 201 pounds
Davis has a great defensive back's build, and he has one of the best NFL bodies of anyone Maryland has had in recent years. He's somewhat long and uses that to recover against fast receivers, although he's sometimes prone to missed assignments and got beat on more than a couple of deep passes last season.
Davis went through a draft evaluation process under Randy Edsall a year ago before deciding to return to Maryland for his senior season. He had played as mostly a free safety in his first three years but switched full-time to cornerback last season, where he had 3 interceptions. Here's a pretty good NFL-centric look at Davis.
Davis is probably a fourth-to-sixth-round pick. He'll work out on Monday.
Quinton Jefferson, defensive lineman, 6'4, 289 pounds
Jefferson is versatile, having spent time as both a defensive tackle and defensive end in both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses during his time at Maryland. He was never a star at Maryland, but he was always dependable against both the run and pass. He's also a father of three and probably more mature than most kids coming out of college and into the NFL.
Here's a take on Jefferson from Lance Zierlein, a longtime NFL evaluator:
High cut 3-technique with good upper body strength but below average lower body power to take a stand. Jefferson flashes penetration ability and some pass rushing talent, but he needs to be fitted to a 1-gap, upfield defense and will have to make a team as a rotational lineman.
Jefferson is probably a late-round pick. He'll work out on Sunday.
Brad Craddock, kicker, 6'0, 193 pounds
Craddock was the absolute best kicker in college football as a junior, but he had a challenging 2015 because of circumstances mostly out of his control. After going 21-of-25 on field goals as a sophomore and 18-of-19 as a junior, Craddock was just 8-of-10 as a senior, restrained by Maryland's putrid offense not setting up many opportunities. He also injured his hand defending a kickoff return against Wisconsin and missed the last few games.
This is a really good kicking draft year. Florida State's Robert Aguayo is drawing ridiculously high draft projections for a kicker, and there are at least three or four other draftable kickers beside Craddock. There are only 32 kicking jobs – give or take – in the entire league, so the likeliest outcome for Craddock is that he's picked very late or signed as an undrafted free agent. Edsall really loves Craddock, so watch for the Detroit Lions, the coach's new team, to be interested.
Special-teamers work out on Tuesday.