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NFL combine success stories set bar for hopefuls like EJ Manuel

The NFL Scouting Combine is a great showcase for some well-trained athletes, but it's also more than that: It represents a chance for football prospects to prove they have what it takes to make it in the pros.

That's especially true for guys who are perceived, for one reason or another, as questionable investments. They get a shot to show anyone who is interested that they can catch the football more consistently than their reputation says, or that they do have the technical skills to excel at the quarterback position. This often goes beyond pride; if a prospect can lift himself up a round or two -- or a spot or two in the first round -- he stands to gain a significant amount of money.

Of course, a good combine performance can't make up for a history of poor play in college. People don't care if you're a so-called "workout wonder." They want to see what you are as a football player. A guy who works out really well in Indy but grades poorly as a competitor won't improve his stock much. However, a guy who grades well and wows scouts can turbocharge his value.

That said, I don't think anyone ever hurts themselves by participating in the combine; in fact, in most cases, prospects only help themselves. Guys are so well prepared, what with all the training and lifting and proper eating, that they come to Indy ready to give their maximum effort. Even if they do lag in a certain area, they've always got their pro days to fall back on.

As we get ready for all that drill-running and measuring and evaluating to begin, I thought I'd give a few examples of some current NFL players who significantly boosted their stock with electric combine performances. I also put together a short list of prospects who will soon get a chance to do the same.

COMBINE SUCCESS STORIES

Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
Folks were skeptical that Newton would be able to succeed at the quarterback position in the NFL; he was the kind of prospect who made some wonder if he would be better off switching to another position, like tight end. At the combine, though, he topped the charts in the athletic drills, and while he didn't necessarily do as well during throwing drills, he did throw. Rather than shunning that portion of the event, he went out there and showed everyone he had the potential to be an NFL quarterback. After a strong pro day, he wound up being picked first overall by the Panthers in the 2011 NFL Draft.

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Stephen Hill, WR, New York Jets
The knock on the Georgia Tech product heading into the 2012 NFL Draft was that he'd dropped about half of the balls that went his way while playing for a team that didn't throw much to begin with. At the combine, though, Hill caught everything that was thrown to him. He was like a vacuum cleaner, sweeping everything up with his hands. He also ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash, tied for best among all receivers, which only helped his stock, and the Jets wound up picking him in the middle of the second round. He was probably helped by his combine performance as much as any prospect in recent history.

DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Murray worked out extremely well at the combine, completing the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds and notching a 10-foot-4 broad jump, fifth- and second-best among running backs, respectively. Before that performance, he projected as a fifth-round pick; after, Murray wound up going to the Cowboys in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft.

Dontari Poe, DT, Kansas City Chiefs
The 6-foot-4, 346-pound Memphis product wowed observers with a blazing -- by big-man standards, anyway -- 4.98 40 at the combine. He also notched an event-best 44 reps on the bench press. His performance catapulted him into the middle of the first round, as the Chiefs nabbed him with the 11th overall pick.

David Wilson, RB, New York Giants
Before the combine, the Virginia Tech product likely was headed for the third round, but he ran and performed very well, vaulting himself up to the end of the first by draft day last April.

THEIR TIME TO SHINE

Here are some prospects with a chance to boost their stock this weekend:

EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State
Manuel is going to have a chance to prove he's capable of being a first-round pick. He's probably not as athletic as, say, Colin Kaepernick, but he's still pretty athletic, and he'll be able to show that to people. This combine is very important for him, especially with regard to the physical testing that he'll get to take part in.

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Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Because Patterson spent two years at the junior college level before jumping to Tennessee, he wasn't eligible to participate in the college all-star games. Thus, the combine will be his de facto coming-out party. His fate will depend on how well he runs routes, how well he catches the ball and how he does in all of the drills. His stock could really soar after this.

Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Armstead really looked good at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. He's a very bright, very smart guy who moves around well. He did, however, look out of place at the Senior Bowl. Now we'll get to see if, in the few weeks since that event, he's been able to correct some of the weaknesses people were seeing in him.

Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State
Watson, a one-time boxing and basketball hopeful originally from England, is another underclassman who didn't get the chance to work out at any all-star games. Some are concerned about his lower-body quickness and pass-protection abilities; he can put such worries to rest with a solid combine showing.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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