Monday, April 22, 2024
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NFL Combine: Notable 2024 snubs and all-time best players who did not participate in Indianapolis

Each draft cycle a bunch of prospects soar up NFL teams‘ draft boards thanks to out-of-this-world workout performances at the NFL Combine, a place to show off their raw athleticism. However, each year there are plenty of deserving upperclassmen who don’t receive the opportunity to highlight their talents in front of the NFL’s front offices in Indianapolis as a little over 300 prospects get invited. 

“You only have so many spots, you can’t bring in 500 guys,” CBS Sports’ Rick Spielman, the former Minnesota Vikings general manager of 16 seasons, said on the “With the First Pick Podcast” in 2023. “It’s always around that 330 mark (319 in 2023).

“You have to save spots for the juniors coming out. Whether it’s 50 or 60, whatever amount of juniors come out every year, you have to save an amount of spots for them as well because a lot of times there’s no work been done on them. There’s been tape done on them, but those are the guys that you want to get in front of at the combine. As a general manager, we always made the point that the Senior Bowl, the East-West bowl, and all these all-star games where the seniors are going to show up, let’s get as much work as we can get done there with the interview process and the test so that when we get to the combine, we can focus on the juniors we haven’t gotten in front of at all.”

That being said, here are few combine snubs for 2024, analysis on their game, plus a list of some of the best NFL players in recent memory who went on to have stellar careers despite the snub. 

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Notable 2024 snubs

Northern Illinois defensive tackle Khristian Boyd, Toronto Argonauts cornerback Qwan’tez Stiggers, University of Texas-San Antonio wide receiver Joshua Cephus all flashed at the East-West Shrine Bowl, but they did not get combine invites. 

Boyd’s best trait at the Shrine Bowl in Frisco, Texas, was clearly his ability to get low and out-leverage offensive linemen with his 6-foot-2 frame while weighing 320 pounds. He threw multiple Big Ten offensive linemen in body bags during one-on-one drills as well as the team period. Boyd doesn’t have the size scouts look for in a defensive tackle, but his agility and strong hand technique allowed him to blow up run plays repeatedly.

Stiggers has one of the most unique backstories of the entire 2024 NFL Draft class. He is trying to become the third player in the common draft era, since 1967, to get drafted despite not playing college football, according to ESPN Stats and Info. He played high school football at B.E.S.T. Academy, a charter school in Atlanta. Stiggers was set to attend HBCU Lane College in Tennessee. The pandemic canceled his season, so he never made it to campus. 

He then played seven-on-seven pro football in the Fan Controlled Football league before taking his game to the Canadian Football League. Stiggers totaled five interceptions and 53 tackles in 16 games, earning the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie award in 2023. In Frisco, Stiggers put great ball skills and anticipation on tape.

Cephus, a 6-foot-2 wideout who weighs 189 pounds, likely got knocked for his weight, but he has strong contested catch ability anyways. He also put on tape the ability to improvise in the scramble drill, hauling in a wide-open two-point conversion in the Shrine Bowl game itself from Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa. Cephus had the best season of his collegiate career in 2023 with 1,151 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns on 89 catches. 

All-time notable NFL players snubbed at combine

9. Chris Harris

Harris went from a looked-over prospect out of Kansas to the NFL’s premier slot cornerback for about a decade, earning a spot on the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-Decade Team for the 2010s after four Pro Bowls, a 2016 First-Team All-Pro spot, and a Super Bowl 50 championship with the Denver Broncos. He signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011, but his ability to play bigger than his size made him one of the NFL’s shutdown corners for a long time. 

8. Malcolm Butler

The hero of the New England Patriots‘ Super Bowl XLIX championship win over the Seattle Seahawks as a rookie out of West Alabama in the 2014 season didn’t need a combine invite to finish his rookie year as a Super Bowl legend. His goal-line interception of Russell Wilson forever stands as one of the most clutch plays in Super Bowl history. Butler earned a Pro Bowl nod the following season and another Super Bowl win a couple seasons later, helping spearhead the Patriots defense that buckled down in the second half as New England erased a 28-3 Super Bowl deficit against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. 

