10 NFL prospects with the most to prove at the 2024 NFL Combine

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Sportsnaut

The NFL Scouting Combine is one of the most important periods of the 2024 NFL offseason calendar. It provides an opportunity for top NFL prospects to influence their draft stock, which can mean a difference of millions of dollars over the next five years.

As part of our 2024 NFL Combine preview coverage, we’re taking a look at NFL prospects with the most to prove in Indianapolis this week. With scouts, general managers and coaches in attendance to see more than 200 draft-eligible prospects, the next few days could define careers.

Let’s dive into the 10 NFL prospects with the most at stake for the NFL Combine 2024.

J.J. McCarthy, quarterback, Michigan Wolverines

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While consensus is rare when it comes to the NFL Draft, a majority of people around the league believe Caleb Williams, Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels are the top three quarterback prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft. After that star-studded group, however, opinions vary wildly on which NFL prospect is the fourth-best signal-caller and that makes the 2024 NFL Combine critical for J.J. McCarthy.

While some view the Michigan Wolverines quarterback as a surefire top-12 pick, others aren’t nearly as sold on him as a first-round talent. It certainly doesn’t help that late in the year, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh took the football out of McCarthy’s hands, resulting in him compiling just 857 passing yards in his final six games, including five performances under 150 passing yards. In short, there’s not much of a sample size of McCarthy being the focal point of an offense.

Standing at 6-foot-3 with above-average athleticism and strong accuracy, McCarthy will already bring some tools to the table that should help him stand out at the NFL Combine. On top of that, the glowing reviews he receives from Harbaugh and the widespread expectation that McCarthy will ace his meetings with teams may cement his status as a top-15 pick. If he struggles in drills, however, it could lead some credence to the concerns over his lack of involvement with Michigan’s offense down the stretch.

Michael Penix Jr, quarteack, Washington Huskies

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Washington Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. arguably has the biggest red flag in the 2024 NFL Draft. Even putting aside the fact he’s a left-handed quarterback, which teams tend to shy away from, there are long-term medical concerns with the Heisman Trophy runner-up.

He suffered four season-ending injuries during his college career, including two ACL tears (2018 and 2020). The college football star also missed time with an AC joint separation in his throwing shoulder during the 2021 season. If all of that isn’t concerning enough for NFL medical staffs, it’s also worth keeping in mind that Penix Jr. will turn 24 in May, making him nearly the same age as Trevor Lawrence.

Penix Jr. will throw at the NFL and the combination of his arm strength, velocity and functional athleticism at 6-foot-3 could allow him to deliver a strong performance. Much like McCarthy, Penix Jr. is also expected to interview well with teams as he did at the Senior Bowl. Ultimately, the medical checks will determine where he is drafted.

Spencer Rattler, quarterback, South Carolina Gamecocks

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Spencer Rattler never quite met his own expectations in college football, but he is one of the more enticing quarterback prospects likely to be selected on Day 2 of the 2024 NFL Draft. Of course, in order for that to happen, he must first prove himself at the NFL Combine.

We’ll start with the positives. Rattler offers excellent arm strength with a quick release and A-grade velocity that can allow him to fit footballs into tight windows in all areas of the field. He also brings solid athleticism with confidence in himself to take chances. Unfortunately, there is often overconfidence and that combined with poor decision-making and sporadic accuracy has yielded some disastrous results.

Volatile quarterbacks are one of the most exciting things about the NFL Combine, though. If Rattler has a good day in drills, flashing those physical tools, he’ll start being talked up as a second-round pick who could be the fifth quarterback off the board. On the other hand, if the other version comes out, Rattler will likely be heading into the final stages of the pre-draft process as a Day 3 pick. Keep in mind, that he’ll also face a lot of questions about his maturity from NFL teams.

T’Vondre Sweat, defensive tackle, Texas Longhorns

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One thing fans enjoy about the NFL Combine every year is seeing big-bodied linemen move. Needless to say, that should help put Texas Longhorns defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat under the spotlight. As he arrives in Indianapolis, the 6-foot-4 and 362-pound monster is rated as a consensus top-100 prospect.

Size is specifically a question with Sweat and there were even more NFL teams wondering about it after he didn’t take part in measurements at the Senior Bowl. While that’s a bit unusual, it’s very possible that Sweat and his agent wanted to buy a little more time in the pre-draft process to trim down before he hit the scales. However, size does matter here.

When he was on the field last season at Texas, Sweat had one of the highest run-stop rates (12.8 percent) and pass-rush win rates (15.3 percent) among interior defensive linemen. Talent and potential impact at the next level aren’t necessarily a concern for this nose tackle. What teams want to see in Indianapolis is whether or not Sweat put in the necessary work to get his weight down.

Braelon Allen, running back, Wisconsin Badgers

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There’s already been plenty of talk about the 2024 NFL Draft class at running back, specifically, the absence of a surefire premium talent. While there’s definitely not a Round 1 selection in this year’s group, Braelon Allen and Co. do have a great opportunity to improve their stock at the NFL Combine.

