Combine Invitees: Five Players to Watch

Stacy Revere

It's almost time for the underwear Olympics Panther fans! So what players 'will blow up' the combine this year? SBN has the entire list of invitees (333) but I'm going to highlight my top 5 player's of interest, either because I hope they are Panther targets or because they are expected to shine in their underwear. I'll also take a look at some of the snubs.

Here's the details on the combine and as always CSR will be running open threads throughout as we watch and evaluate the players from our armchairs. SBN will also have reps at the combine so we will tap into their Twitter feeds and other daily reviews:

NFL Combine 2013: Official invite list released - SBNation.com
Workouts are separated by position, as special teams players, tight ends and offensive linemen start on Saturday, Feb. 23. On Sunday, Feb. 24, quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs take the field. Then, defensive linemen and linebackers go on Monday, Feb. 25, and the combine wraps up with defensive backs on Tuesday, Feb. 26.

Here's my Top 5 Players to Watch:

1. WR Keenan Allen - Allen is a guy being compared to Dez Bryant but is he healed from his leg injury enough to not only participate but prove he is worth a top 15 pick? Since he didn't require surgery he should be ready to go:

Keenan Allen injury further clouds the 2013 NFL Draft wide receiver rankings - SBNation.com
Allen has a left knee injury that will sideline him for at least two to three weeks but won't require surgery, according to the Oakland Tribune. With the Golden Bears struggling again this season, Allen has little incentive to risk re-injuring his knee and coming back too soon. He also appears to have accomplish just about everything he can at Cal, making the NFL Draft the next logical step in Allen's career. Prior to the injury, Allen had begun to separate himself from the rest of 2013 wide receiver class. He's an explosive player with great body control. He's also shown an ability to make plays after the catch and is a near-lock for the first round if healthy.

2. DT Sheldon Richardson - Another possible Panther target at #14, Richardson is said to exceptionally fluid and athletic for a guy 300lbs. He is just the kind of player that gets all the 'oohhs' and 'aahhhs' at the combine.

Sheldon_richardson_medium

Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri: Whereas some of the top defensive tackles in the country lack eye-popping statistics, Richardson enjoyed a breakout campaign for the Tigers. He finished just four tackles behind linebacker Andrew Wilson as Missouri's leading tackler this season with 75 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.

For a DT to finish with only five less than the leading LB on the team is very impressive. As much as I think Dave Gettleman would prefer to land one of the top pass rushers he might 'settle' for a top pass rushing DT in the draft. Richardson could be the perfect 'need meets BPA' pick.

#3 WR Cordarrelle Patterson - Since there is not near as much tape on Patterson as some of the other WRs they will take a long hard look at Patterson and try to answer the fundamental question laid out in this post:

2013 NFL Draft: Cordarrelle Patterson top WR on Mel Kiper big board - SBNation.com
Like (Stephen) Hill, Patterson is tall and lengthy, has a big frame and runs a 40 time in the 4.35 range. And like Hill, Patterson is one of those physical players who have a high ceiling, as Kiper has pointed out. He has all the tools to be a top receiver in the NFL, but the question remains: did he get by on his athleticism in college, and how will he look throughout the months leading up to the draft?

In particular let's see how Patterson does in the route running and hands drills as I'm just not sure this kid isn't too raw to go as high as #14 as some think he should.

4. CB Desmond Trufant - In the likely event the Panthers cut CB Chris Gamble they will have a huge hole in the secondary. Trufant looked really good at the Senior Bowl and many are calling him the best cover corner in the draft:

Big Board: Some prospects make big points at Senior Bowl - NFL, NFLDRAFT - CBSSports.com - NFLDraftScout.com
Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington: While lacking the size and physicality of Millner or Rhodes, the 5-11, 190-pound Trufant showcased a blend of speed and fluidity in Mobile to arguably rank as this year's top cover corner. If the last name sounds familiar, it should. Both of his older brothers -- Marcus and Isaiah -- are already cashing NFL paychecks as cornerbacks with the Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets.

One the best ways to help a pass rush is to not give the QB anyone to throw to. Let's see how Trufant does in the position drills as well as what his top end speed ends up being. He could be the next Derrelle Revis as he has the bloodlines in his favor as well. Might be be the best of the Trufant brothers?

5. DE Ezekial Ansah - Last on my list but definitely not least is the guy everyone should sure to be watching; the guy being compared to DE Jason Pierre-Paul:

Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Brigham Young, NFL Draft - CBSSports.com - NFLDraftScout.com
BYU's Ezekiel Ansah drawing comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul...In 2010, Ansah walked on to the BYU track team and ran a personal-best of 21.9 seconds in the 200 meters. Upon the urgings of a Cougars' assistant track coach, Ansah took up football. "It was hard but my teammates and coaches helped me through it," Ansah said. Ansah models his game after Pierre-Paul, the Giants defensive end, who also entered the league with little seasoning. As a zone blitzer, Ansah compares himself favorably with Clay Matthews. Lions coach Jim Schwartz, the South coach at the Senior Bowl, says Ansah isn't as raw as people think. "Everybody keeps saying that he's raw but I keep seeing things like instincts and knocking down passes that doesn't look raw to me," Schwartz said. "It looks like he has a really good feel for the game." - Matt Rybaltowski, CBSSports.com

He dominated at the Senior Bowl and many have him mocked to the Lions in the top 10. Given Lion's coach Jim Schwartz was a coach at the Senior Bowl and has been talking highly of Ansah I don't expect him to be there at #14. Regardless, he will have them drooling in Indy later this month and will certainly be one to watch.

Top 4 Players Snubbed

Here's four players who won't get to show what they have until their Pro Days as they were 'snubbed':

It's hard to argue with this kids production even against lesser talent:

NFL Combine 2013: Players who were snubbed - SBNation.com
Jasper Collins, WR, Mount Union - Mount Union has proven to be a reliable source of NFL talent at the wide receiver position with Pierre Garcon and Cecil Shorts, but leading receiver Collins was not invited to the combine in 2013. Collins caught 92 passes for 1,694 yards and 22 touchdowns his senior season and led the Purple Raiders to another D-III championship.

Collins was one of the stand outs from the East West Shrine game.

Here's a very athletic CB who would have loved the chance to show he is worth a late round pick:

Brandon Smith, CB, Georgia - As athletic as nearly any cornerback in the draft, Smith likely would have shined at the combine. He lacks the technique of the top level corners and didn't record any interceptions his senior season, but he did break up nine passes.

Smith compares favorably to former Bulldog CB Brandon Boykin.

Now a couple TEs:

2013 NFL Draft: Top 10 Combine Snubs - CBSSports.com
4. TE Zach Sudfeld, Nevada After missing the 2011 season with a leg injury, Sudfeld led Nevada in touchdown catches (eight) as a senior and brings an intriguing blend of size (6-6, 261) and quickness to the next level.

1. TE Michael Williams, Alabama Although he plays stiff and will struggle to separate at the next level, Williams is a powerful and physical blocker with the size and strength to stick in the NFL as a No. 2 tight end.

As James said recently in his TE position review, Gary Barnidge may not have any remaining upside and is too much like Greg Olsen to get on the field in 2013. The Panthers might instead look for a replacement for Ben Hartsock in the later rounds.

You can review the entire list of the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine Invitees here.

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