SportsPulse: From the news that Nick Foles will be a free agent to the latest on the trade market for Antonio Brown here is the biggest news coming out of the first day at the NFL Scouting Combine.
While the likes of Kyler Murray and Nick Bosa are sure to command the most attention among NFL draft hopefuls at the scouting combine, the annual event in Indianapolis also routinely gives rise to players who are less widely recognized.
For those invitees not from a Power 5 conference or even the Football Bowl Subdivision, meeting with and performing for NFL teams can be an opportunity to prompt further consideration for what might have otherwise been an overlooked prospect. And in 2019, there’s substantial talent to be found at lower levels and later rounds.
Here are 10 sleepers to watch for at the combine:
Tyree Jackson, QB, Buffalo: It’s nearly impossible for a 6-7, 249-pound quarterback to fly under the radar, and Jackson has a highlight reel that would make him look like a first-round pick. Sporadic accuracy (55.3 percent completion rate in 2018) and overall inconsistency, however, make him somewhat of a wild card, as he likely is more of a developmental option than someone an NFL team would turn to in the near future. At least in Indianapolis, expect Jackson to dazzle with the kind of deep passes that Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen made last year at the event.
Jazz Ferguson, WR, Northwestern State: The younger brother of Louisiana Tech defensive end and fellow NFL hopeful Jaylon Ferguson can use the combine to clear up a few points about his professional outlook. Despite posting school records with 1,177 receiving yards and 13 touchdown catches in his lone season at Northwestern State, Ferguson will have to answer for why things didn’t pan out at LSU before he transferred. Still, his physical make-up and massive catch radius should command significant interest.
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Keelan Doss, WR, UC-Davis: Catching passes seems to come easy to Doss, who hauled in 233 receptions for 2,833 receiving yards in the last two years. The 6-3, 204-pound target likely won’t post blazing times in drills, but his polished route running and natural feel for the position are advanced for any draft prospect, let alone a small-school one. At some point, he should win a team over with his reliability.
Tytus Howard, OT, Alabama State: Moving on from his previous roles as a high school quarterback and basketball player looks to have been the right decision, as Howard now has the potential to be an NFL starter at left tackle. His nimble footwork at 6-5, 322 pounds portends a promising future as a pass protector if he learns how to use his hands more effectively. A year spent studying and hitting the weight room should position him to make an early impact for whatever team drafts him.
Darryl Johnson, DE, North Carolina A&T: Having produced Bears running back Tarik Cohen and Raiders offensive tackle Brandon Parker in the last two years, North Carolina A&T is in good shape to field yet another draft pick in Johnson. At 6-5 and 232 pounds, he dips around offensive tackles with relative ease and recorded 10 1/2 sacks in 2018. With NFL teams willing to pay a premium for pass-rushing skills, Johnson should have several suitors who will take a long view on his production.
John Cominsky, DE, Charleston: Another former high school quarterback, Cominksy filled out his frame to become one of Division II’s top defenders as a 6-5, 285-pound lineman. His changed build didn’t impede his athleticism, though, and he should turn heads in the 40-yard dash and short shuttle. He might take time to develop NFL-level skills as a 3-4 defensive end, but his upside is readily evident.
Terrill Hanks, LB, New Mexico State: A four-year starter who racked up 391 tackles over the course of his career, Hanks looks the part of a 4-3 linebacker at 6-2 and 234 pounds. His read-and-react skills are still a work in progress, and teams might want to get a better sense for his processing ability in interviews. But in a linebacker class seemingly short on depth, his testing marks might reinforce his room for growth.
Sean Bunting, CB, Western Michigan: The 6-1, 181-pound first-team All-Mid-American Conference selection smothered receivers with his long arms and physical approach, allowing just a 45.1 passer rating when targeted, according to Pro Football Focus. Proof of his ability to stick with receivers downfield will be important for his consideration as a potential Day 2 selection, however, so teams will be looking for a respectable 40-yard dash.
Corey Ballentine, CB, Washburn: The winner of the Cliff Harris Award as the top small-school defensive player in the country, Ballentine is making a push to show he can handle a significant leap in his level of competition. He’s already earned the endorsement of Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who said he was impressed after coaching the Division II standout. With an NFL build and special teams value highlighted by his career kick return average of more than 30 yards per attempt, Ballentine could build a buzz if he runs a solid 40 and shows off his fluidity in drills.
Malik Gant, S, Marshall: A former walk-on, Gant should win plenty of fans among scouts and coaching staffs with his all-out approach, as he consistently seeks out ball carriers and delivers big blows. Any franchise in search of a box safety who can also thrive as a linebacker on sub packages could look to Gant in the middle rounds.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.