The obvious three former Arizona Wildcat football players were on the list to attend the NFL Scouting Combine that will take place from Feb. 23-26, and all three can surely use the combine to improve their stock after the UA struggled during their senior campaigns.
Quarterback Nick Foles, wide receiver Juron Criner and cornerback Trevin Wade didn't get the added benefit of team success, something that goes a long way in helping showcase their stock heading into the NFL Draft. No other Wildcats were invited, and that in itself is an indication that a 4-8 year for Arizona hurt players at an individual level as well.
While Foles may be the most coveted of the three and though Wade's the least-well known, it's Criner who could bump his stock up the most with a strong showing at the combine.Let's start with the quarterback. Foles performed with rocky practice sessions on the South squad in the Senior Bowl, failing to show anything spectacular and often checking down with easy passes to receivers in the flats. He made up for it -- and didn't hamper the notion that he's a better gamer than practice QB -- in the Senior Bowl with 11-of-15 passing for 136 yards and a TD. He was also the only South quarterback who wasn't picked off.
Perhaps the combine won't be the best of friends to Foles in this case, but I don't foresee it hurting himself to any extent. Undoubtedly, Foles will show off his pure size and strength, something we often find NFL coaches and scouts overly-enamored about.
Where the record-setting Wildcat can really make some headway and work himself to the top of the second-tier of quarterbacks is with one-on-one interviews. There's no doubt he's mature enough and hard-working enough to make a name for himself in the NFL.
That said, the combine could do more for Wade and Criner, two athletic players who might be overlooked.
Remember, very few times his senior season was it Wade who was making mistakes in a messy secondary. After solid freshman and sophomore campaigns, Wade's junior season was spoiled by bad play and off-field mental lapses. He recovered his senior year and recorded 52 tackles, two interceptions and a ridiculous 13 pass break-ups -- for perspective, no other UA player had more than six.
Criner, however, has the most to gain from the NFL Combine, as he left his senior season on a slightly disappointing note. The wideout did have 11 touchdowns and 956 receiving yards, but an almost year-long media silencing, coupled with injuries and criticism from his coaches, put him in a hole that he could surely make up with a strong effort later this month.
As I told the guys over at State of the Texans a few weeks ago, Criner has the talent to make it in the NFL. The key for him is proving that he has the speed AND the physicality to separate from the new-age NFL cornerbacks. Furthermore, an injury-plagued career places question marks on his durability.
And that's where the combine will come in handy.
If Criner can make a case for himself as a pure athlete, it could go a long way in boosting his draft stock, meanwhile reminding everyone why some called him a second or third round draft prospect after his junior campaign.