With the start of the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine set to kickoff this Friday (March 2), I thought it would be a good time to share with you some of the hidden gems who could open a lot of eyes and be of interest to the Dallas Cowboys.
There are always a few participants at the combine who seem to come out of nowhere and make us all scramble for any kind of game film we can get our hands on. This is one of the reasons I enjoy watching the combine in the first place. I like researching players I didn’t know too much about before hand.
Below I put together a list of five participants that could fit in with the Dallas Cowboys and should shine at this year’s NFL Combine. Let me know what you think in the comments section located at the end of the article, whether you agree with me or not.
RB Nyheim Hines, NC State
Nyheim Hines is the first of two NC State players on this list. Hines is kind of the forgotten man in the Wolfpack’s backfield and has been overshadowed by Jaylen Samuels. Samuels is a versatile hybrid running back/fullback/tight end, but Hines’ skill set is just as versatile and translates better to the NFL.
In his first two years at NC State, Hines was mostly utilized as a receiver, before finally making the transition to running back full-time. In 2017 he rushed for 1,112 yards on the ground and added 152 yards through the air, finally getting to show his speed that earned him All-ACC and All-American honors in the 4 x 100 relay, the 100 m, and the 60 m as a member of the Wolfpack’s track team.
Hines is exactly the type of complementary back the Cowboys could use to pair with Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith. His background as a receiver and speed could earn him the third-down role as a rookie, while also taking over the primary role of kick returner, something he did pretty well at NC State (2,171 career kick return yards and 2 TDs).
DE/DT Kentavius Street, NC State
Kentavius Street has been one of my “pet cats” in this draft class for a while now. He was overshadowed by DE Bradley Chubb, and DTs B.J. Hill and Justin Jones for that matter at NC State, but I think he will test like one of the best defensive ends in the entire draft class.
Street is predicted to run in the 4.6 range in the 40 yard dash and could run the 4.5’s, which is simply amazing for a 285 pound player. He will likely be asked to kick inside and become an under tackle or 3-tech in the NFL due to his lack of length, but his strength and athleticism should serve him well there. I believe he can contribute as both a DT and DE in a 4-3 scheme and should absolutely be on the Cowboys radar.
DE Hercules Mata’afa, Washington State
I don’t know about you, but every time I hear the name Hercules I think of the Nutty Professor movie starring Eddie Murphy. “Hercules… Hercules!” But, this Hercules isn’t Eddie Murphy wearing a fat suit. Hercules Mata’afa is a hard-nosed football player who has a knack for getting after the QB.
Mata’afa mostly played a slanting DT during his time at Washington State, but he’s undersized to do that the NFL at just 250 pounds. He projects to be a better edge player in the NFL and could be a perfect fit as a 4-3 DE. I think he’s really going to show his athleticism at the combine and solidify himself as a Day 2 draft pick.
TE Ian Thomas, Indiana
This year’s tight end draft class isn’t the best we’ve seen in years past and there might not be one taken in the first round, but overall it’s a pretty solid group. I think the Cowboys would be wise to draft one at some point, but I don’t believe it will happen in one of the first few rounds. So, a hidden gem like Ian Thomas could be exactly the type prospect they are looking for.
If you look at Ian Thomas’ collegiate statistics during his time at Indiana you probably wouldn’t be overly impressed. In fact, Thomas only had eight receptions for 15 yards or more with the Hoosiers. That’s why you can always go by statistics because I believe he will be a better professional and will open a lot of eyes with the way he performs at the combine. I think he will be one of the top performers in the 40 and run in the 4.6 range.
LB Darius Leonard, South Carolina State
There is no shortage of athletic linebackers in the 2018 draft class, which is good news considering the Dallas Cowboys could use some more depth at the position. There’s no way of telling when or where the Cowboys will draft a LB, but they always seem to take someone who is completely off of anyone’s radar, such as Anthony Hitchens a few years ago.
One player who I think they could show an interest in is former South Carolina State LB, Darius Leonard. Leonard is the type of LB NFL teams seem to be shifting to. He is a speedy sideline to sideline player who plays with excellent instincts and range. He is a bit undersized, but should test really well at the combine. He fits in both the 3-4 and 4-3 defensive scheme, but is probably best suited to play WILL in a 4-3.