NFL draft 2022: Nine prospects who have something to prove at scouting combine
What's left for NFL draft prospects to show at the scouting combine after completing their college careers?
For those on track to become a top pick, there's often little to be gained by going through the full gamut of on-field testing and drills. And while that portion of the event has been moved into prime time to amplify hype, the exact marks themselves are often a mere check on a much larger context.
Still, for most of the 324 prospects invited to the annual showcase in Indianapolis, the audition can't be easily dismissed. Team interviews and medical evaluations are vital for rounding out evaluations, and the on-field work still can hold some weight for a specific concern.
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With that in mind, here are nine prospects in the 2022 NFL draft who have something to prove at this year's combine, which begins this week:
Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
Corral unwittingly became the focal point of the seemingly annual debate regarding players opting out of bowl games, as he suffered an ankle injury against Baylor in the Sugar Bowl. Given that X-rays were negative, the ailment doesn't appear to be one that would take a significant toll on his draft positioning, though Corral is expected to sit out the on-field sessions as he recovers. And while teams will no doubt want a closer look at how he has healed, their primary concern might be in what Corral is capable of conveying to them in meetings. While the 6-2, 205-pound passer was efficient in Lane Kiffin's offense, the attack often provided him with simple decisions. How he exhibits his processing and handle of advanced concepts could be an important factor in convincing a team to pull the trigger early in the first round.
Carson Strong, QB, Nevada
In an earlier era, Strong might have been an obvious top-five pick. Aptly named, the 6-4, 226-pound pocket passer boasts one of the strongest arms in this class. He also exhibits an advanced feel for applying the proper touch required for almost any given throw. Yet despite that blend of natural talent and savvy, Strong still could see his stock weighed down by one anchor: his mobility, or lack thereof. Strong contends that he is "not a complete statue," maintaining that a February knee surgery and August scope were the main sources of his early-season limitations last year. His medical outlook and ability to move will both draw close scrutiny this week.
Hassan Haskins, RB, Michigan
Wearing down defenders seemed to come easy to Haskins in 2021, as the 6-1, 220-pound ball carrier tallied 20 touchdowns on the year. But there's limited appeal in running backs known primarily for grinding out yards, which is why Haskins wants to showcase more than what he was able to demonstrate as the Wolverines' designated power back. After pulling out of the Senior Bowl with an ankle injury suffered in the Orange Bowl, he already has talked up his 40-yard dash, telling mlive.com earlier in February he is "gonna show a lot of people that I’m faster than a lot of people expect." The three-cone drill might be even more important, however, as evading defenders in tight quarters has not been Haskins' strong suit. While this year's running back class doesn't appear particularly formidable, Haskins could have a difficult time winning teams over as a potential Day 3 pick if his performance isn't up to par.
David Bell, WR, Purdue
Running past defensive backs will never be Bell's game, but that didn't stop the savvy target from overpowering defenses to the tune of 232 catches for nearly 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns the last three years. Listed at a modest 6-2 and 205 pounds, however, he will spark questions about whether his box-out approach will translate into a productive NFL career. A blazing 40 isn't necessary for Bell to satisfy scouts, but teams likely will want evidence he can create sufficient separation. Ultimately, Bell can't measure up to USC's Drake London or Arkansas' Treylon Burks in this class' top tier of contested-catch standouts, but a good showing could boost his case to be a reliable No. 2 option rather than a mere possession receiver.
Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson
In 2018, the 6-4, 205-pound pass catcher looked like a surefire future first-round selection in leading Clemson to a national title alongside Trevor Lawrence, the future No. 1 pick with whom he established one of college football's most electric connections. But a congenital spine condition threatened his career and sidelined him for 2020. Ross returned last season but managed just 46 catches for 514 yards and three touchdowns amid Clemson's post-Lawrence offensive nosedive. The medical assessment will be the most integral part of his evaluation, but Ross also will face questions about his diminished productivity and whether he can recapture his old form.
George Pickens, WR, Georgia
No one should question Pickens' resolve after he returned to play for the Bulldogs late last fall, just eight months removed from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Of course, that tenacity should be expected from a player known for his reliable hands and knack for bailing out his quarterback with body-contorting catches. Still unclear, though, is exactly what teams can expect from him physically after he had just five catches in four games. Keep an eye on how quickly he can cut during the three-cone drill and in workouts.
Drake Jackson, DE/OLB, USC
It's commonplace for prospects to slim down before the combine or pro days, often in an attempt to shave fractions of a second off their times in speed and agility drills. Jackson is going the opposite way, telling the Los Angeles Times he has bulked up to 270 pounds for the event after getting as low as 238 by the end of his run at USC. Bulking up serves a clear purpose, as he was too often neutralized on first contact by blockers. But Jackson's calling card is his elasticity, so how he carries the additional weight will significantly shape his stock – the first round could still be within reach – in a deep class of edge rushers.
Derion Kendrick, CB, Georgia
A year ago to the day Monday, Kendrick was dismissed by Clemson after a first-team All-ACC campaign. Two weeks later, he was arrested on a misdemeanor weapons charge that would later be expunged. After transferring to Georgia, Kendrick was lauded by coach Kirby Smart for setting "a great example for our other players.” Beyond facing the questions into his off-field actions, the potential Day 2 pick will be pressed to prove he has enough straight-line speed to stick with top receivers downfield after getting burned badly in some high-profile spots.
Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Is it possible for a two-time All-American to still leave the notion of unfulfilled potential? That question might be an indicator of just how good Stingley can be. After a star turn as a freshman in 2019, he played in just 10 games over the last two years. When healthy and at his best, Stingley offers very nearly the total package at the position: optimal size (6-1, 195 pounds), elite speed, outstanding instincts, natural fluidity and top-notch ball skills. But he didn't always live up to the extremely high standard he set early in his career and battled leg and foot injuries. Stingley will hold off on working out for scouts until his pro day, per reports, but a promising prognosis would help allay any concerns about his worthiness as a potential top-10 pick.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.