NFL Scouting Combine preview

Picture_3_mediumLast season, running back Chris Johnson shot into the first round behind a 4.24 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. In 2006, tight end Vernon Davis practically earned an Under Armour contract based solely on his Combine performance.

The Combine can go the other way for prospects. Michigan running back Mike Hart ran himself into the sixth round with a poor 40 time. Fringe draftable players have tested completely out of the draft.

With several hundred players partaking in this year’s Combine, just what should you watch for between now and Tuesday when it winds down? Here are a few things to watch for over the next several days:

 

Who will run the fastest?

That's always the first thing, right or wrong, that gets looked at with the Combine. Receivers Jeremy Maclin and Percy Harvin, should they run, could be near the top of the 40 times. Same with cornerbacks Darius Butler, Captain Munnerlyn and Domonique Johnson. My pick? Maclin, if he runs. If not, Munnerlyn.

Who will be the star of the Combine?

A few years ago, it was Vernon Davis and last year it was Vernon Gholston. This year, it could be San Jose State defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert. A physical specimen at 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds, Gilbert has a seven-foot wingspan and reportedly a 37-inch vertical leap. That leap was on display in a sensational YouTube video

Linebacker Brian Cushing, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and tight end Jared Cook should also shine in shorts.

How will the offensive tackles separate themselves?

Look around draft sites and you'll be hard pressed to find a consensus among the top four offensive tackles, Michael Oher, Andre Smith, Eugene Monroe and Jason Smith. It's highly likely Smith will look and test the best at the Combine. Will that be enough to push him ahead of the other three?

Teams will scrutinize each for very different things. Oher's ability to learn a complex playbook will be questioned. Andre Smith's weight and ability to be a true left tackle will be looked at. Monroe's tenacity will be observed. Jason Smith's technical skills will be under the spotlight.

Who could rise or fall?

- Aaron Maybin: Undoubtedly no player will have more riding on the Combine than Maybin. He'll have to show up weighing about 250 pounds and he'll have to test well. If he runs between 4.7 - 4.8 in the 40, he could drop into the second round.

- Rashad Jennings: A lesser-known running back with great size, if Jennings runs in the low 4.5 range, he could cement himself as as second round pick.

- Donald Brown and Shonn Greene: One of these two could emerge as the clear-cut fourth best running back in the draft.

- Larry English and Clay Matthews: Both are considered pass rush linebackers, so they're battling for draft position.

- Herman Johnson: After coming in overweight at the Senior Bowl, it is necessary for Johnson to come into the Combine at no more than 350 pounds. If he's grossly overweight and interviews poorly, he'll continue dropping down draft boards.

Who will score the lowest Wonderlic score?

Uh, no comment.

Scouting Combine key facts:

Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

On television: NFL Network coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday and at 10 a.m. Saturday through Tuesday. A post-mortem will be on at 7 p.m. Feb. 25. Between Saturday and Tuesday, NFL.com will have live streams from workouts between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. (blog note: I do not get NFL Network, so most of the information will come secondhand)

Scouting Combine home

Touring the Nation for Combine talk:

- Big Cat Country looks at the Wonderlic

- Buc 'Em: Tampa Bay coaches prepare for the Combine

- Names to know on offense from Turf Show Times

- Battle Red Blog wonder, "Should Texans fans watch the Combine?"

- The ultimate question from Niners Nation: NFL Combine, the greatest non-event in spots?

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