|Alshon Jeffery's 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine will be a pivotal factor in his eventual draft slot.|
Every player in Indianapolis is looking to make an impression, but a few truly must take care of business to either maintain their lofty status or stop the bleeding of their falling stock due to an underwhelming 2011 campaign.
It's no surprise that the lion's share of players listed here are underclassmen. Many of the top seniors got a chance to shine at the East-West Shrine Game or Senior Bowl, while only a couple of young players showed their wares at the contest put on by the NFL Players Association in January.
Without further ado, let's take a look at the players in the crosshairs at the NFL Scouting Combine (in alphabetical order):
Ron Brooks, CB, LSU: Playing in the shadow of Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu (aka "The Honey Badger") during his time in Baton Rouge, Brooks' talent went mostly unnoticed. Measuring in well and displaying his athleticism to everyone else around the country could greatly increase his notoriety.
Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M: Scouts love Fuller's size and his lineage as the son of the former 49ers safety of the same name, but he needs to catch nearly every pass in drills (something he couldn't do during the season or at the Senior Bowl) and run faster than expected to even get consideration as a top-100 prospect.
Terrance Ganaway, RB, Baylor: Looking at the 5-foot-11 1/2, 241-pound Ganaway, one would expect him to record slow times during his time on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf. While his 40-yard dash time may be average, he could surprise some people by turning in an explosive 10-yard split and putting up quick times for his size in the agility tests.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina: There's no questioning his size, strength and ability to go up and grab the ball (sometimes with one hand) over the top of smaller defenders. But no single player at the combine has a more important 40-yard dash. Keeping his time in the mid-4.5's should also keep him in the first-round conversation.
Case Keenum, QB, Houston: The NCAA's all-time leading passer chose not to participate in any All-Star games, so his measurements and the arm strength and footwork he shows during his combine throwing session (even without an oncoming rush) will be closely examined.
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama: Much like his former teammate, receiver Julio Jones, Alabama's top corner comes to Indy with scouts expecting mediocre straight-line speed and agility because of his size. He won't likely run a 4.39 like Jones, but anything in the mid 4.4's and strong performances in the other events will open some eyes.
Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College: One of the most productive tacklers in NCAA history (coming up just short of the NCAA records for single-season and career stops) looks to disprove the sentiment that he lacks the athleticism to be a top-20 pick.
Brock Osweiler, QB, Arizona State: Not only will scouts be interested in how he throws the ball, but also whether his 6-8 frame will allow him to have the foot quickness to elude NFL defenders.
Donte Paige-Moss, DE, North Carolina: Although he managed just four tackles for loss and two sacks in 2011 after accumulating 13.5 and seven the previous season, this junior could still be a relatively high pick if he showcases the size/speed combination most believe he possesses.
Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis: At 6-5, 350 pounds, Poe has the potential to be a force at the next level. If he excels during his workout in Indy, teams will view him as that late first-round pick from outside the BCS conferences (see: 2011 Jets pick Muhammad Wilkerson) and not a second-round "project" (like 2010 Giants second-rounder Linval Joseph -- though Joseph looks to be turning out just fine for the Super Bowl champs).
Rueben Randle, WR, LSU: The Tigers' lack of a passing game limited Randle's opportunities, so now it's up to him to show scouts he can run and catch as quickly and fluidly as receivers taking advantage of more prolific attacks.
Donald Stephenson, OT, Oklahoma: Injuries and academic issues limited Stephenson's playing time with the Sooners, but don't be surprised if he turns in one of the better overall performances in terms of speed and agility among the tackles in this class.
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