Four Sacramento-area football players will be among the 330 invitees to the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, it was announced Wednesday morning.
The combine will be a weeklong showcase starting Feb. 28 where the nation’s top college football athletes eligible for the NFL draft are evaluated by teams in a series of physical and mental tests.
Numerous athletes from the region have participated in the combine and been drafted by NFL teams. Defensive end Arik Armstead out of Pleasant Grove High School was the 17th overall pick in 2015 by the 49ers. Linebacker Shaq Thompson, a Grant graduate, was also picked in the first round that year by the Carolina Panthers at No. 25.
A look at the local players invited to participate in Indianapolis this year:
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Cole Hikutini, tight end, Louisville
Hikutini played just one year at Pleasant Grove High School – a late bloomer – and emerged as a reliable target this season for Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Hikutini began his career at Sacramento State, where he started four games as a redshirt freshman in 2013. He transferred to City College of San Francisco, a community college powerhouse, where he became a national recruit. At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Hikutini is deemed by draft evaluators as having good size with acceleration and reliable hands. Scouts will be looking at his ability to block in the NFL.
Tanner Vallejo, linebacker, Boise State
A standout at Nevada Union, Vallejo was a four-year starter for the Broncos and established a reputation as tackling machine. No one question his toughness, either.
The 6-1, 220-pound Vallejo played most of the 2016 season with torn ligaments in his wrist before undergoing season-ending surgery in November. He had 69 tackles in 2016 despite missing the final four games. Vallejo produced 100 tackles in 2014 and earned Defensive MVP honors in the Fiesta Bowl.
Vallejo will participate in most combine drills, but he will not perform the bench press as he is recovering from wrist surgery. If his wrist has progressed enough, Vallejo can participate in the bench press during Boise State’s Pro Day on campus at a later date. Vallejo has been lauded in scouting evaluations for his versatility and instincts.
Vallejo has been inspired by his 17-year-old brother, Hunter, who was diagnosed with brain cancer as a baby yet has far outlived expectations. Tanner Vallejo once said: “My biggest motivation is my little brother. He’s always been my motivation and he always will be. When I’m out there playing, I’m playing with him on my back.”
Eddie Vanderdoes, defensive tackle, UCLA
A Placer graduate, the 6-3, 320-pound Vanderdoes proclaimed himself as fit and ready for the combine after two injury-riddled seasons at UCLA. He showed flashes of dominance at the Senior Bowl in January as numerous NFL executives and scouts watched.
Vanderdoes said he has recovered from a blown knee that ruined most of his 2015 season and a nagging ankle sprain and various bruises in 2016 that came as the result of constantly being double-teamed. Vanderdoes told reporters at the Senior Bowl that he feels, “a bajillion-percent better. I’m 20 pounds lighter. My cardio is better. I feel stronger. I feel quicker. I’m more athletic, explosive. And healthy.”
According the scouting websites, NFL teams are intrigued by Vanderdoes’ strength, toughness and quickness, though some also wonder if his playing weight will be a concern.
Ahkello Witherspoon, defensive back, Colorado
A classic late bloomer, Witherspoon didn’t blossom as an athlete until arriving at Sacramento City College out of Christian Brothers, growing from 5-8 to his current 6-3, 190-pound frame.
At Colorado, Witherspoon earned All-Pacific-12 Conference honors as the Buffaloes enjoyed their finest season in years. He led the nation with 23 passes defended in 2016. Scouts like his size and speed, though he is still learning how to play the game.