The NFL Combine is gearing up with 330 draft-eligible players vying for something fewer than 250 draft spots, with fractions of measurement potentially making the difference between a first rounder and a second, or between being drafted and getting a workaday job while waiting out a potentially protracted CBA negotiation.
All of these players have been scrutinized on tape, but for most, this week may be the last chance before draft day to make an in-person impression, for better or for worse, on the men ready to hire them into the NFL. Typically, the Rams don't publicly shower prospects with a lot of attention, but there are a few positions of need that bear watching. One is the "change of pace" back -- they guy who might only get 10-12 touches per game but could be a game-breaker.
Here's a quick profile on three names that intrigue: two that will be at the combine, and one that won't, but could still be a dark horse candidate to be called by the Rams on draft day.
Jacquizz Rodgers - Oregon State
When you watch Jacquizz Rodgers on film he's a surprisingly tough runner for his size...an underrated player in my opinion...#NFLDraft
This year's closest thing to Dexter McCluster -- who was a big-time pre-draft crush here at the RamsHerd last offseason -- is Oregon State Beaver Jacquizz Rodgers. Standing only 5'7", he seems to quiver on the surface of the field like a drop of quicksilver on glass, and is about as hard to stop. Like he was a pair of eyes attached to pure fast-twitch muscle.
Unlike what you'd expect from a player of his size, Rodgers doesn't shy away from inside running. He lowers his pads to squirm through holes; defenders at the second level have a difficult time wrapping up, because he keeps his legs moving and the core of his body well behind his pads and hard to reach.
Like each of the runners listed here, Rodgers has great hands and instincts in the open field, tools that could be very valuable in a Josh McDaniels offense. One intangible that sets Rodgers apart is the Oregon State connection, which may endear him to big papa bear Steven Jackson. (Jackson is known as an unselfish player and a team leader, but as a player whose leadership is often shown with ball in hand, may be a little reluctant to welcome competition with open arms.)
Shane Vereen - Cal Berkeley
Not hearing much on Cal RB Shane Vereen. Add 10-15 pounds of muscle on this kid and he could be a better every down back than Jahvid Best.
Shane Vereen was a player originally talked up by New Era Scouting's Matt Miller in a pre-draft RB rundown, but since then has not received a lot of buzz one way or the other. With a strong combine performance, though, he could make his presence known.
Vereen's size, strength and versatility make for comparisons to Ray Rice, a second-round find by the Ravens who slowly accumulated workload (only 107 carries, 33 receptions his rookie year), but in three years' time has become one of the most valuable backs in the NFL. This might be the ultimate type of find for Devaney and the Rams, as Jackson's reps naturally reduce as he approaches his 30s.
One to wait on: Taiwan Jones - Eastern Washington
Taiwan Jones has it all. Just needs to work on staying healthy, upper body strength, and blocking. He has everything else including speed!
Taiwan Jones may be the best of the small-school prospects, and folks like @JoshBDraft are helping to bring their names to the surface. Unfortunately, recovery from a broken bone in his foot hasn't progressed to the point that he would be able to run at the Combine. However, he will be on hand for interviews and to show his strength in the weight room.
Jones may be the ultimate risk-reward type of player, one with breathtaking skills -- "game changing," says Erik Galko at Optimum Scouting, with comparisons to Chris Johnson and Jamaal Charles -- but no opportunity to showcase those skills against top competition.
He can, however, jump backwards out of a swimming pool...