More than one in five of the participants in the upcoming NFL combine (74 out of 332) will hail from the SEC. However, that doesn’t mean that every draft-eligible future pro from the conference will take the field in Indianapolis from Feb. 23-29.
A number of capable SEC players missed out on combine invitations, including surprise absentee Jake Coker from Alabama. The Crimson Tide quarterback is on our list of five SEC players -- and we easily could have named more -- who could still wind up on NFL rosters next season despite combine snubs:
Coker: Eighteen quarterbacks will appear before the scouts in Indy, but the senior quarterback from the national champion will not be among them. We get it: Coker’s raw and inexperienced. Maybe he’s a bit too slow to scan the field and his delivery is too long, but he was outstanding in the postseason (59-for-81 for 825 yards, 6 TDs, 0 INTs in wins against Florida, Michigan State and Clemson). He’s 6-foot-5 and is an impressive athlete, too. Even if he would initially be a project at the next level, it’s surprising that he won’t get a closer look at the combine.
S Trae Elston, Ole Miss: One of two All-SEC defenders from Ole Miss who will not be in Indy, Elston is one of the most notable snubs according to ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay. The second-team All-American is one of eight players McShay awarded a fourth- or fifth-round grade who did receive a combine invitation. However, he was one of the top playmakers on a strong Rebels defense. Elston led the team with four interceptions (which he returned for a total of 156 yards), 14 pass breakups and 18 passes defended. He also tied for second on the team with 70 tackles. At 5-11, he’s not the biggest safety in the world, but he’ll get the chance to make a roster.
RB Russell Hansbrough, Missouri: This one is understandable. Hansbrough had a disappointing senior season after rushing for 1,000 yards as a junior. Lingering injuries limited the Tigers running back to just 436 yards and one touchdown in 2015 as Mizzou’s offense circled the drain without a reliable quarterback and a healthy Hansbrough in the backfield. Hansbrough also is neither the biggest (he’s 5-9) nor the fastest back in the world. However, there are other undersized NFL backs with similar skill sets, and it would not be a big surprise to see Hansbrough catch on somewhere as a third-down back.
CB Mike Hilton, Ole Miss: Here is another All-SEC Rebel who won’t be at the combine. What Hilton lacks in size (he’s 5-9), he makes up for in versatility and leadership. The Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist played all over the Ole Miss secondary in 2015, leading all SEC DBs with 12.5 tackles for loss, while also intercepting two passes, breaking up 13 and defending 15. He also won Ole Miss’ annual Chucky Mullins Courage Award, which goes to the Rebels defender who best displays courage, leadership, perseverance and determination. That’s a good guy to have on your roster.
C Mike Matthews, Texas A&M: Another size question. Noticing a theme yet? Listed at 6-2 and 290 pounds, Matthews is not as big as his Hall of Famer dad, Bruce, or brother Jake, both 6-5 NFL tackles. Even though he was a three-year starter at A&M, only a handful of centers come off the draft board each year. Matthews might be a late-round pick or an undrafted free agent, but surely his family’s NFL history will be a point in his favor. Matthews will be battling for a roster spot in somebody’s camp this summer.