7. Victor Cruz

Cruz went undrafted in 2010 out of UMass in 2010 partly due to not receiving an opportunity to shine at the combine. However, he quickly became Eli Manning’s go-to guy in 2011 and 2012 with at least 80 catches, 1,000 yards and nine receiving touchdowns in his second and third seasons. Cruz earned Second-Team All-Pro honors in 2011, the Giants‘ last Super Bowl season, and Pro Bowl honors in 2012 before injuries took a toll on his career. 

6. Adam Thielen

Despite not being invited, Spielman signed Thielen out of Minnesota State as an undrafted free agent in 2013. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound pass-catcher broke out in the 2017 and 2018 seasons, going over 1,000 yards and earning Pro Bowl selections in both years. His 534 career receptions and 55 career receiving touchdowns both rank as third-most in Vikings history behind a couple Hall of Famers: Cris Carter and Randy Moss. Not too bad for an undrafted product from down the road. 

5. Julian Edelman

Another Kent State prospect who slid to the final round of the 2009 NFL Draft because he was making the switch from college quarterback to professional wide receiver. Fortunately, Edelman fell to Tom Brady’s New England Patriots and the rest is history. His 36 career regular-season touchdowns are third-most of any Brady pass-catcher behind only future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski’s 90 and Moss’ 39. However, the postseason is where Edelman made his mark as his 118 catches and 1,442 receiving yards are both third-most in NFL playoff history behind only the receiving GOAT Jerry Rice and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce

The three-time Super Bowl champion earned MVP honors in his final championship run with 10 catches and 141 receiving yards in the Patriots’ 13-3 win against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII. 

4. Wes Welker

Welker, Edelman’s predecessor in New England, also didn’t receive an invitation leading to him going undrafted out of Texas Tech in 2004. His career took off, stop if this sounds familiar, when he signed with the Patriots in the 2007 offseason after bouncing around with the Chargers and Dolphins. Welker exploded during his first year with Brady in 2007, New England’s 18-1 AFC Championship season, as he led the NFL with 112 catches. That season and his subsequent performances in 2009 (led the NFL with 123 catches) and 2011 (led the NFL with 122 catches) revolutionized the slot wide receiver position. While he never won a Super Bowl, Welker retired with five Pro Bowl nods and two First-Team All-Pro selections.  

3. James Harrison

Harrison went undrafted as an undersized outside linebacker from Kent State in 2002 after not receiving an invite, which was the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ gain and the rest of the NFL’s loss. Harrison went on to rack up five Pro Bowl selections, two First-Team All-Pro nods, 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors, and a couple Super Bowl rings for his trouble. His 100-yard interception of Hall of Famer Kurt Warner to end the first half of an eventual Super Bowl XLIII victory for the Steelers still ranks as one of the best touchdowns in Super Bowl history.

2. Tyreek Hill

One of the best wide receivers in the NFL today, Hill didn’t receive an invite not because he was lacking in talent, but rather due to a legal issue involving domestic violence at Oklahoma State that forced him to leave the school and finish his collegiate career at West Alabama. Hill is the only wide receiver ever to earn a Pro Bowl selection in each year of his first eight as a pro. The five-time First-Team All-Pro and Super Bowl LIV champion earned a spot on the 2010s All-Decade Team despite only playing four seasons in the decade. The NFL’s top deep threat has 46 receiving touchdowns of 20 or more yards since entering the NFL in 2016. No other player has over 35 in that same span. 

1. Antonio Gates

Gates’ 116-career receiving touchdowns, the most ever by a tight end in NFL history and the seventh-most all time, aren’t too shabby for the former Kent State basketball player. Despite going undrafted, he ended up as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s as he and Philip Rivers shredded opposing defenses over the middle for over a decade. His 955 receptions and 11,841 receiving yards both rank as third-most in each category by a tight end behind only Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten

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