2024 NFL combine: Future fantasy football stars to track in Indy

Your football fandom could be experiencing a sense of déjà vu. The Chiefs hoisted the Lombardi Trophy just over two weeks ago. And this year's incoming class of rookies is brimming with talent at the quarterback position. Narratives leading into this year's NFL combine sound deceptively similar to those we sifted through in 2023. While the thematic similarities are evident, the specifics are quite different.

Going deep on the details isn't as overwhelming as one might believe, though. Not with pros like Matt Bowen diving deep on each prospect while staying mindful of the evolving NFL landscape. Bowen, a seven-year NFL vet, serves as one of ESPN's draft experts. He has already spent a week in Mobile, Alabama, for the Senior Bowl and will have his discerning eye on the action in Indianapolis.

I asked him which incoming rookies he thought could make a splash at Lucas Oil Stadium. After comparing notes, we compiled a list of names and pinpointed the events that could showcase their talents and, potentially, push them up draft boards.


Caleb Williams, USC: With his name scrawled all over USC's record books, Williams has become one of the biggest names in college football. A mobile pocket passer with elite arm strength, Williams' talent is vast and undeniable. In fact, the 2022 Heisman winner is expected to be the first overall player drafted in April. Still, no prospect is perfect. Any questions about his skill set -- particularly those that contribute to him holding on to the ball too long -- could have been scrutinized during the throwing portion of the combine. Reports seem to indicate, however, that Williams will not throw in Indy, choosing instead to unleash at his pro day. Williams, 22, will be on hand for interviews and meetings, likely allowing for a plethora of overanalyzed sound bites.

Jayden Daniels, LSU: A dual threat talent, Daniels is coming off a wildly productive campaign, leading the nation in total offense, having recorded nearly 5,000 total yards. Last season's Heisman winner, Daniels' greatest strength is his athleticism. He is, without a doubt, the most electric (and effective) rusher among this year's QBs. He's also an impressive passer who (as Bowen puts it) "throws a really catchable ball." Unfortunately, combine attendees won't have the opportunity to see Daniels' arm in action as he's expected to skip the throwing session. Scouts will have to wait until late March to see him test. Daniels, 23, is predicted to deliver a 40-yard-dash time of around 4.5 seconds.

Drake Maye, North Carolina: At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Maye looks the part of a prototypical QB while additionally serving up elite arm strength and solid scrambling ability. A high rpm thrower who can sling it off-platform, Bowen says the talent gap between Maye and Williams might be closer than many believe. With Williams and Daniels both sitting out the throwing session, Maye could have potentially set himself apart, showing off his big arm and wowing with high-end precision as well as velocity. However, the North Carolina native has also decided to limit his exposure, planning to focus only on physicals and interviews while visiting Indianapolis. It's an interesting choice, as there had been conjecture about Maye potentially sneaking past Daniels and joining former teammate Sam Howell in Washington with the second overall pick. Without a hearty showcase of skills, however, that seems less likely.

J.J. McCarthy, Michigan: While McCarthy didn't play in a high-volume throwing offense, he does have oodles of experience thriving in a pro system. After all, he led the Wolverines to the team's first national championship since 1997 this past winter. An intelligent passer who can successfully maneuver out of the pocket while also throwing on the move, McCarthy doesn't shrink from big moments. He'll need to rise to the occasion in Indy, proving he can toss with touch and push the ball downfield. The throwing session -- where McCarthy's mechanics will be on full display -- could be key to defining his eventual landing spot. With Williams, Daniels and Maye all passing on the event, McCarthy could shine.

Running backs

Jonathon Brooks, Texas: The predecessor to Bijan Robinson (and Roschon Johnson) at Texas, Brooks emerged as the Longhorns' primary ball carrier in 2023. An explosive runner who sees the field well, Brooks can effectively dodge past and weave through would-be tacklers. He has decent hands and receiving instincts that could round into a legitimate pass-catching role at the pro level. Unfortunately, Brooks tore his ACL in November, which means he won't be participating in any drills at the combine. There is hope, however, that he'll be fully rehabbed and ready for training camp. His medicals, which aim to reveal the stability of his knee, will be of the utmost importance and could drastically affect his draft stock.

Trey Benson, Florida State: At 6-1 and 223 pounds, Benson boasts a pro-ready frame that he isn't afraid to use. An aggressive downhill runner with above-average lateral ability, the man is a headache to take down. His hands don't wow, but the tape suggests his receiving skills are adequate enough to work as a check-down option at the next level. He'll aim to dispel any doubt over his pass-catching prowess in the positional drills. Benson's three-cone time will additionally illuminate his potential versatility, as scouts examine his hip flexibility and how quickly he can move from side to side. A solid showing could elevate Benson's stock (particularly with Brooks unable to test) in what's believed to be a weak class.

Blake Corum, Michigan: Corum thrived as the lead back in Michigan's run-heavy offense and has proven he can be effective when handling a large volume of carries. What Corum lacks in size and power he makes up for in savvy, demonstrating impressive patience while regularly creating his own daylight. His lack of receptions (just 16 in 2023) is a bit of a red flag, however. Bowen expects teams to key in on this potential shortcoming during the receiving drills. Scouts figure to keep a close eye on the 23-year-old's route-running, with the aim of determining his overall ceiling. With limited breakaway speed, Corum needs to prove that he can evolve into a modern-day ball carrier that is utilized as a receiver rather than just an underneath outlet.

