The 2012 NFL Combine is finally here. This week is one giant job interview for NFL draft prospects, and it's the biggest job interview any of these prospects will ever have. What they do this week could make them -- or cost them -- millions and millions of dollars in the 2012 NFL draft.
There are some players who don't even need to show up this week to find a way into the first round. Lookin' at you, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
But there are also players who really need this week to improve their draft stock. Whether it's a player coming off injury, perceived character problems or questions of athleticism, some players need this week more than others. Here are 10 of those prospects that need to perform well and establish themselves at the NFL Combine.
10: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Cornerback is a deep class this season, and almost every team could use a good corner. Morris Claiborne is the consensus top cornerback this season and is likely destined to be a top-five pick, but Kirkpatrick could be taken anywhere from the top 10 to the early second round. When it comes to a paycheck, that's a big difference. He's a big cornerback and has the potential to be great at the next level, but everything is going to come down to his speed. If he runs a good 40-yard dash, his stock could skyrocket.
9: Brock Osweiler, QB, Arizona State
Osweiler has a great arm, but is a little inaccurate, and his footwork and timing need work. This quarterback class is dominated by big names like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, so all the other quarterbacks are flying under the radar, but if Osweiler can have a great Combine like Ryan Mallett in 2011, he puts himself on the radar of teams looking to acquire future quarterback depth.
8: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
Jeffery is a big wide receiver, standing at 6'4 and weighing in at 229 pounds, and while he has the ideal body size to be a No. 1 wide receiver, he lacks the ideal speed that comes with some of the elite receivers in the NFL. If Jeffery shows up in shape and can prove that he has the speed necessary to create separation, he could really increase his draft stock.
7: Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati
Pead really improved his stock in the Senior Bowl, but many still believe that the 5'10, 193-pound running back is still too small to have anything more than a change of pace or special teams role on a team. That could change with a top-notch 40-yard dash time. Running back, like wide receiver and cornerback, is a stopwatch position, and great speed enhances draft stock.
6: Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State
Sanders was considered a top prospect at the offensive tackle position before the Senior Bowl. However, a bad week caused his draft stock to plummet. If he can rebound, answer all the questions the right way and perform well in drills during the combine, he can get back to where he was before the Senior Bowl, or at least close. He'll have to really impress scouts and coaches, though.
5: Chris Polk, RB, Washington
Polk is another guy who didn't have a very good Senior Bowl, hurting his draft stock. He looked like a bruising back without the speed or ability to get to second level. If that's the case, he could be a mid-round pick. If he wants to be an every-down back, he needs to prove that he has that speed and agility. The Combine is the perfect place for that.
4: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
There is a lot of buzz about Poe right now because of his size (6'5, 350 pounds). Teams who run a 3-4 scheme, including the Steelers and Ravens, will be paying attention because Poe looks like he could be a solid 3-4 nose tackle. However, there is a huge difference in looking the part and playing the part. Poe has first round talent as is, but showing that consistency, as well as some athleticism at his size, is a must during the Combine.
3: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
Hill is another receiver that can separate himself from the pack if he proves he can be a deep threat with a great 40-yard dash time. A mediocre 40 time and he fades into a group of mediocre receivers, but with a good Combine and solid straight-line speed, a receiver of his size could see his stock boost.
2: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
The NFL is a passing league, and when three players throw for more then 5,000 yards in one season, defenses need to figure out a way to stop them. One way to do that is to have guys who know how to get to the quarterback. Mercilus is potentially one of those guys, but needs to prove that he can do it consistently. Mercilus has had one big season so this is a time for him to explain to teams what happened in 2009 and 2010 when he combined for just two sacks. If he has a good Combine, he could rise up draft boards. Teams love pass rushers.
1: Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State
It seems there hasn't been a good word spoken about Burfict since the 2011 college football season ended. He was considered a first-round talent, and many believed he could lead a defense as a starting middle linebacker. Many believed a team like the Ravens could pick him, allowing him to learn under Ray Lewis. But after a massive amount of bad press about how Burfict wasn't a smart player, lost his cool and wasn't really that tough, his draft stock has dropped a lot. He can change all of that this week with a good performance on the field and by talking to teams directly in interviews with his side of the story.