No prospect position battle is started and finished at the NFL Scouting Combine, but the week-long event will give everyone their first chance to compare the draft’s top prospects side by side.

Players will file through on-field drills (some relevant, some not) for four days as scouts attempt to decipher the meaning of their successes and mistakes. As they work to outshine their fellow competitors, here are a few positions whose top players could separate themselves from the pack.

Running back

Leonard Fournette vs. Dalvin Cook

It may end up being a matter of taste that determines which of these two elite running back prospects is drafted first, but the combine could help determine how different, or alike, they really are. Fournette has been billed as once-in-a-lifetime talent, combining outstanding power with acceleration and change-of-direction skills. Cook is more of a typical all-around speed back, who chooses to avoid his would-be tacklers instead of running over them. There is some worry that Fournette won’t be able to truck through defenders at the pro level, but if he can show enough speed, scouts may build more confidence that he can transition his game. For Cook, being fast in every drill and showing he can be a smooth receiver will be crucial in his effort to become the consensus top back.


Everybody vs. Everybody

While there is no unity among draft evaluators as to who the best cornerback in the draft is, they do agree that there is plenty of talent at that position. Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore, Florida’s Teez Tabor, Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey, and Washington’s Sidney Jones are the leading candidates for top corner selected, with plenty to be determined in the following rounds as well. If one can stand out athletically above the others, it would go a long way in separating the field. That being said, there’s also the opportunity that another – like Iowa’s Desmond King or LSU’s Tre’Davious White – jumps into the conversation as well. It’s a good year to be drafting cornerbacks in the first few rounds.


Mike Williams vs. Corey Davis vs. John Ross

This year’s receiver battle isn’t as convoluted as it has been in the past few years, but there is an intriguing dynamic between the top-three combatants. Coming from Clemson, Williams has been used to spending time in the national spotlight and fits the mold of a typical outside No. 1 receiver. Davis won’t be competing at the combine due to ankle surgery, but his pro day may become very important if Williams stumbles. While Davis checks off a lot of the same boxes, he went to a smaller school at Western Michigan and hasn’t had the chance to strut his stuff to a large audience on a weekly basis. Ross is the wildcard in the group, succeeding as a speed-focused weapon who can do a lot of damage in the return game as well. It’s unfortunate Davis won’t compete this week as a discrepancy between him and Williams either way will be telling, but Ross could steal the show with the combine’s best 40-yard dash time and some quick feet.

Outside LB

Zach Cunningham vs. Takkarist McKinley vs. Tim Williams

Myles Garrett is getting all the attention as the draft’s best edge rusher, but behind him are a group of talented outside linebackers who could be off the board just a few picks later. UCLA’s McKinley and Alabama’s Williams are likely to be used as more typical pass-rushers, while Vanderbilt’s Cunningham plays an every-down role, rushing the passer when called upon. This trio’s draft position may also be a matter of preference for the teams selecting, but with Garrett sucking up all the allure at the top of the draft, the runner-up spot should be coveted.


Forrest Lamp vs. Dan Feeney

It is not a particularly fun experience watching offensive linemen blocking imaginary defenders and moving through drills at a pace that questions why they’re taking part at all, but the competition is still intense. Indiana’s Feeney and Western Kentucky’s Lamp appear to be the top-two prospects for teams looking to add an interior lineman early. It can be difficult to weigh the performance of guards and centers when they’re working among their offensive line, but the combine’s individual drills exposes their true movement skills. Matching up tape of their performances side by side will be an easy way for scouts to determine who is the more athletic and possibly, who gets off the board first.

Inside LB

Raekwon McMillan vs. Jarrad Davis

Alabama’s Reuben Foster is the best inside linebacker prospect in the draft and there’s really no debating it. Behind him, however, are two fellow big-school products who could be starting in the middle of two NFL defenses next fall. Ohio State’s McMillan and Florida’s Davis likely aren’t going to break into the league wrecking havoc and changing game plans right away, but they could be solid starters who prove their purpose over time. McMillan needs to prove he has the speed to be an every-down player, while Davis is already plenty fast, but has to answer questions surrounding his strength and durability.


Deshaun Watson vs. Mitch Trubisky vs. DeShone Kizer

The combine isn’t a great place to try evaluating quarterbacks, but with so many questions to answer around each of the top three, it’s an important part of the process. Watson’s character and attitude has been given rave reviews, but his passing talents may not translate to an NFL-style quarterback. Trubisky fits the pro style mold better, but has only one year of starting experience from college. Kizer has the body and the look, but his accuracy issues and inability to win games with a highly rated Notre Dame team causes doubt. Their combine performances could end up raising more questions than answers, so its worth a watch. Another name to look out for is Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, who could come off the board at the back of the first round.

(Photos courtesy: Action Images)