Well, we're headed back to Indy! The NFL Scouting Combine begins on Wednesday and runs through the following Tuesday (Feb. 22-28). A grand total of 328 prospects were invited to the annual event, which will be held in Lucas Oil Stadium, fresh off hosting Super Bowl XLVI. Some players will take part in all activities, some won't (ahem, potential first-round pick Ryan Tannehill, who's recovering from a broken foot). But this event represents an important step in the evaluation process leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft in April.
With that in mind, which prospect has the most at stake in Indianapolis?
Potential top-10 pick Coples must squelch lingering questionsNorth Carolina DL Quinton Coples has the most at stake (and also the most to gain). There were a lot of mixed reviews coming out of the Senior Bowl. He is still regarded as one of the top pass rushers in the draft, but if his effort and overall performance don't improve -- consistently -- from the Senior Bowl, there will be more questions asked as to why he didn't have the great senior season that was expected of him.
There are some other pass rushers who seem to be gaining steam -- Syracuse's Chandler Jones is a player GMs have told me they are eager to see -- and could definitely move up if Coples slips.
North Alabama/Florida CB Jenkins has first-round talent ... and plenty of off-field baggageThere's no one with more at stake than North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins. A true star at Florida, Jenkins was dismissed from the Gators after two drug-related incidents and a brawl. He played his senior season at North Alabama and was terrific. He's everything an NFL team wants in a shutdown corner -- a first-round talent with plenty to spare. But here's the thing: He has to spend his time at the combine convincing teams he's worth investing a first-round pick on. If teams don't get a good vibe from him, or come away feeling that he hasn't turned the corner on his past, forget about taking him in the first round -- they'll remove him from their draft boards completely.
Jenkins has some major work to do because clubs are going to be looking at him sideways, already suspicious about his ability to not just perform at the next level, but fit in enough where he won't get in trouble and be a waste of a pick. He won't get the benefit of the doubt from anyone. You wash out at Florida and there's no sweeping that under the rug. Good luck, Janoris.
Will the real Quinton Coples please stand up?Quinton Coples carried a top 10 grade into the 2011 season, despite playing out of position at defensive tackle often in 2010. With the move back to defensive end, his production was expected to increase exponentially. It did not. And everyone in the NFL wants to know why, and learn if there were extenuating circumstances. (Head coaching change so close to the season? NCAA investigation turmoil? What?)
But the Quinton Coples seen at the Senior Bowl was, for the better part of the week, THAT dominating player everyone expects to see. (One NFL GM whispered to me prior to the practice sessions had even begun: "Top 10 for sure.")
This week is a huge week for Coples, one that can continue the positive momentum he generated in Mobile, Ala., with excellent practices and a game filled with splash plays. A top 10 draft selection is still very attainable, and the combine provides a stage to earn it.
At age 28, QB Weeden can't afford a poor showing in IndyIt has to be former Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden. No one knows for sure where this guy will go in the draft. With his age (28) being the preeminent factor in how a team sees him, a bad outing in Indianapolis could be catastrophic. If Weeden doesn't perform well in workouts or the interview process, it's not hard to imagine what some GMs and personnel directors will think: He's already five, six years older than everyone else, and he was terrible at the combine. Nice college player, not for us. Actual game-day production should matter most, but at 28, Weeden can't afford a poor showing at the combine.
As an aside ... I, for one, am rooting for him. Age is just a number, right?
While the combine's influence is overrated, RG3 does have a lot at stakeThe NFL Scouting Combine is overrated for evaluating talent. Teams rely on game tape to determine the vast majority of a player's grade. That grade can be adjusted by what happens at the combine, particularly learning a player's unknowns, especially those that can't be changed. I'm talking about height/weight, medical conditions or a failed drug test. It is impossible to tell who will fit into those categories before the combine, or which prospect has the most at stake.
One player who does have a lot at stake is Robert Griffin III. This is his first chance to make an impression on those top 10 teams pondering whether to trade up and get him. He will not disappoint them -- in fact, he will blow them away when they meet him.
LSU DT Brockers is flying up draft boards with his immense upsideOne name to keep an eye on during the combine is LSU DT Michael Brockers. I liked him a lot when I put together my initial mock draft, and his name is starting to fly up draft boards.
Brockers is a dominating presence at 6-foot-6 and has the most upside of a talented group of defensive linemen entering the draft. Brockers, despite being just a redshirt sophomore in 2011, stood out on one of the most talented lines in college football.
If Brockers dominates the combine, as I believe he will, he'll be locked in to a top 10 draft slot.