NFL Draft Notebook: Justin Fields not Las Vegas bound; Drake Stoops amongst NFL Combine snubs

This week's NFL Draft Notebook takes a look at some players who should have been invited to the NFL Combine and much more.
Blake Watson
Blake Watson / Justin Ford/GettyImages

The big NFL Draft news from this week was seeing who got invited to the NFL Combine. While plenty of top-tier players were invited to Indianapolis, several players were snubbed by not getting an invite. In this week’s NFL Draft Notebook, we look at three players who should be in Indianapolis. This week’s article also talks about why Justin Fields will not be heading to the Las Vegas Raiders, an FCS prospect getting plenty of interest, and much more.

All the latest NFL Draft news and notes

Blake Watson deserves an invite: A player who has already impressed in the predraft process yet didn’t get an invite to the NFL Combine is running back Blake Watson. Watson was named to the East-West Shrine Bowl All-West Practice Team and was the Hula Bowl MVP, and this came after an impressive college career headlined by him making the All-AAC team this year. This production combined with his ability to help out in the NFL as a runner, receiver, and return man should have been enough for him to be in Indianapolis.

Drake Stoops continues to be overlooked: One of my favorite sleepers in this year’s draft is Oklahoma wide receiver Drake Stoops, and he was again overlooked after not receiving an invite to the NFL Combine. What impresses me so much about Stoops is his smooth route running which consistently allows him to get open. He also does a terrific job of catching the ball in traffic and shows surprising strength for a 5-foot-10 189-pound wide receiver. In addition to being a high-caliber slot receiver in the 2024 NFL Draft, he also has shown the ability to return punts in the NFL.

Leading the nation in tackles for loss and sacks not enough: The most productive player not to be invited to the NFL Combine is James Madison edge defender Jalen Green. Green was named the 2023 Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year, after leading the nation in both tackles for loss and sacks at the time of his season-ending leg injury. This event could have been even more critical for Green than other players since teams would have been able to get medical reports on how he is recovering from his injury.

Michigan sets record: The Michigan Wolverines set the NFL Combine by having 18 players invited to the event. This beats the previous mark which was held by LSU who had 16 players invited in 2020. Jim Harbaugh might ended up being pretty close when he predicted back in July that 20 Wolverines would get drafted this season.

49ers linebacker need increases: Look for linebacker to become a bigger need for the San Fransico 49ers now that Dre Greenlaw has suffered a torn Achilles tendon. It would make sense for the team to use one of their four picks in the third or the fourth round. One linebacker who could be a good fit is Payton Wilson of North Carolina State who has the type of speed the 49ers defense loves.

Fields not heading to Las Vegas: One of the teams who was rumored to have an interest in Justin Fields this offseason was the Las Vegas Raiders. However, don’t look for him to make a move on him now that they have hired former Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy as their offensive coordinator. Fields often didn’t see eye to eye with Getsy in Chicago, and one of the reasons Getsy was fired was he didn’t utilize Fields' strengths enough. I would expect them to look for more for a pocket passer which is the type of Getsy has developed in the past.

Luke McCaffrey stock rising: A player who went into the 2024 Senior Bowl with an undrafted free agent grade, but left with a day three grade is Rice’s, Luke McCaffrey. McCaffrey made numerous tough catches during the week and had the best catch of the game when he made a one-handed reception in the third quarter. This comes after the best season of his career when he caught 71 receptions and led the AAC with 12 touchdown catches. If he can post a strong 40-yard dash, he could go as high as the fourth round in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Not buying the hype: One player who is being ranked significantly higher than I have him rated is Wester Michigan’s Marshawn Kneeland. Kneeland currently is rated as Mel Kiper Jr’s number five edge rusher and carries a third-round grade on NFL Mock Draft Database. However, I only have a sixth-round grade on him partly due to a lack of production having never had more than 4.5 sacks in a season. He also lacks the explosiveness you want to see from an edge rusher who is only 6-foot-3.

FCS prospect getting plenty of interest: According to ESPN's Cole Neely Furman tight end Mason Pline has already met with 31 teams this offseason at either the Shrine or Hula Bowl. This isn’t a big surprise as he offers intriguing traits including his 6-foot-7 260-pound size. The former basketball player also shows impressive athletic ability for someone his size and is a red-zone threat. In my latest mock draft, I had the Denver Broncos taking Pline in the seventh round, and at worst I would expect him to sign as a priority undrafted free agent.

Scouting Illinois defensive tackle Jer'Zhan Newton: No defensive tackle has been more disruptive in college football than Jer'Zhan Newton. Over the past two seasons he has 102 quarterback pressures, and this year he was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year after recording 7.5 sacks. As a pro prospect, he has some ideal traits that would make him a good 3-technique defensive tackle. This includes a good first step off the ball, active hands, and a non-stop motor. While he is a quick penetrating defensive tackle and would be ideal in a one-gap scheme he will likely be limited to that role due to a lack of strength to fight off double teams.

All-Underrated offense: Two weeks ago, I came out with my fourth annual All-Underrated offense. These players will hope they can see their draft stock improve like several members of the preseason All-Underrated team. A couple of the prospects who made the team in July now carry day one or two grades after going into the season with day three or undrafted free agent grades. The players who helped their stock the most from this team include Texas wide receiver Adonai Mitchell who went from an undrafted free agent grade to the 38th overall player in the NFL Draft according to NFL Mock Draft Database. A couple of other players to fit that label are Washington’s Troy Fautanu and UConn’s Christian Haynes.

Big get for the Bulldogs: Georgia received great news last week when former Stanford tight end Benjamin Yurosek announced he would be transferring to Athens this fall. Yorosek battled a should injury and saw a major drop in production last year only playing in six games and catching just 16 passes. However, in 2022 he hauled in 49 passes and had the most targets without a drop according to Pro Football Focus. Look for him to split time next year with Oscar Delp, and for the Bulldogs to use plenty of 12 personnel this fall.

Player to watch for the 2025 NFL Draft: While we are still months away from the 2024 NFL Draft when watching film sleepers for the 2025 NFL Draft will flash. That is the case with UCLA linebacker Kain Medrano when watching the Utah game. Against the Utes, the Pueblo East graduate Kain Medrano recorded 10 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks on the day. As a pro prospect, Medrano is a good cover man who started his career off as a defensive back. He also shows the range to make tackles from sideline to sideline.