The NFL world has descended upon Indianapolis, Indiana for the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. For the next week, the 2014 NFL draft class will be poked and prodded, timed and tested, and dissected and scrutinized.
There will be a lot to take in, but entering the week these are the 10 players I'll be watching.
1. QBs who elect to throwMore and more it seems quarterbacks are deciding not to participate in the throwing drills at the Combine, citing a variety of reasons that all ultimately have to do with avoiding any sort of drop in draft stock due to subpar performance. To me, a quarterback can only help himself by throwing at the Combine. Coaches and scouts know not to look for accuracy and timing at the Combine because the quarterbacks are throwing to receivers they've never met. What you look for from quarterbacks throwing at the Combine is competitiveness, tight spirals and velocity. Kudos to those quarterbacks who will throw at the Combine…I can't wait to watch it.
2. DE Kony Ealy (Missouri)Jadeveon Clowney is the name atop most people's list of defensive ends. But I'm expecting Ealy to steal the show in Indianapolis. At 6-5, 275 pounds and with explosive athletic traits (including a 4.75 40-yard dash time), Ealy is the type of athlete who shines in this environment and his stock, at least in the public's eye, should skyrocket.
3. WR Sammy Watkins (Clemson)One could argue Watkins is the best player in this class. He has great size (6-2, 210), great production (101 receptions for 1,464 yards and 12 TDs last season) and breakaway speed. Watkins told NFL.com recently that he is "10 times faster" now than during the season, and he also said he expects to run one of the two or three fastest 40 times at the Combine.
4. CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska)A converted receiver with great size (6-2, 215), Jean-Baptiste has predictably been compared to Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who has a similar profile and pedigree. Jean-Baptiste had a good week in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, and if he runs a good time in the 40-yard dash here in Indianapolis, he is going to solidify his standing as one of the class' top cornerbacks.
5. RB De'Anthony Thomas (Oregon)No, the Vikings aren't looking to replace Adrian Peterson. And Thomas wouldn't be the guy who could play the role of bell cow anyway. But the Vikings could use a scat/change of pace type of running back to fit into Norv Turner's system. I'm guessing after the Combine many will categorize Thomas as this kind of back.
6. DT Ra'Shede Hageman (Minnesota)The two things you hear most frequently about Hageman are that he has first-round talent but disappears in some games and he has an explosive first step that he turns to power efficiently but doesn't move well laterally. With that said, the Combine is important for Hageman because he needs to perform well during his interviews and in the on-field drills that test agility.
7. LB Chris Borland (Wisconsin)Borland has instincts, he's a leader and he was productive at Wisconsin. But he doesn't have prototypical size or speed, and that could throw some teams off his scent. The Combine glorifies prospects with prototypical size and speed and can overlook prospects such as Borland who possess intangible traits that are just as important to predicting future success.
8. RB David Fluellen (Toledo)A productive player at Toledo who had his career interrupted by injury, Fluellen interests me because if he checks out healthy he could be a good mid-round value at running back. Again, the Vikings obviously aren't looking for a starter but when you have the NFL's best running back your offense is going to be run-oriented, which means it makes sense to have some quality depth in the stable. If healthy, Fluellen will provide his team with some depth as a physical and productive between-the-tackles runner who can also get out of the backfield as a receiver.
9. LB Jordan Tripp (Montana)Coming out of the Big Sky conference as a start at Montana, Tripp came to the Senior Bowl last month and didn't look out of place one bit. I expect he'll come to Indianapolis and do the same – compete with some of the top linebackers in this class. For Tripp, the most important aspect of the Combine (aside from a clean medical evaluation) will be the 40-yard dash. Coaches and scouts will want to see a quality time to make up for slight deficiencies in other areas of his game.
10. DE Zach Moore (Concordia St. Paul)Why not put another local product on the list? Minnesota football fans will have an eye on Hageman, but while they're at it they should keep watching the defensive linemen because Moore is a guy who could shine in the Combine environment. He measures in at around 6-6, 280 pounds and has been timed in the 4.8s in the 40-yard dash. If Moore measures in at or better than 6-6, 280 and runs the advertised 40-yard dash time, he'll be a standout and will generate some buzz in Indianapolis. During his career at Concordia St. Paul he had 33.0 sacks and 45.0 tackles for loss.
Honorable MentionCBs Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech) and Dexter McDougle (Maryland)
LB Kyle Van Noy (BYU)
OTs Sentrel Henderson (Miami) and Zach Martin (Notre Dame)
TE Xavier Grimble (USC)
WR Jared Abbrederis (Wisconsin)