Now that the all-star games are over, the next major step in the NFL Draft process is the NFL Combine. This year the UCLA Football program has six players invited and while most of the names were expected, there are a few surprises as well.
Every year when the list of NFL Combine invitees comes out the race is on to find the surprise invites, snubs and of course the guys that the NFL Draft community is excited to see tested athletically. This year six UCLA Football Bruins were invited to Indianapolis for the 2018 NFL Combine
While there is no denying that the combine is a major process in the NFL Draft timeline, there are many who would argue few of the tests conducted actually translate to the field and would rather see these players in more on field drills rather than what they feel are “underwear Olympics”. Still, an invite means not only will these players get to show off their athleticism and skills in front of NFL scouts and personnel, they’ll have the chance to sit down with teams and score points in the interview process as well.
The biggest name of the Bruin invitees is of course QB Josh Rosen. While most, if not all, scouts in attendance are going to drool over his mechanics, accuracy and above average arm strength, his biggest battles will be faced in the interview process. While there has been an outpouring of support from fellow UCLA Football players refuting reports that Rosen is a handful and a “bad” teammate, there’s still a narrative to silence. Sitting down with general managers, head coaches and scouts will allow Rosen a chance to push back against what is basically a smear campaign.
Scott Quessenberry and Kolton Miller will represent the UCLA Football offensive line. A much maligned unit over the past two seasons and one that was heavily responsible for Rosen missing time with injuries, this group took a big step forward in 2017. As the center of the offensive line, Quessenberry had his struggles but has the mental skills to call protections and understand where pressures are coming from. He can struggle with power and might fit better as a guard at the next level. His athleticism will be on full display at the combine and I have a strong feeling when scouts see him move they’ll be envisioning him as a pulling guard on power runs.
Miller has the rare frame you’d love to see from an offensive tackle. He’s a more complete player in my opinion than former UCLA LT Connor McDermott with a higher ceiling. 2017 was his first full season after missing games the last two years with injuries which is going to draw some concern from the NFL. He should also test well in movement drills but can lapse in his technique leading to quick pressures. Scouts will want to see how well he uses his hands and if he can protect against inside moves. Something he struggled to do consistently in 2017.
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The last offensive player to receive an invite is WR Jordan Lasley. What he was able to do in 2017 despite missing four games (three with a discipline issue) would be a dream season for most receivers in college. Measuring in over six feet will be big for Lasley and if he’s closer to 210 pounds teams will feel more comfortable not penciling him as a slot receiver only. Of course his interviews will help alleviate concerns about his three game suspension in 2017. As a receiver his hands are how he will make his living in the NFL and he still needs to prove, at least to me, that he can consistently catch the ball naturally and not fight it as he does on occasion.
Only two Bruin defenders were invited. One was expected and the other, I honestly am surprised by. Starting with the expected invitee, LB Kenny Young looks to carry on the recent success the UCLA LBs have had in the NFL Draft. Bigger than Jayon Brown who was drafted last year by the Tennessee Titans, Young has the build you look for in an NFL LB. He’s also a sure tackler when he gets to the ball carrier. However his lateral movement leaves something to be desired and despite improvements in coverage he’s still a potential liability. The 2017 needed him to be all world for the Bruins as their defense really struggled but I could see him being an even better pro surrounded by more talent. Testing really well will go a long way in helping his stock in a sneaky good LB class.
DL Matt Dickerson is the final invitee for the UCLA Football team and I’m actually very surprised he was invited especially given his 2017 campaign ended prematurely with a broken collarbone. Should the injury be fully healed I could see how he would be a late round selection given his prototypical size for the 3-4 DE position. He’s played all over the defensive line during his time as a Bruin but never really became the dominant player he flashed as a high school junior before a back injury robbed him of his senior season.
His invite is surprising given that fellow DL Jacob Tuioti-Mariner was not invited. JTM played in the 2018 NFLPA Bowl game and measured in at six-foot-two and 285 pounds. Those measurements push him into the “tweener” category and while he played all over the UCLA DL, it’s harder to project him into a position in the NFL. He’s not nearly as explosive as similarly built Aaron Donald and doesn’t have the length you prefer on the edge. Still, he’s a strong base end who offers some pass rush and can be a valuable rotational player who can be kicked inside on third downs.
The other Bruin who could have potentially been invited is DB Jaleel Wadood. Another NFLPA Bowl player, Wadood has been a spark plug for the UCLA Football team for the last four years. As a freshman he showed range, a willingness to strike and solid coverage skills despite a less than ideal frame. Measuring in at five-foot-nine and 180 pounds, Wadood is small even for college standards. He’s played some corner during his college career but has spent much of his time as a safety. Corner, in my opinion is his best opportunity to stick in the NFL. In man coverage Wadood can be sticky but as a safety he’s prone to taking poor angles to the ball and isn’t a big hitter.
You can see all of your Bruins take place in the combine when it kicks off February 27th, wrapping up on March 5. Keep it tuned in to Go Joe Bruin as we bring you all kinds of NFL Draft coverage before the whole thing kicks off April 26.