Star Indiana Hoosiers wideout Simmie Cobbs, Jr. is the prime prospect among a handful of IU players vying for a chance to play at the NFL level. There are one or two guys–including cornerback Rashard Fant and linebacker Chris Covington–who have the talent, but may have to take the Mitchell Paige route and make it as undrafted free agents; with this article, we’ll look at four players who have a good chance of hearing their names called on Draft Weekend. Here’s a look at where they’re at, prior to the NFL Scouting Combine.
SIMMIE COBBS, JR, Wide Receiver
PROS: Despite being held back by an offense where the quarterback struggled, the offensive line struggled, and offensive coordinator Mike DeBord fell into a tendency to call run plays on third and long, Cobbs managed 72 catches for 841 yards and eight touchdowns in 2017. This is all the more spectacular when you consider that, as Indiana’s most dynamic target, he was the recipient of frequent double and triple teams that largely crippled the Hoosiers’ entire aerial attack. That kind of productivity, extrapolated out across a season where any of those four elements is removed, puts Cobbs in the discussion with Alabama’s Calvin Ridley as the first wideout off the board.
Physically, Cobbs is a highly attractive prospect. At 6’4″ and 220 pounds, he can and will fight off press coverage and physical defenders. He has a basketball vertical and runs very clean routes. Against Ohio State’s notoriously physical secondary in the 2017 season opener, Cobbs posted 11 catches for 149 yards and a score, showcasing his ability to get open against an elite defense.
Cobbs is also a very mature, soft-spoken presence at a position known for its divas. It would have been easy for him to complain about the dozens of instances where he should have been targeted but wasn’t; he never spoke against his coaches or quarterbacks once. He’s very team-first in that regard.
CONS: Not being disruptive when you’re the top receiver on the depth chart and not making an impact when you’re third or fourth are two entirely different things. Cobbs’ demeanor could work against him at the pro level to some extent since squeaky wheels often get the grease in the NFL. He has the talent and work ethic to make an impression without saying a word, but a little bit of fire wouldn’t hurt either.
In terms of his abilities, Cobbs is not a blazing-fast, straight-line speed receiver. He accelerates well, but his top-end speed doesn’t allow him much room to separate from faster defenders. Elite cover corners like the Arizona Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson, who can both outrun him and match his strength, can effectively neutralize him. Ideally, he’d function as an outside possession receiver lining up with a speedy slot man next to him on the majority of snaps, so that there would be somebody to draw the attention of the defense’s fastest cover man.
NFL COMPARISON: Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints. Downgraded to the end of round one over concerns about his speed, Thomas has thrived in the Big Easy. His physical style and smooth routes have earned him the full trust of Saints quarterback Drew Brees, leading to 194 receptions in his first two years; that mark beats any other player over that same span. If Cobbs can find himself paired with a smart quarterback, on a team where he’s not the sole option, he’s got the same potential to be a contributor early on.
DRAFT GRADE: Late 1st round to early 2nd.
TEGRAY SCALES, Inside Linebacker/4-3 Outside Linebacker
PROS: A sound tackler who’s posted 216 total tackles for a rapidly-improving IU defense over the last two seasons, Scales is a disruptive presence. with 23.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks as a junior, followed by 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks this past season, his ability to lead the charge into the opposing backfield is NFL-ready. He’s more than just a run-stuffer, though; Scales has posted three interceptions and three pass breakups over the last two years, and held future NFL tight ends Troy Fumagalli of Wisconsin and Mike Gesicki of Penn State to three catches for twenty yards apiece this season.
Scales was also the unquestioned leader for an IU defense that made the leap from one of college football’s worst defenses in 2015 to one of the top 30 in the country in 2017. He has been a driving force for the culture change that Hoosiers head coach Tom Allen has been trying to institute, and will no doubt bring that same outstanding energy to whatever pro team selects him.
CONS: Scales is going to have to post some very nice workouts in Indy this February, as most of his measurables are good, but not necessarily great. Whether it’s his height–barely six feet without gear–his speed or anything else you’d see on a chart, it’s going to be held against him unless he can prove otherwise.
NFL COMPARISON: Blake Martinez, Green Bay Packers. One of the NFL’s leading tacklers this season, Martinez was a late-round selection who also didn’t have the best measurables, but his intelligence, instincts, and work ethic were exactly what then-GM Ted Thompson wanted in Green Bay. As a result, the Packers secured the kind of diamond in the rough that Scales could also represent.
DRAFT GRADE: Mid-to-late third round, with the possibility of going higher if his Combine and/or Pro Day performances jump off the page.
IAN THOMAS, Tight End
PROS: When you look at Thomas, don’t evaluate him on the basis of stats. At 6’6″ and 250 pounds, the deceptively-athletic Thomas fits the physical mold of a modern NFL tight end. Capable of lining up in the slot, or staying in to help block, he’s a three-down player who fits neatly into any offensive coordinator’s gameplan. And with a trio of 70+ yard catches under his belt in 2017, he’s underrated when it comes to finding the seams in an opposing defense.
CONS: Durability may be a problem, as Thomas missed three games this season and was hampered in the weeks he came back from the injuries that kept him out. Unless you’re the kind of spectacular athlete that Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots is–and sadly, Thomas isn’t–that’s going to keep you from rising up the boards.
Meanwhile, Thomas has shown the ability to go through opposing defenders and make a few miss, but he isn’t going to burn you. His big-play skill lies in being able to track the ball and focus on securing the catch, not in letting a quarterback heave it up and just have him go and get it.
NFL COMPARISON: Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans (ceiling), Dwayne Allen, New England Patriots (floor). Like Walker, Thomas is the kind of guy you don’t think about as making an eye-popping play until he already has. They are also both capable blockers who don’t have to be limited to passing downs. That said, if Thomas ends up being frequently injured, or ends up on a roster where he can’t continue to develop, his potential could languish in a manner much like Allen’s has.
DRAFT GRADE: Fourth round.
GRIFFIN OAKES, Kicker
PROS: In order to be a kicker who gets drafted at all, you have to be truly special. The 2016 Big Ten Kicker of the Year is that kind of special, with the kind of leg strength that makes attempts of 50+ look easy. In an era where extra point attempts are harder than you’d think, that can be the difference between going to overtime and a close loss. He’s also been amongst the best in his conference in touchbacks throughout his career–increasingly important as NFL coaches continue to emphasize field position–and puts a nice spin on onside kick attempts.
CONS: Although he drilled all but one attempt this season, Oakes’ accuracy has been a matter of some concern in the past. That’s largely due to the fact that he can be his own worst enemy, falling into a slump if he misses an easy attempt or fails to convert at the wrong moment; a problem which was so evident in his junior season that he was almost benched on more than one occasion. To make it in the NFL, he’ll have to show that 2016 Griffin Oakes is a thing of the past, and 2017 Griffin Oakes is, in fact, his true self.
NFL COMPARISON: Mason Crosby, Green Bay Packers. Crosby is equally famous and infamous for being capable of drilling 60-yard kicks and whiffing from inside 40 yards. Like Oakes, Crosby’s biggest problem over the years has been handling his misses.
DRAFT GRADE: Sixth or seventh round.