Who has the most to prove at the 2013 NFL Combine?
The 2013 NFL Combine kicks off on Wednesday, Feb. 20 and with it comes a week of analyzing the top prospects for the upcoming Draft.
While there are more than 300 former college stars primed to increase their draft stock with big jumps, fast runs, great interviews and giant bench presses, there is a select few who can really turn the few days into millions of dollars.
That is the point. These football players are striving for greatness. The next step, now that their college careers are over, is in front of those who will be signing their future paychecks.
How will these guys perform at the next level? The combine is the first step in gauging that million dollar question.
10. David Amerson, CB, NC State Wolfpack
This year's draft is seen as being fairly stacked with the ever-coveted lock down cornerback. While Alabama's Dee Milliner is leading the way, guys like Fresno State's Phillip Thomas, Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks and Oregon State's Jordan Poyer have all made waves as potential first round selections.
However, after collecting a whopping 13 interceptions as a sophomore in 2011, offenses stopped throwing in NC State cornerback David Amerson's direction, and draft experts stopped talking about him.
That could all change during the 2013 NFL Draft Combine. At 6-foot-3 and 194 pounds, he obviously has the size to muscle up against the biggest wideouts the NFL has to offer. Scouts are waiting to see whether or not he runs a 4.4-second 40-yard dash.
A great combine will get guys like Mel Kiper and Todd McShay talking about Amerson again.
9. Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama Crimson Tide
It is not every day that any man bench presses 600 pounds. However, the Australian native has been advertised as the strongest player at his adopted sport in the nation.
While every team is always on the hunt for a disruptive, pass rushing defensive end, a relatively speedy hulk on the inside can be even more valuable. Williams can not only prove that he is, indeed, the strongest in the draft, but one of the faster big men as well.
Quarterbacks are not able to step forward and into their throws when the rush comes from straight ahead. Williams is looking to run his 40-yard dash in 5.1 seconds or less. Such a time would prove that he has the type of burst to work his way past centers and guards in order to wreak that straight-ahead havoc on opposition backfields.
And watching big guys run is always pretty entertaining.
8. Montee Ball, as well as the rest of the Draft's running backs
Montee Ball stayed at Wisconsin for his senior season, and the running back made college football history in the process. Now, as Ball prepares to impress at the Combine, the 5-foot-11, 215-pounder leaves Madison as the most prolific touchdown scorer of all time.
But even such prestige may not be good enough to earn the Doak Walker Award winner a first round draft selection. Even fantastic work from several elite backs may not earn anyone a first round selection, for that matter.
Oregon's Kemba Walker, Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell, Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson, Stanford's Stepfan Taylor, Alabama's Eddie Lacy, and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin are all going up against Ball for the rights to head into the Draft as the top available running back.
All bring different qualities to the table, of course, but if one can really blow away the field, there may be a first round selection available.
However, this is an extremely heavy lineman year. Many teams are looking to bring aboard a big man. It will be up to this group to change the minds of NFL general managers, owners and coaches; the Combine is the first chance for many of these guys to make that happen.
Should no one impress, Marcus Lattimore, who is still recovering from knee surgery, may wind up being the biggest winner out of the running backs.
7. Denard Robinson, QB/WR/RB, Michigan Wolverines
Where Robinson lines up at the combine is literally going to be one of the million dollar questions of the entire event. The 6-foot, 197-pound Wolverines' star has gone down in the record books as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the long and storied history of Michigan football.
However, he failed to prove that he had solved the passing accuracy issues that plagued him throughout his collegiate career. Eventually, and after suffering a nerve injury to his elbow, he was replaced at quarterback in favor of Devin Gardner. At that point, he proved not only a team-first mentality, but the type of versatility that can make him a real weapon at the next level.
Many young men fail to give up the dream of playing quarterback. More often than not, this proves to be their downfall.
Should Robinson break into the 4.3s in his 40-yard dash, run smooth routes and catch passes adequately, he may wind up as one of the stars of the combine.
6. Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee Volunteers
Everyone is falling all over themselves to select Hunter's wide receiver teammate at Tennessee, Cordarrelle Patterson. However, Hunter is looking to prove that he's an elite prospect in his own right.
After missing most of the 2011 season recovering from a torn ACL, the wideout came back with a force in 2012. Measuring in at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Hunter hauled in 73 passes for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns. He led the Vols in all three categories.
However, he did not merely make his mark on UT athletics on the football field. Hunter also dominated track. He has high jumped a whopping 7-foot-3, meaning his vertical at the Combine could be one for the record books. Further, he long jumped more than 26 feet, a feat that should directly translate to the broad jump.
If the young star puts on a show, his measurable could combine with his receiving numbers to shoot him up the draft board.
5. Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia Bulldogs
Ogletree did everything right in his junior year at Georgia after getting himself into trouble several times in his first couple of years in Athens. However, the studly linebacker really put himself behind the eight ball with his latest lapse in decision making.
Literally a week before the Combine, Ogletree goes out and gets himself arrested and charged with a DUI. Not that smart.
And NFL teams will be thinking the exact same thing.
