Bronco Beat

NFL Combine will provide major opportunity for two Boise State players, one Vandal

Even though the pads aren’t on, there is no hitting and just one guy instead of 22 is on the field, the NFL Scouting Combine is still a major factor for college football players trying to catch the eye of pro teams.

For former Boise State players Jeremy McNichols and Tanner Vallejo, this week’s combine will be very important for different reasons. McNichols will have shoulder surgery soon after, while Vallejo had wrist surgery in November, making this a chance to show teams he is worthy of a draft pick. One other Gem State player, Idaho kicker/punter Austin Rehkow, is among the 330 invited players.

On-field drills begin at 7 a.m. MT Friday morning with offensive linemen, running backs and special teamers, concluding Monday morning at the same time. They will be televised on NFL Network.

JEREMY McNICHOLS, RB

▪  On-field drills: Friday

▪  Boise State career (2014-16): 3,205 rushing yards, 44 rushing TDs; 1,089 receiving yards, 11 receiving TDs

▪  Draft projections: Sixth round (Fox Sports), fourth round (CBS Sports No. 11 RB), fourth/fifth round (Mel Kiper, ESPN)

McNichols is seen by most as a likely draft pick on the third day, lacking ideal size, measuring at 5-foot-9, 214 pounds at the combine. His versatility as a receiver will certainly help his stock, and he’ll be able to show that in position drills. Many draftniks call him a one-speed runner, one that may not be able to hit a higher speed once getting through the line. He will have shoulder surgery after the combine, which could be a negative (he didn’t do the bench press Thursday), but a strong combine showing will stick in the minds of NFL decision makers.

“The production’s there, the versatility’s there,” Kiper said.

Another challenge for McNichols is an extremely deep running back class. Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke did not rank him among the top 15 running backs in the draft this week. McNichols, who declined interview requests before the combine, said in December he is confident he will be drafted and feels he can contribute no matter where he is picked, like predecessor Jay Ajayi, a fifth-rounder in 2015.

TANNER VALLEJO, LB

▪  On-field drills: Sunday

▪  Boise State career (2013-16): 277 tackles, 36 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries

▪  Draft projections: Undrafted (CBS Sports No. 17 inside linebacker); sixth round (USA Today December mock)

A fringe draft prospect, the combine will be important for Vallejo to get in the minds of NFL personnel after he missed the last three games of his senior year following wrist surgery. Vallejo has been productive when playing at any linebacker spot, with most projecting him on the inside in his NFL career, though his top seasons have been on the outside. Vallejo, who did not respond to an interview request, opted for surgery in November after the wrist did not improve and with his NFL future in mind. He is expected to do all on-field work, but not the bench press Saturday.

AUSTIN REHKOW, P/K

▪  On-field drills: Friday

▪  Idaho career (2013-16): 70-of-92 field goals; 45.9 yard career punting average (finished in top seven in FBS three times)

▪  Draft projections: Fifth/sixth round (CBS Sports No. 1 punter); sixth/seventh round (Fox Sports)

The Spokane native has been extremely potent as the Vandals’ kicker and punter, though his NFL career is likely as a punter. His ability to kick field goals will only help his stock and he could cement it this week. Three punters were taken in last year’s draft, but just one was taken in 2015. Rehkow would be the first Vandal drafted since 2012 (Korey Toomer, fifth round).

“His hang time and accuracy numbers could be good enough to land Rehkow a spot in this year’s draft,” wrote NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein.

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Here’s the definition of each drill, from NFL.com:

40-yard dash

The 40-yard dash is the marquee event at the combine. It's kind of like the 100-meters at the Olympics: It's all about speed, explosion and watching skilled athletes run great times. These athletes are timed at 10, 20 and 40-yard intervals. What the scouts are looking for is an explosion from a static start.

Bench press

The bench press is a test of strength -- 225 pounds, as many reps as the athlete can get. What the NFL scouts are also looking for is endurance. Anybody can do a max one time, but what the bench press tells the pro scouts is how often the athlete frequented his college weight room for the last 3-5 years.

Vertical jump

The vertical jump is all about lower-body explosion and power. The athlete stands flat-footed and they measure his reach. It is important to accurately measure the reach, because the differential between the reach and the flag the athlete touches is his vertical jump measurement.

Broad jump

The broad jump is like being in gym class back in junior high school. Basically, it is testing an athlete's lower-body explosion and lower-body strength. The athlete starts out with a stance balanced and then he explodes out as far as he can. It tests explosion and balance, because he has to land without moving.

3 cone drill

The 3 cone drill tests an athlete's ability to change directions at a high speed. Three cones in an L-shape. He starts from the starting line, goes 5 yards to the first cone and back. Then, he turns, runs around the second cone, runs a weave around the third cone, which is the high point of the L, changes directions, comes back around that second cone and finishes.

Shuttle run

The short shuttle is the first of the cone drills. It is known as the 5-10-5. What it tests is the athlete's lateral quickness and explosion in short areas. The athlete starts in the three-point stance, explodes out 5 yards to his right, touches the line, goes back 10 yards to his left, left hand touches the line, pivot, and he turns 5 more yards and finishes.

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