Braelon Allen, Wisconsin: Allen's superpower lies in his ability to fully utilize his 6-2, 245 pound frame. A downhill runner who can steamroll his way through traffic, Allen excels in short-yardage situations, regularly finishing with gusto. His role as a receiver evolved during his time at Wisconsin, as the 20-year-old finished with a career-high 28 grabs in 2023. Allen can move up the rankings if he shows that he can thrive as a receiver in space. He needs to prove that he's more than just a north-south grinder. The receiving drills will be critical for Allen. It will also be interesting to see where he tips the scales. Allen could really impress, were he to crush the athletic testing at his current listed weight (245 pounds), rather than slimming down to appear faster.

Wide receivers

Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State: Harrison is considered by some to be the best overall player (regardless of position) in this year's draft class. A high-level route runner with outstanding ball skills, body control and NFL bloodlines, Harrison checks all the boxes (including ones that don't even exist). It would have been an absolute treat to see him crush the athletic portion in Indy and live up to the hype. That's not going to happen, though. Harrison (who interestingly heads into the draft process without an agent) has chosen to rely on his sterling reputation and impressive tape, opting to eschew the testing portion of the combine. How he navigates the rest of this process figures to be fascinating (there are rumors he won't workout at Ohio State's pro day, either). Stay tuned.

Malik Nabers, LSU: Two of the NFL's most heralded young receivers have come out of LSU in recent years. Nabers, who closed out his college career as the Tigers' all-time leader in receiving yards with over 3,000, appears to be the university's next big breakout at the wide receiver position. Nabers is a field-stretching talent whose seamless route running, elite athletic traits and fearless demeanor make him a wonderfully varied and versatile playmaker. The Louisiana native had a chance to potentially inch closer to Harrison or, at the very least, unabashedly secure the No. 2 pick at the position with a commanding workout. However, in what's turning out to be a popular trend among buzzy prospects, Nabers has chosen to forgo the testing portion of the combine.

Rome Odunze, Washington: With Harrison and Nabers side-stepping the stopwatches in Indy, Odunze could be the event's biggest star. Boasting a robust frame (6-3 and 215 pounds), the Las Vegas native has a knack for playing to size while consistently winning in one-on-one and contested situations. Bowen describes his playing style as smooth, which is impressive given Odunze's stature. Scouts will want to survey the 21-year-old's explosiveness and power. A 40-yard-dash time of 4.4 seconds and vertical jump of over 40 inches figure to make Odunze a top-3 -- maybe even top-2 -- pick at the position.

Brian Thomas Jr., LSU: A former basketball player, Thomas knows how to get tall. But he's more than just a big body that hunts on the outside. He's also an incredibly fluid ball tracker who can stretch the field vertically and pluck the pigskin out of the air with soft hands. These traits figure to be on full display during the pass-catching drills. Testing numbers will, assuredly, get clicks. However, Thomas has a chance to really shimmer when executing on deep post routes and chasing go balls. Expect some highlight-worthy grabs from the 21-year-old.

Keon Coleman, Florida State: Another hopper (who played under Tom Izzo before transferring to FSU), Coleman projects as a prototypical X receiver at the next level. At 6-4 and 215 pounds, Coleman is an absolute contortionist when he goes high, demonstrating exceptional ball skills and fearlessness in traffic. His ability to high-point and win 50/50 balls will make him a highly-targeted red zone option in the pros. While he's physical, he's not terribly fast. That's why his 40-time will be highly anticipated in Indy. He's safe with a time of 4.5 seconds, but Bowen thinks he could change minds were he to cross the line at 4.4 seconds.

Ladd McConkey, Georgia: McConkey is a player on the rise, having recently generated a ton of buzz at the Senior Bowl. A fantastically refined route runner, the Georgia native knows how to get open, employing a refreshing suddenness and burst in and out of cuts. He regularly stupefies CBs with quick feet and nearly immediate acceleration. This quickness lends itself to McConkey's vertical game, making him more than a one-dimensional, short-yardage slot option at the next level. He's not expected to fly during the 40-yard-dash, so his time there is less important. What could elevate his stock, however, is a solid showing in the three-cone (sub 6.7 seconds) and short shuttle (under 4 seconds) drills.

Tight end

Brock Bowers, Georgia: This year's crop of tight ends isn't nearly as flush with talent as the 2023 class. Bowers, however, deserves special attention. He is, undoubtedly, the top TE this go-around and is expected to fly off the board early in the first round. A fantastic route runner who can "rumble" (as Bowen likes to say) after the catch, Bowers led all tight ends in YAC (438) in 2023. While his catch radius and body control are additional hallmarks to his receiving prowess, Bowers additionally excels as a blocker, making him a highly-coveted all-around talent at the position. As long as he posts a 40-yard-dash time between 4.5 and 4.6 seconds, he'll be sterling come April 25th.

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