The 2017 NFL Combine is currently taking place in Indianapolis this weekend. Four Stanford players—running back Christian McCaffrey, wide receiver Michael Rector, defensive end Solomon Thomas, and kicker Conrad Ukropina—are among the invitees. An invitation means that the Selection Committee, a group of top scouts, determines that a player will likely be drafted. The Stanford contingent is likely to live up to the Cardinal’s strong pedigree in the NFL; all four players are expected to make a significant impact in the NFL.
The combine affords McCaffrey the opportunity to showcase the improvements he has made in strength and endurance. You can keep up with McCaffrey and the other running backs at the combine here. McCaffrey is expected to make an immediate impact on any team that he joins: he is explosive on special teams and can produce both as a running threat and a receiving threat out of the backfield. His multitude of skills make him adaptable to nearly any system. As he has shown at Stanford, he can make big plays and control the game, which would make him a critical pickup for a young quarterback and an incipient offense. He also will be a nice addition for an established team, like the Patriots, as he fits the mold of running backs they have coveted in years past.
Although McCaffrey is the marquee name among the Stanford players who have declared for the 2017 NFL Draft, Thomas may very well be the first player drafted. Thomas’ draft stock has dramatically improved over the last few months after a strong second half of the season against stout offensive lines and a dominant performance in the Cardinal’s win at the Sun Bowl, where he was named Defensive MVP. His athleticism is likely to wow scouts at the Combine: NFL.com analyst Lance Zerlein projects that Thomas is capable of running a 4.58 40-yard dash. His versatility––he can line up both between the guard and the tackle and between the tackle and tight end and even apply outside pressure––and his good hands have led to more than a couple comparisons to JJ Watt. However, scouts are concerned about his small stature; he is the second defensive end on the board.
Michael Rector will likely also post gaudy numbers at the combine. A track star in high school, Rector ran an a 40-yard dash in 4.38; he was described as the fastest man on the Stanford team. Rector was a deep-threat in his first few years on the Cardinal, but in his red-shirt junior season, his intermediate and short-range game markedly improved. Disciplinary issues will hinder his draft stock: he was suspended indefinitely by David Shaw before his junior year. Still, he is expected to be a mid-round draft pick who will nicely augment an NFL team’s receiving corps.
Conrad Ukropina has a strong chance of being drafted. This year, many kickers struggled and many are looking to spend a late-round draft pick on a long-term solution. Although he doesn’t have a big range—his career-long field goal in college was 52 yards—he is exceedingly reliable, going 24 for 26 in 2015. There is no Stanford kicking lineage in the NFL, but Ukropina is poised to start a tradition.