Allen is looking for redemption at Lucas Oil Stadium. The 6-foot-2 running back entered the 2023 season coming off consecutive campaigns with 1,300-plus scrimmage yards and double-digit touchdowns. Then, he was demoted into a committee role as a junior.

Still, Allen will have a lot to showcase for NFL teams. At Wisconsin, he squatted more than 600 pounds, posted a 1.49-second 10-yard split and even maxed at 365 pounds on the bench press. He also has just 8 percent body fat. If Allen tests well athletically, he could be one of the first running backs off the board.

Blake Corum, running back, Michigan Wolverines

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Blake Corum is the most well-known running back in the 2024 NFL Draft after being a Heisman Trophy candidate in 2022 and then helping lead the Michigan Wolverines to a national championship this past season. However, the All-American back wasn’t nearly the same player we saw a year ago before his season-ending knee injury.

Yards after Contact per Att. Missed Tackles Forced 10+ Yard Runs Breakaway Run Rate Elusive Rating
2022 3.35 (20th) 73 (9th) 35 (17th) 40.9% (17th) 97.5 (16th)
2023 2.42 (74th) 30 (62nd) 25 (41st) 31.8% (56th) 27.4 (74th)
Statistics via Pro Football Focus. Data among FBS running backs with 50% of rushing attempts

Standing at 5-foot-8, Corum probably isn’t going to wow anyone with his athleticism at the NFL Combine. Assuming his knee checks out medically, teams will want him to demonstrate that he can recapture the same burst he had before suffering a torn meniscus, bone bruise and MCL sprain. If he fails to do so, given some of the alarming metrics from this past season, Corum could be in for a free fall.

Chop Robinson, edge rusher, Penn State Nittany Lions

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Many hoped that edge rusher Chop Robinson would break out in 2023, building off a strong sophomore season at Penn State (10 TFLs, 5.5 sacks) to become one of the best pass rushers in college football. Instead, the 6-foot-2 edge defender finished with just 7.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks in 10 games. However, what matters even more to NFL teams is his athleticism.

As detailed by Bruce Feldman of The Athletic, Robinson is one of the best athletes at the NFL Combine. Even at more than 250 pounds, Robinson posted a 4.47 40 time last year at Penn State and he backed that up with a 10-7 broad jump while also benching 400 pounds. The freakiest athletes generate the most buzz in Indianapolis and if Robinson can replicate those numbers, a fringe first-round pick could start landing in the top 25 of NFL mock drafts.

Payton Wilson, linebacker, NC State Wolfpack

NCAA Basketball: Maryland - E. Shore at N.C. State
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Look at some of the best teams in the NFL (San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens), you’ll find some of the best off-ball linebackers (Roquan Smith, Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw) in football. Unfortunately, college football hasn’t done a great job developing off-ball linebackers as of late.

That has helped put Payton Wilson on a pedestal ahead of the 2024 NFL Draft. Standing at 6-foot-4, he offers the prototypical size teams want at the position. He also brings the athleticism, having been blocked at a 4.49 in the 40-yard dash with a 35.5-inch vertical jump and a 4.21-second pro agility shuttle (The Athletic). Those numbers would put him in elite company in terms of athletic testing.

Currently viewed as a borderline top-35 player in the class, Wilson dominating at the NFL Combine would likely make him far more coveted than Jack Campbell (18th overall pick) was last year.

Kool-Aid McKinstry, cornerback, Alabama Crimson Tide

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Kool-Aid McKinstry has already been passed up by Terrion Arnold on consensus draft boards in 2024. If the former Alabama Crimson Tide star wants to keep his name firmly in the mix to be chosen in Round 1, he’ll need to deliver his best stuff at the 2024 NFL Combine.

It’s not like he played badly in his junior season. The 6-foot-1 cornerback held opponents to a 48.7 percent completion rate (Pro Football Focus), but he also demonstrated that he doesn’t have the speed to stick with top receivers vertically. That’s obviously concerning considering the level where he’ll play next season.

Fortunately for McKinstry, the 40-yard dash can change things even if it isn’t necessarily always a match to what shows up on tape. NFL prospects, especially cornerbacks, train for weeks to improve their 40 times. If McKinstry can exceed expectations, he should secure a first-round rookie contract.

Malachi Corley, wide receiver, Western Kentucky

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Alberto Silva Fernandez/ El Paso Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

College football has become an ever-flowing pipeline of wide receivers for the NFL and this year’s class could be one of the best ever. While Malachi Corley isn’t one of the most well-known names among casual fans, that could soon change this week in Indianapolis.

Listed at 5-foot-11, he certainly doesn’t offer the ideal size for a No. 1 receiver but that’s not his game. Instead, he’s a 220-pound sledgehammer who can make big plays after the catch. Not only does Corley have the strength to burst through arm tackles, but he can also max out at 23 mph. Corley will have a chance to prove why he’s drawn some Deebo Samuel-lite comparisons. If he does that, he’s a top-50 pick.

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