The NFL Scouting Combine is just a few days away. Kickers, punters, offensive linemen and tight ends will start things off on Saturday. But let's be honest, there is only so much we can ascertain by watching 300-pound lineman running the 40-yard dash and putting up ridiculous number of reps on the bench. And I don't think the kicking competition will draw much fan interest.
The real action will come once the skill position players take to the field on Sunday. We know Clemson running back C.J. Spiller is going to run a sub-4.4 forty. We know safeties Eric Berry and Earl Thomas are going to impress. And unfortunately we won't get to see Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford or Florida quarterback Tim Tebow throw the football.
So who are the players to watch as you hunker down to get a look at the fresh crop of potential NFL superstars get poked and prodded by NFL scouts? Who may surprise and who could really help or hurt their draft grade? Below is a list of players to watch closely at this year's NFL Scouting Combine.
Dan LeFevour, QB, Central Michigan
With Clausen and Bradford sitting this one out, it opens the door for quarterbacks like Texas’ Colt McCoy and Central Michigan’s Dan LeFevour to shine. Once the scouts are through watching LeFevour run and pass, we feel he will be moving up draft boards.
Mike Kafka, QB, Northwestern
Kafka is one of the sleeper quarterbacks of the 2010 NFL Draft. He has NFL size, he can move and he can throw, as evidenced by his 3400+ yards passing last season. I want to see how he looks throwing next to the other top quarterbacks at the combine. This will go a long way in determining if he will hear his name called on draft day or if he will have to catch on as an undrafted free agent.
John Skelton, QB, Fordham
I came away less than impressed watching John Skelton at the East-West Shrine Bowl. He can zip the ball, but he was rarely on target. And those passes that did find their way to a receiver were not placed in a position for him to make a play. Of course it is unfair to judge Skelton at what is essentially a glorified all-star game, so his combine performance will go a long way in determining where he fits in the rankings…at least ours.
Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford
The combine will do little to showcase Gerhart’s strength, which is running through tackles. But it could help alleviate some of the fears on his perceived weaknesses. A good time in the 40-yard dash and a strong showing in agility drills will boost his draft stock.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, Oregon
Much like Gerhart, how Blount runs in the 40-yard dash will be important. He’s not going to run a 4.4-forty, but simply put, he can’t "Maurice Clarrett" it. Based on the dedication he showed in working his way back on the Oregon Ducks’ team last fall, he should come in to the combine in good shape. The punch heard 'round the world may have been the best thing for Blount. I think he realized just how quickly he could lose out on his dream. Just as important as how he runs will be how he handles himself in the team interviews.
Jahvid Best, RB, California
This is Best’s chance to show scouts that Spiller is not the only running back in this draft class who can fly. It is also an opportunity to show that there are no lingering effects from the devastating hit he took that forced him to miss the last four games of the season with a concussion and back injury.
Danario Alexander, WR, Missouri
In order for Danario to go from NFL Draft Day Insider sleeper to household name, he has to have a strong showing at the combine. And we think he will. Once scouts get a firsthand look at his size and ability, he could shoot up draft boards.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona
Based on recent comments, it seems unlikely that The Gronk will participate in drills. But if he does, it would really boost is stock and ease fears over his back injury. We’ll have to wait and see what he decides.
Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida
Dunlap has set some lofty goals for himself at the combine. He hopes to put up 25 reps on the 225-pound bench press and run a 4.6-second time in the 40-yard dash. That would put him in rarefied company, especially for a guy that checks in at 6-foot-6 and 290 pounds. We have Dunlap rated as our top defensive end in the 2010 NFL Draft because of his combination of size and athleticism. But for the most part the race to be the top defensive end spot is wide open, and the experts don't agree on who is number one. If Dunlap can hit his goals, this will change.
Derrick Morgan, DE, Georgia Tech
Morgan is already one of the top rated defense ends by most experts. But he is going to have to run well to hold onto his position. Brandon Graham’s performance at the Senior Bowl has started to garner him the respect he deserves, and he could leap-frog Morgan in the rankings.
Jerry Hughes, DE/OLB, TCU
At 6-foot-2 and 255-pounds Hughes is a classic tweener. But unlike Graham, whom I feel can make the transition to outside linebacker if need be, Hughes is at his best with his hand on the ground. How he measures in and whether or not scouts think he can add weight to his frame will be keys to whether or not he can stay at defensive end.
Rolando McClain, ILB, Alabama
We are a bit shocked that McClain is not a top-five prospect on most experts' draft boards. This could change if he shows well at the combine. He’s bigger than Florida’s Brandon Spikes, and if can match his athleticism at the combine, it will turn some heads.
Sean Lee, ILB, Penn State
Lee finished the season with 86 tackles in 2009, but missed all of 2008 with a torn ACL Lateral mobility is key for linebackers and scouts will be anxious to see how his surgically repaired knee holds up in agility drills.
Eric Norwood, OLB, South Carolina
Norwood is a gamer; his on-the-field performance speaks for itself. But is he a combine player? He seems more like a guy that simply gets it done on the field rather than on the track. He just needs to keep pace with guys like Texas’ Sergio Kindle, Missouri’s Sean Weatherspoon and Penn State’s Navorro Bowman.
Amari Spievey, CB, Iowa
Spievey is one of the bigger and more physical corners in the draft. How he times in the 40-yard dash and how he handles speed receivers in drills will be critical.
Javier Arenas, CB, Alabama
Arenas is one of the more athletically gifted players in this year’s draft. Concerns about his height, however, are holding his draft stock down. It is doubtful he’s grown since his last measurement, but you can bet every scout will be in the room when Arenas is being measured up. How he performs against the bigger receivers in drills will also be key.
Taylor Mays, FS, USC
All eyes will be on Mays when he runs his 40-yard dash. How he handles himself in coverage drills will also be highly scrutinized. Too bad he can’t hit anybody at the combine.
Myron Rolle, SS, Florida State
There is no question that Rolle is a highly intelligent athlete. How will respond in drills after taking a year off? How will he handle himself in team interviews? You can’t help but think that a man of his caliber will leave general managers walking away impressed.
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