NFL Combine: 10 Players to Watch
by Trevor Whenham - 02/18/2009
The NFL Combine takes place this week in its new home in the Colts' shiny new stadium. If you're like me then the Combine is fascinating TV. Even if that isn't the case, though, there is still a lot of storylines for you to follow. The value of the Combine is debatable, but it's a good chance for a lot of players to make an important statement. Here's a look at 10 players who could have a lot on the line this week:
Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia - It's doubtful that Stafford and the other top QBs will participate fully in the Combine - top QB prospects rarely do. Still, anything that he does do will be important. Stafford not only has to convince teams that he is the best choice in his draft class. He also has to prove that he is a better use of a first round pick than trading for Matt Cassel would be. That's far from a lock, and Detroit isn't the only team that will be watching his every move closely.
Mark Sanchez, QB, USC - The story is about the same for Stafford as it is for Sanchez - the QB has to work hard to prove his merit. Sanchez has another impediment to overcome - his college coach, pretty much the king of the sport, wasn't supportive of his choice to go pro. Doubts inevitably exist, but he could go a long way towards erasing them if he shows impressive fitness and work ethic in Indianapolis and beyond.
Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State - Freeman is the third man in a two-man race. He's viewed as the best choice after the top two pivots, but he is far from secure in that position. Good speed and great throwing would help him move up, and could even put him into the bottom of the first round. A poor performance could drop him well below that. The pressure will be on Freeman and the other two top quarterbacks to throw at the Combine because they are underclassmen. If that happens it could be very good for Freeman if he has a good day.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri - Speed is going to be absolutely crucial for the receivers as it always is. A lot of guys have high stakes in this deep receiving class, but perhaps none more than Maclin. Michael Crabtree, the best receiver in the field, has an injured ankle and is unlikely to run at the Combine. That leaves the door open for Maclin to run fast and make a big impression. He stands a good chance of being the second receiver off the board if he runs well.
Malcolm Jenkins, DB, Ohio State - For Jenkins, like all corners, it all comes down to the run. He is the top corner in his class, but the margin isn't huge. If he runs 4.3 seconds or better in the 40 then he is close to a lock to go in the top five. If he is slower than that then it could open the door for guys like Vontae Davis of Illinois to catch up with him.
Andre Smith, OT, Alabama - Like last year, this is a very good year for offensive tackles. Andre Smith is probably the top-rated one right now, but he has some questions to answer. He may have cost Alabama their bowl game this year when he got suspended for the game for making contact with an agent. He'll need to prove that that's not the sign of a serious character flaw, and he'll need to lift well and show the athletic ability required of a top choice.
Will Beatty, OT, Connecticut - There are three OTs likely to go in the top 10. Beatty isn't one of them, but he's close. He needs to have a very big week in Indianapolis. If he can pull that off and do well between now and the draft then he could easily go in the top half of the first round or even better.
Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest - Curry is seen as the best defensive player in the draft. With all the uncertainty about the needs of top teams, there is a chance that he could pull himself all the way to the No. 1 spot. To do that, though, he needs to really shine in Indy. An eye-opening performance or two in the Combine could ratchet the buzz up to a whole new level.
Rhett Bomar, QB, Sam Houston State - Remember Bomar? He was a starter at Oklahoma as a redshirt freshman, but he got booted from the team for taking illegal payments. He ended up playing two years as a starter at Sam Houston State. His numbers were solid, and his skills are still the ones that were good enough to make him a starter at one of the best schools in the country. Bomar stands a chance of getting picked as high as the third round. To do that he'll have to distinguish himself from a fairly unimpressive QB crowd. A big showing at the Combine would help.
Rashad Jennings, RB, Liberty - This is a very deep running back class, but there is always room for a lesser-known player to make a big statement and rise up the rankings at the Combine. The Titans' Chris Johnson did it last year when he set a record in the 40. Jennings likely won't do anything that impressive, but he could do enough to get noticed. Jennings has little useful experience, so he really needs to convince teams that he is worth a risk. The same could be said about a lot of promising but unproven small school players in all positions.