5 Players Who Significantly Increased Their Draft Stock After the Combine

There were plenty of impressive NFL Scouting Combine performances over the annual four-day spectacle at Lucas Oil Stadium. We won't waste our time talking about guys who are already projected first- or second-round picks in the upcoming draft and who wowed in front of all 32 teams; you already know that Saquon Barkley, Tremaine Edwards and Minkah Fitzpatrick did more than just check all the boxes this weekend, and their top-tier status is beyond question. 

Instead, let's look at the not-so-obvious names who used the Combine stage to ball out with impressive showings that could catapult them a round or two ahead of initial projections come April.

5. WR Keke Coutee

What impressed me the most about the 5-11, 180-pound Red Raider was his 14 reps on the bench press. He was already expected to be a burner with an impressive 4.43, 40-yard dash time, but his exceptional performance when it came to on-field drills showed that he's just as crisp a route-runner as he is a deep threat.

There aren't a lot of wide receiver prospects in this year's draft who clearly stick out above the rest besides Alabama's Calvin Ridley and perhaps SMU's Courtland Sutton, but Coutee's ability to outshine both of them in Indianapolis could influence teams to jump ahead and draft him as a capable slot receiver with the potential to play on the edge if needed.

4. DT Nathan Shepherd

A proper comparison for defensive tackle Nathan Shepherd of Division II Fort Hays State would be the Bears 'Akiem Hicks. Both are Canadian-born, both played at small schools and both have bodies that look as if they were specifically built to play football for a living. Shepherd comes in at an impressive 6-5, 315 pounds, but he is probably one of the most athletic interior lineman in this draft.

Posting a solid 5.09 40 time, Shepherd has the ability to line up as a two-gap run-stuffer (or "space-eater" as Mike Mayock likes to say) or fast 3-4 tackle who can attack the edge. His lack of Division I experience makes him a raw prospect, but he has all the tools necessary to give back a huge return on the investment.

3. LB Malik Jefferson

There weren't too many bright spots for the Texas Longhorns this year, but that didn't stop linebacker Malik Jefferson from putting in work. He led his team with 110 tackles (four sacks) in 2017 and earned Second Team Associated Press All-American status and First Team All-Big 12 recognition.

He didn't waste his opportunity in Indy, crushing every test as a top performer in his positional class, including the 40-yard dash (4.52), bench press (27 reps) and broad jump (10 feet, 4 inches). This is all coming from a guy who already has NFL linebacker size at 6-3, 236-pounds. Initially projected to go somewhere in the third round, he could very well end up jumping up into the second.

2. RB Sony Michel

The running back renaissance is on, people. We can thank last year's third-round selections, Chiefs phenom Kareem Hunt and 2017 Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara of New Orleans. And this year promises one of the deepest and well-rounded running back classes in recent memory. Penn State's Saquon Barkley could be the first running back to go No. 1 overall since fellow Nittany Lion Ki-Jana Carter back in 1995.

But for Georgia's Sony Michel, who is already being compared to Kamara, an incredible College Football Playoff performance and strong Combine showing could even bump him ahead of fellow Bulldog Nick Chubb. A dual threat on the ground and through the air with a unique combination of size and speed, he won't have to wait long to hear his name called next month.

1. LB Shaquem Griffin

Shaquem Griffin is college football's best story, and he is quickly on his way to becoming the NFL's best one, too. Born with a condition called amniotic band syndrome that cost him his left hand at the age of four, the 20-year-old out of St. Petersburg, Fla. has overcome all odds. He absolutely tore it up at UCF, piling up multiple defensive accolades and American Athletic Conference honors. A solid performance at this year's Senior Bowl earned him an invite to the Combine, where he wowed with 20 reps on the bench press and a blazing 4.38, 40 time—a Combine record for linebackers.

He has the entire NFL behind him, and he proved that his best asset is his high motor. He even overcame cramps during on-field drills to finish strongly, leading Vikings GM Rick Spielman to evaluate him as a guy who "plays with so much passion." If there was any question Griffin would follow his brother Shaquill's footsteps and get drafted, he put all those doubts to rest once and for all.