• Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Sefo Liufau is praised for his pocket mobility and toughnessby NFL.com.

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, right, was second in the country with 22 passes defendedin 2016.



During their turnaround season last fall, the Colorado football team often leaned on their talented trio of senior defensive backs and the leadership of their senior quarterback.

That foursome continues to get noticed by pro scouts, and on Wednesday, it was made official that they have been invited to the NFL combine, which takes place Feb. 28-March 6 in Indianapolis.

Quarterback Sefo Liufau, cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon and safety Tedric Thompson have been invited to participate in the annual combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.

According to a CBSSports.com database, CU has not had more than three combine participants since 2006.

Generally, the top prospects for the NFL draft are invited to the combine, which tests the speed, strength and overall athleticism of the players. It’s also a chance for teams to interview players in which they are most interested.

Among the four Buffs, Witherspoon has the highest grade on NFL.com, at 5.73. That rating suggests Witherspoon has a “chance to become an NFL starter.”

A second-team All-Pac-12 selection, Witherspoon was second in the country with 22 passes defended (one interception, 22 break ups), trailing Thompson by one. Scouts love his size (6-foot-3, 190 pounds) and speed. His NFL.com profiles said he needs to gain more strength and that he is too passive when defending the run.

Awuzie has a similar grade, at 5.68. A four-year starter for the Buffs and one of the versatile defensive backs at CU in years, the 6-foot, 205-pound Awuzie is often praised for his play-making ability and instincts. His NFL.com profile, however, said his “run support is lacking” and that his tendency to be “handsy down the field” could lead to penalties in the NFL.

Thompson is graded just below his secondary mates, at 5.48, which puts him on the border of becoming a starter and being a backup or special teams player. The nation’s leader in passes defended, the 6 -1, 205-pound Thompson is a good athlete whose strengths include his instincts and cover skills. He’s not viewed as a strong tackler, but is projected as a draft pick.

Liufau has a 4.89 grade, with a projection of not being drafted, but “should be in an NFL training camp.” His NFL.com profile praises his pocket mobility and toughness, but said his mechanics “are sloppy” and “his game doesn’t appear to translate to the NFL level.” He was one of only 15 quarterbacks invited to the combine.

A bit of a surprise omission was Josh Tupou, the Buffs’ 6-3, 325-pound nose tackle who turned some heads at the Senior Bowl in January.

Last year, 85 percent of the players drafted (215 of 253) participated in the combine. Participation certainly doesn’t guarantee a draft spot, however. According to CBSSports.com, 117 (35.2 percent) of last year’s combine participants went undrafted.

All three Buffs who participated in the 2016 combine — cornerback Kenneth Crawley, offensive lineman Stephane Nembot and receiver Nelson Spruce — went undrafted, but spent the entire 2016 season with NFL teams.

Crawley played 15 games with the New Orleans Saints, including five starts; Nembot spent all season on injured reserve with the Baltimore Ravens; and Spruce made the Los Angeles Rams’ roster after a good preseason, but did not play during the regular season and ended the year on injured reserve.

CU has not had a player drafted since 2014, when receiver Paul Richardson was selected in the second round by the Seattle Seahawks.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.