Coogs defenders among sleepers to watch at the combine

There's no such thing as an unknown at the NFL scouting combine anymore, but some of the 330 invites are still receiving limited attention.

For small-school prospects, Indianapolis can serve as a proving ground that they belong with their more highly touted colleagues.

As testing begins this week, here are 10 sleepers to keep an eye on:

10. Tarik Cohen, RB, North Carolina A&T

The 5-6, 179-pound running back might be one of this draft class' most entertaining players. With a daring running style heavy on cutbacks, Cohen earned the nickname "The Human Joystick." He stands out as a change-of-pace back amid a group that is heavy on bulkier ball-carriers. His playing style might not be sustainable as a high-volume player, but teams could be on heightened lookout for big-play threats after Tyreek Hill's breakout year.

9. Lorenzo Jerome, S, St. Francis

Jerome recorded two interceptions and a forced fumble in the Senior Bowl to build a case for himself as one of the more intriguing prospects at a difficult position to fill. The Football Championship Subdivision All-American lacks the size of LSU's Jamal Adams and the speed of Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore, his range and anticipation could make him an asset in a variety of schemes. Running a respectable 40-yard dash could be important for his stock, but there's reason to believe he can continue his rise with a strong showing in Indianapolis.

8. Adam Shaheen, TE, Ashland

The former walk-on burned up Division II with 26 touchdown catches in the last two seasons, routinely outrunning his competition on long gains. Now Shaheen has to prove his athleticism can hold up in a deep and talented tight end class. Beyond affirming his straight-line speed with a respectable 40-yard dash, he'll have to show teams his agility and strength won't be overly limiting factors.

7. Antonio Garcia, OT, Troy

Demand always outweighs supply for left tackles, and the interest in Garcia could be quite high by late April. His fluid footwork and ability to keep pass rushers from beating him around the edge signal an NFL readiness seldom seen for players with his background. Garcia will have to show improved strength and presents concerns with a relatively wiry frame, but he's up to 302 pounds after measuring in at 293 at the Senior Bowl.

6. Tarell Basham, DE, Ohio

Following in the steps of Khalil Mack, Quinten Rollins and Jatavis Brown, Basham could be the next Mid-American Conference defensive player of the year to carve out a valuable NFL career for himself. Basham has an impressive blend of initial burst, straight-line speed and power to hold up at the point of attack. Beating NFL offensive tackles around the edge could be tricky at first, however, and adding a more varied set of moves will be an early priority.

5. Jalen Robinette, WR, Air Force

Robinette needs refinement after a career in Air Force's triple-option offense, but it's hard to ignore a 6-3, 220-pound receiver who averaged 27.4 yards per catch as a senior. Robinette should test well, especially in the vertical leap, but teams likely will want to see his comfort level in drills given the limitations he's faced in catching the ball while in college. Patience and proper coaching could help him translate his ability into legitimate NFL production.

4. Howard Wilson, CB, Houston

From a physical standpoint, it's hard to find much to complain about Wilson beyond a skinny frame. At 6-1, 185 pounds, he has excellent closing speed on the ball and impressive fluidity to stay with receivers. There may be an extended adjustment period given his lone year as a starter, and medical evaluations on the anterior cruciate ligament tear he suffered in 2015 will be important.

3. Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE, Villanova

Kpassagnon made an immediate impression at Senior Bowl weigh-ins when he measured at nearly 6-7, 280 pounds with 10 7/8-inch hands, as well as the longest arms (34 7/8 inches) of any player. His production at Villanova, however, also stands out after he record 21 1/2 tackles for loss and 11 sacks last season. Kpassagnon has the tools to thrive in the NFL, though he won't be able to overpower linemen as easily as he is accustomed to.

2. Taywan Taylor, WR, Western Kentucky

Given a little space, few players can match Taylor's explosive ability. The dynamic receiver (17 touchdowns as a senior) is an early favorite to be a standout in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump and broad jump. Though Taylor may be limited in his route running, the discussion after the combine may center on what he can do rather than what he can't.

1. Tyus Bowser, LB, Houston

Bowser had 8 1/2 sacks in eight games last season, but his best days as a pass rusher are likely still ahead of him. A former college basketball player for Houston, Bowser has the explosive athleticism and agility teams seek on the edge, and he should test well across the board.

USA Today Sports


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