Now, organizations will not be paying attention to the height and weight of the 6-foot-3, 232-pound beast, nor will they care about the whopping 111 tackles he racked up in his junior season.
The same goes for his 40-yard dash, shuttle, vertical leap and bench press. Unless they are out of this world, they will all be rendered moot.
Ogletree's combine will be defined by his Wonderlic tests, the second aptitude test to be instated this year and his personal interviews.
Mark us as a few of the countless members of the press and members of NFL front offices who are very curious to hear what the young man has to say.
4. Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M Aggies
Damontre Moore is an interesting case in that he is currently seen as the top defensive end on the draft board, but those making the selections for defensive awards did not deem him fit for any of them. In fact, while two other pass-rushing members of the SEC in Georgia's Jarvis Jones and South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney were up for several accolades, Moore watched the red carpet ceremonies from home.
Thus, and despite his 12.5 sacks in the nation's toughest conference, Moore must enter the Combine with a serious chip on his shoulder.
The Jaguars have a lot of holes on their roster, but defensive end may be the most glaring. Currently sitting pretty with the No. 2 selection in the draft, the Jags would love to take an end who can be the cornerstone of their franchise for the next 10 years or Moore (pun!).
If Moore does not run quite fast enough, jump quite high enough, or bench 225 quite enough times, Florida State's Bjoern Werner could wind up staying extremely close to home in heading from Tallahassee to the coast.
3. The Quarterbacks (all of them)
First things first, let's list all the guys who could either go No. 1-overall or drop to the second round: USC's Matt Barkley, Geno Smith of West Virginia, Mike Glennon of NC State, Ryan Nassib of Syracuse, and Arkansas' Tyler Wilson.
Not exactly the same name recognition as Andrew Luck and RGIII of a year ago.
And therein lies the problem for a franchise like Kansas City, who was awarded with the top pick following an abysmal 2-14 season. Could the Chiefs use a guy like Luck or Griffin (or Russell Wilson, of course) to take the reins of the team for the next decade?
Of course, but the 2012 crop did very little to prove that any of them were very much more than potentially serviceable starters, or career backups. Thus the beauty of the NFL Combine: If you struggled to win games in college, just blow everyone away over a few days of working out and you will find yourself back in the good graces of a number of NFL teams desperate to make a splash at the sport's most important position.
Barkley entered 2012 as a Heisman hopeful and a surefire top five pick. Now he is nursing a shoulder injury and will not throw. However, his interviews with individual teams could go a long way towards proving his desire and toughness.
Smith and Glennon have all the tools. Both just need to show them off. Finally, Nassib carried the Orange to a better year than most expected, but underwhelmed at the Senior Bowl, while Wilson put up big numbers for the Razorbacks, but merely because Akry was playing from behind in nearly every game.
If someone can manage to stand out from the field, that young man will have managed to greatly increase his draft stock.
2. Tyrann Mathieu, DB/KR, LSU Tigers
Very few folks have seen the Honey Badger lace them up since he was kicked off the LSU team prior to the 2012 season.
Generally speaking, most players heading into the Combine face questions of character (the aforementioned Alec Ogletree comes to mind this year) or ability (Tim Tebow's has been the subject of debate for years). Very rarely does a player face the scouts' scrutiny having to answer questions on both his ability and his character.
Will he be able to handle the media pressure once he gets back into football? Or will it drive him back to the drug use that forced him out of Baton Rouge in the first place?
As for the actual playing field, what position will the young, potential star play? He stands in at a mere 5-foot-8 and barely 180 pounds. Most experts do not believe he has the ability to be a straight-up cover corner in the NFL. His tenacity and penchant for making game-changing plays translates better to linebacker, however, he is undersized at that position as well and would be susceptible to injury.
These are a lot of questions. While the few days at the Combine will not come close to providing sufficient answers, Mathieu can put together a solid start to his NFL career.
1. Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
After enjoying one of the most interesting senior seasons in recent memory, the superstar Irish linebacker and Heisman runner-up suffered through one of the most interesting offseasons in sports history.
At first, all the initial fuss regarding the nonexistence of his dead girlfriend Lennay Kekua surrounded whether or not he was involved in an effort to build publicity. Once that died down, however, it was pretty apparent that Te'o had been the victim, not the perpetrator, of one of the most elaborate hoaxes ever undertaken.
Now with Combine coming up, Te'o must live through this ordeal yet again. In fact, he will be forced to deal with it for the rest of his life -- such is the power of gossip (and love?) in the age of Twitter.
That is exactly what teams will be looking for out of him, however. Of course, there will be the standard questions regarding his high jump and 40-yard dash time, just like for any other player.
But Te'o will be paid first-round pick money. With that comes scrutiny equally as, if not more, intense as the Kekua investigation. If Te'o seems shaken at all by the ordeal, teams will be apprehensive to invest the millions necessary to take him early.
In 2012, the difference between the No. 8 pick and the No. 23 pick was a whopping $4.5 million. Te'o had best be over it (and Kekua, for that matter) or else that money could fly right out of the Combine window.