April 23, 2011; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini defensive lineman Michael Buchanan (99) during the Orange and Blue spring game at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael Heinz-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois Football: 2013 NFL Scouting Combine Preview

This weekend, the scouts of all 32 NFL teams will travel to Indianapolis to watch the best draft prospects in the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.

The Illinois Fighting Illini will have four players participating in this year’s combine. Here’s a look at the Illini players who will and who won’t be running drills at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.

Illinois Invitees

  • Michael Buchanan (defensive end)

Jan 26, 2013; Mobile, AL, USA; Senior Bowl north squad defensive lineman Michael Buchanan of Illinois (99) prior to kickoff of a game against the Senior Bowl south squad at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Buchanan could be seen as the one Fighting Illini player with the most to prove this weekend at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine. In 2011, he had an amazing season (64 tackles, 13.5 for loss, 7.5 sacks) and was named to the second-team all-conference by Big Ten coaches. However, that changed in 2012.

Due to an event that left him with a broken jaw that was wired shut for a week, Buchanan lost around twenty pound before this past season. Because his strength is very important to him, he struggled in 2012 and looked rather slow. He was an honorable mention All-Conference honors, but his stats dipped in 2012 (57 tackles, seven for loss, 4.5 sacks).

Buchanan has the ability and the skills to be a high draft pick in this year’s NFL Draft, but it all starts at the NFL Scouting Combine.

He needs to show NFL scouts that he is the type of player we saw in 2011 rather than the one we saw in 2012.

  • Terry Hawthorne (cornerback)

Terry Hawthorne was a bright recruit for Illinois before his freshman year. He was on everyone’s All-American list and played every single game as a true freshmen with the Illini (started the final five games). However, the injury bug has bit Hawthorne in the past.

Hawthorne fractured his right foot before his sophomore season. He miss the first four games of his sophomore season and played eight of the last nine games. After staying healthy in 2011, the injury bug bit him again in 2012 as a senior.

In Illinois’ game against Wisconsin, Hawthorne suffered a head injury and was taken to the hospital via ambulance. He finished with 43 total tackles, four going for loss including one sack while only missing one start.

Terry Hawthorne will need to prove to NFL teams that his injury problems are a thing of the past. There is a good chance that he could slide to a late round pick if teams question his health.

  • Akeem Spence (defensive tackle)

Oct 6, 2012; Madison, WI, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini defensive tackle Akeem Spence (94) prior to the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Akeem Spence rounds out the defensive-heavy list of invitees for the Illinois Fighting Illini. He started out as a rotational piece in his freshman year, but moved up to a full-time starter at Illinois.

As a junior in 2012, Spence recorded 72 tackles, seven tackles-for-loss, and one sack in twelve games. He was also an honorable mention for the All-Big Ten team.

Akeem Spence has a nice build and carries his weight well. He also has strong hands and does not tire easily. The biggest thing he will need to improve is how he comes off the ball.

Right now, Spence is projected as a mid-round selection, but could raise his draft stock with a nice performance at the NFL Scouting Combine.

  • Hugh Thornton (offensive guard)

Hugh Thornton is the only offensive player for the Illini in this year’s NFL Scouting Combine. He was redshirted in 2009, but took that off to play in seven games at right tackle. He was moved to weak-side guard for his sophomore and junior seasons, but moved back to the tackle position in 2012.

Thorton is a very versatile lineman. He has good upper body strength to latch onto and stone targets and has feet and good straight-line speed. However, his  lateral movement does need some improvement.

One aspect that NFL scouts will take into mind when scouting Hugh Thorton is his very rough past. Thorton has had to deal with the divorce of his parents and the murders of both hi mother and sister. Although this will be taken into consideration, do not expect this to hurt Thorton’s draft stock.

He is projected a solid mid-round interior prospect, but a nice showing at the combine could raise his stock ever so slightly.

Illinois Players Not Invited

  • Graham Pocic (center)

The only Illinois player that will not be performing in the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine is Graham Pocic. Pocic is listed as a center, but also played at the guard position while at Illinois.

One of Pocic’s strengths heading into the NFL Draft is that he sits low in his stance and has smooth movement after the snap despite his height.

However, his height is a weakness because he is rather tall for a center. He often needs to bend at the waist instead of relying on his length.

Even though he will not be able to use the NFL Scouting Combine to raise his draft stock, Pocic is projected to be a strong mid-round prospect. The biggest things that he brings to the table for an NFL team is his intelligence, mobility and durability.

2013 NFL Scouting Combine Invite List Breakdown

Quarterbacks: 16
Running Backs: 38
Wide Receivers: 39
Tight Ends: 19
Offensive Line:  58
Defensive Line: 54
Linebackers: 35
Defensive Backs: 60
Kickers/Special Teams: 14

Workout Schedule:

Saturday, Feb. 23: Tight ends, offensive lineman, special teams
Sunday, Feb. 24: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers
Monday, Feb 25: Defensive lineman, linebackers
Tuesday, Feb 26: Defensive backs

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Tags: 2013 Football Illinois Fighting Illini Mike Buchanan NFL Scouting Combine

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