The NFL Combine can be a draft prospect’s best friend or worst enemy.
Four University of Wisconsin draft prospects –Jonathan Taylor, Zack Baun, Tyler Biadasz and Quintez Cephus – are certainly hoping it’s the former – even though their draft stock is already relatively high. All of the aforementioned Badgers are projected to be selected in the first four rounds of the draft.
Taylor and Cephus could move the draft needle with improved times in the 40-yard dash. Taylor has openly acknowledged improving his speed in front of the NFL officials at this week’s Combine is one of his goals. Taylor, who is regarded as one of the elite running backs in this draft, is shooting for a blistering 4.3 seconds in the 40.
A faster 40 time would benefit Cephus even more. The 6-foot-1 Cephus is coming off a quality junior season at Wisconsin. He caught 59 passes for 901 yards and seven touchdowns, leading the Badgers in all three categories.
Cephus was especially productive in a trio of the Badgers’ biggest games: In Wisconsin’s Big Ten Conference West Division title-clinching game against Minnesota, he had five catches and a touchdown. Against Ohio State in the Big Ten championship, he had seven receptions for 122 yards. And, finally, in the Rose Bowl against Oregon, Cephus recorded seven catches for 59 yards and a touchdown.
“That young man is very competitive, especially in traffic while going for the ball,’’ said a longtime NFL scout. “He’s got solid hands and he’s a good route runner. He’s going to make someone’s team, for sure.’’
Asked where he expects Cephus to be drafted, the scout said, “I think he’ll go late in the third round, early fourth round.’’
So what does Cephus (pictured above) need to do at the Combine to improve his draft status?
“He has to show he’s faster than we think,’’ the sout said. “He’s just not a blazer. Right now, he looks to be like a third receiver for a team, a complimentary piece.’’
Baun, Taylor and Biadasz are considered more than that. Each of them appear to be locks to have their name called before Cephus does during the April 23-25 draft in Las Vegas.
The scouting director offered these capsule comments on Taylor, Baun and Biadasz while speculating where they’ll fall in the draft.
On Taylor: “I think he’s the best back in the draft. He’s got great vision, cutting ability and can turn a two-yard run into a 10-yard run. I have him rated in the upper half (of the first round) but that position (running back) has been devalued and that, I think, is why the league views him as a late first or early second rounder.’’
On Baun, an outside linebacker: “He’s a hell of a player. I’d like to have him on my team. He just makes plays. And he makes them consistently. I think he could go anywhere between 24 and 32.’’
On Biadisz, a center: “Smart. Gritty. Steady. Just solid. A guy you can put in a game and feel comfortable with him. He’s just another one of those Wisconsin offensive linemen, and that’ a compliment.’’
Some other quick hits:
- Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur will meet with the media on Tuesday morning. Former Packers and newly-hired Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy is scheduled to chat with the media on Wednesday morning.
- The Combine is saturated with players from big-time schools like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, etc. And then there’s Kyle Dugger.
Dugger hails from Lenoir-Rhyne, a Division II school in Hickory, N.C. A 6-1, 220-pound safety, Dugger made a marked impression on several NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl and now is being tabbed as a middle-round draft selection.
- The Packers are expected to draft a wide receiver, perhaps even with their first pick, the 30th overall. One wideout who could be on the Packers’ radar is Colorado wide receiver Laviska Shenault, who is projected to be a late first-round pick.
“He would love to go to the Packers,’’ a source said. “I’m telling you he’s talked about how great it would be to play with Aaron Rodgers and line up opposite Davante Adams.’’