What to Watch For: The 2016 NFL Combine

On Friday, the NFL opens the doors to its scouting combine, where college's most talented athletes and playmakers go to strut their stuff in front of hundreds of scouts and just as many cameras. For some, it's the moment they've been waiting for their whole lives. Everything has built up to this opportunity, this epic stage shared with countless young men who share the same goal: to play in the NFL. For others, it's the biggest opportunity they've ever had to show what they can do, and why their future lies beyond FCS or Division II football.

Amongst the hopeful are four Gamecocks, all from this year's offense: Pharoh Cooper, Brandon Wilds, Brandon Shell, and Jerell Adams. Out of that group, only Adams and Shell showcased themselves post-season, with Adams playing in the Senior Bowl and Shell playing in the East-West Shrine Game.

Like every player in Indianapolis this week, these Gamecocks will look to wipe the board clean of any weaknesses that have been pinned to them, and show that their strengths are of NFL quality. Let's take a look at what NFL.com experts are saying about the USC alums and what they can do to curry favor.

Jerell Adams, Current Grade: 5.35/10

I'd be stunned if Adams' grade doesn't go up within five minutes of drills beginning. What's hurting Adams most right now is his perceived lack of athleticism, which isn't entirely unfair. Don't get me wrong, he has awesome straight-ahead speed for his size and can nab even the highest of catches by standing on his tip-toes and reaching in the air. Unfortunately, he's a bit stiff and has issues with adjusting to bad throws or off-target passes. It's hard to find many how-did-he-do-that moments in his portfolio, so to speak, but Adams has been fairly reliable as a receiver. Not perfect, but reliable, and more importantly, coachable. Adams has the size, and the ability as a blocker and a receiver, so I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up with Draft Day Two marks.

Brandon Wilds, Current Grade: 4.94/10

Wilds has the steepest climb of any other Gamecock in the combine, but it's justified. Wilds has been hampered by injuries for the better part of four years now, and while he has still been a leading producer at USC, being the top running back for the 99th-ranked offense in the nation isn't quite a feather in the cap. I remember watching Wilds in his first year, watching him bounce through the trenches like a pinball, accented by quick bursts. He was raw, and it wasn't hard to imagine that, with some improvement to his footwork and conditioning, he could be a genuinely great running back. Now, he appears heavy and stiff, having little of the burst that once made him so exciting. We are seeing something of a renaissance of the power back, however, and Wilds has never shied away from using his strength as a blocker or to push the line to grab a couple yards. He's also been quite good working as a receiver out of the backfield, so his invite to the combine is justified. He'll have a great opportunity to create his own narrative in Indy, so hopefully the perception of his game will be more favorable when all is said and done. 

Brandon Shell, Current Grade: 5.22/10

Out of the four Gamecocks graded, Shell's score remains the most puzzling. To me, Shell is an NFL-quality player without question and a potential starter in the league. He's currently tagged with the weaknesses of poor mismatched hand-and-footwork and poor body control, both of which can be coached and improved. It's impossible to look at Shell and not be incredibly impressed by his physical presence and the shape he's in. I have full confidence that he'll be leaving the combine with scouts picking their jaws up off the floor. 

Pharoh Cooper, Current Grade: 5.69/10

According to NFL.com, Cooper's 5.69 grade translates into "chance to be an NFL starter," which seems about right. He's being praised up and down by scouts for his professional nature, his consistent performance on the field, and his breakneck acceleration, reaching top speed almost immediately off the line. What hurts him the most is the one thing Cooper can't change: his size. While his surprising strength is noted, there's no denying Cooper has troubles fighting with DBs for catches, and is by no means a jump-ball hero. While the tall wide receiver galloping down the field like a Pegasus will forever be ideal in the minds of most general managers, consider the fact that the NFL's leader in receptions last year was Antonio Brown, who's listed at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, or about an inch shorter and 20 pounds lighter than Cooper. As one scout from the NFC South put it: "He's a good player. Scouts can't worry about how a player like Cooper is going to be used because that is the OC's job. Our job is to find good football players. He's a good football player." I couldn't have said it better myself.