It’s late February, which means all eyes are on Indianapolis and the annual NFL Combine. The road to the pros starts here for former college stars as they will be tested physically and mentally. Which players have the most to gain this week? Ross Jones breaks down the 10 players who can elevate their draft status with a stellar performance.
Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati, RB
Pead proved to a lot of scouts at the Senior Bowl that he was a legit threat against elite competition. He showed off his versatility in the backfield and as a return man, scoring on a 98-yard punt return. Now he needs to back up that performance this week by standing out in position drills. Although Pead may not garner the fastest 40 time, scouts will understand it’s his football speed that makes him so special.
Mike Adams, Ohio State, T
Although USC tackle Matt Kalil is likely to be the first offensive tackle picked in April’s draft, it’s Adams who has the highest ceiling at the position. Adams towers over his competition with his 6-foot-7 frame, and is nimble enough to nullify finesse pass rushers at the next level. Adams needs to work a bit on his technique, but with his raw intangibles, he could become a mainstay on the left side of a team’s offensive line for several years. Adams must demonstrate fluidity in his hips during the kick-slide drill, showing scouts he can control his base and more importantly keep his QB upright.
Whitney Mercilus, Illinois, DE
Mercilus led the nation with 16 sacks last season and decided to forgo his final season in Champaign. Labeled as a one-year wonder, he needs to prove to teams that his stunning season wasn’t by chance. He is a non-stop player, who uses his leverage and size to consistently shed blocks. Mercilus plays with great effort and will measure well, which will increase his value to teams as a pass rusher.
Mark Barron, Alabama, S
Let’s get one thing straight: Barron doesn’t need to do much to elevate his draft stock. He is likely to be the first player off the board at his position. But that’s the problem. Lost in a lackluster safety class, Barron looks like a late first-rounder, but after a strong showing he could become a priority for some teams in the first half of the draft. Barron was a star in Nick Saban’s defense and could be plugged in right away and have an instant impact.
Brock Osweiler, Arizona State, QB
Osweiler rewrote the Arizona State record books last season, becoming the first Sun Devil to throw for more than 4,000 yards. Although Osweiler led the Sun Devils to a disappointing 6-7 record, he flourished in Noel Mazzone’s spread offense. At 6-foot-8, he was the tallest quarterback in the nation. Osweiler, who was recruited to play basketball at Gonzaga, has sneaky athleticism which adds another dimension to his game. He can make himself a lot of money if he shows he has a big-time cannon.
Ladarius Green, Louisiana-Lafayette, TE
Green fits the vogue mold of tight end: superior athleticism, wide-catching radius and a big target for quarterbacks. Green, who led all tight ends in the nation in receiving yards (794) last season, could sneak his way into the first round with an impressive performance in the 40-yard dash and gauntlet drill. After a dazzling week at the Senior Bowl, Green has seen his draft stock ascend and it doesn’t look like it has peaked yet. Green’s combination of size, big-play ability and work ethic could make him the No. 1 player at his position.
Dontari Poe, Memphis, DT
In a very deep defensive tackle class, Poe might not be the most recognizable name. Don't worry, he will be after this week in Indianapolis. At 6-foot-3, 330 pounds, Poe is a freakish athlete. But he does much more than just plug things up and command double teams. He has the natural athleticism to chase plays down the line of scrimmage and will find himself in the backfield making tackles. Poe has drawn comparisons to Browns defensive tackle Phil Taylor, who was picked in the first round last year.
Jonathan Massaquoi, Troy, DE
Massaquoi, who has two cousins in the NFL (Browns WR Mohamed Massaquoi, Vikings TE Visanthe Shiancoe), had a breakout season during his rookie year at Troy, getting to the quarterback 11 times. Last season, Massaquoi consistently drew double teams but was still a major factor for the Trojans defense. It’s been speculated that Massaquoi will be asked to play outside linebacker at the next level, so his short-area burst and quick-twitch speed must be on point this week in Indianapolis. Often noted as a poor man’s Von Miller, Massaquoi will shine in the three-cone, showing good change of direction, and will flourish in coverage drills.
Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina, WR
Coming into last season, Jeffery was one of the nation’s top wide receivers and a potential top-10 pick. Since then, many draft experts believe his stock has plummeted. Jeffery had an underwhelming junior season (49 catches, 762 yards, 8 TDs) and questions about his playing weight have surfaced. If Jeffery arrives in Indianapolis shredded up, clocks a fast 40 time and shows off his straight-line speed, his stock could rebound come April.
LaMichael James, Oregon, RB
Although James is a bit undersized (5-9, 180 pounds) to be an every-down back at the next level, his speed could separate him from the second-tier group at his position. James, who ran for 5,082 yards during his three-year career in Eugene, could prove to be a sufficient third-down back in the NFL, a la Darren Sproles, by showing off his good hands out of the backfield and his blazing speed.