The NFL Scouting Combine begins this week in Indianapolis, and it brings together 323 of the nation's most draftable players, as well as numerous coaches, front-office representatives, and scouts from each NFL team.
Below we preview the offense, with six players to watch at each position:
(A caveat to this section: Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston are far and away the top two quarterbacks available. We're looking at guys in the mix to be the third guy taken and/or trying to be drafted at all.)
Bryan Bennett, Southeastern Louisiana: He was in the mix to be Oregon's starting quarterback in 2012 before he was beaten out by Mariota. Bennett was a backup for the Ducks that fall, then transferred to Southeastern Louisiana, an FCS school, for the final two seasons of his career. He threw for 5,522 yards and 39 touchdowns, and rushed for 1,715 yards and 31 TDs in his two seasons with the Lions. He is a top-flight athlete who lacks a big arm and rarely has been under center. Still, he will have a chance to potentially solidify himself as a third-day pick with a consistent combine.
Shane Carden, East Carolina: He was lightly regarded out of high school in Houston, but became a three-year starter in a pass-happy offense. Carden threw for 11,991 yards and 86 TDs in his career. He lacks a big arm and has issues with his throwing motion. While he is a gritty guy with big-time intangibles, that won't necessarily show at the combine. Still, he'll get a chance to show that he is a better athlete than most think.
Garrett Grayson, Colorado State: He definitely is in the mix to be the at least the fourth quarterback taken. He was one of the four quarterbacks to throw for 4,000 yards this season, and also had 32 TD passes and just seven picks. He has good mechanics, though he lacks a big arm. Grayson needs a strong combine all-around to further intrigue scouts.
Brett Hundley, UCLA: He definitely looks like the No. 3 quarterback overall heading into the combine. He is a true dual threat who can hurt foes with his legs and arm. While his athleticism is not in question, his ability to be an accurate passer is. His pocket presence at UCLA left something to be desired. That obviously is not going to be on view at the combine. But how he looks throwing the ball and how he performs in the drills will be scrutinized.
Sean Mannion, Oregon State: Mannion had a great junior season (4,662 yards, 37 TDs, 66.3 completion percentage) but struggled as a senior (3,164 yards, 15 TDs, 62.3 completion percentage), and some analysts wonder if he can be an NFL starter. He should look good in the passing drills because of his comfort level with all sorts of drops and throws, but his athleticism is a question, too.
Bryce Petty, Baylor: He went into the season generally considered the top senior quarterback, and he might exit the combine in that position, too. But that designation and $1 will get you a soda. He will be out to show he is the best athlete among the quarterbacks. He has been clocked as fast as 4.62 seconds in the 40, has had a vertical jump of 38 inches and has broad jumped 10-foot, 5 1/2 inches. He also can squat 510 pounds. If he performs to those standards at the combine, he will impress the scouts. But he has some on-field issues -- perhaps most notably, his ability to read defenses -- and those aren't going to miraculously disappear, even if he shines athletically at the combine.
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: His lack of size -- he measured 5-foot-8 1/4 and 198 pounds at the Senior Bowl -- is bothersome to some scouts, but his production was impressive; he was a full-time starter in his final two seasons with the Huskers and rushed for 3,301 yards and 28 TDs in those seasons. He also has proved himself as a receiver and return man. He is not a blazer, and his 40 time will be scrutinized. But he is quick, and his work in some of the other drills should be impressive.
Javorius "Buck" Allen, USC: He quietly piled up 1,489 yards this season and added 41 receptions in USC's pro-style offense. Most see him as an early third-day pick. NFL Media analyst Lance Zierlein touts his "ability to cut on a dime," and Allen will be hoping to impress in the drills at the combine. In doing so, he could move into the second-day discussion.
Tevin Coleman, Indiana: He was overshadowed in his own league by Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, but Coleman had a phenomenal year, especially considering Indiana didn't have a legitimate passing attack in the second half of the season. Coleman rushed for 2,036 yards and was a big-play machine, and he certainly is in the running to be the third back selected. He has a background in a pass-oriented offense; the Hoosiers threw a lot in 2013 and in the first half of the '14 season. Comparing his 40 time to the other backs will be fun, especially considering Coleman is 6-1 and 210 pounds.
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: With Georgia's Todd Gurley unlikely to participate in any individual events as he rehabs from a torn ACL, Gordon will get a lot of the running back spotlight. He seems likely to go in the first round, and Gurley's injury might mean Gordon will be the first back selected. Gordon deservedly received a ton of hype after rushing for 2,587 yards in 2014, second most in FBS history. He also showed more as a receiver and blocker, though there still are questions about those facets of his game. His 40 times and results in the shuttle and cone drills, if he chooses to do those, could be noteworthy.
Duke Johnson, Miami: Johnson is another player who was overshadowed this season, but he ended his career as the leading rusher in Miami history, an impressive feat, considering the Hurricanes have produced a number of top-flight running backs. Johnson is a good receiver, which adds to his value and is a reason he could be the third back selected. He has had some injury issues, and his medical report will be scrutinized. His times in the 40 and several other drills should be impressive.
T.J. Yeldon, Alabama: Yeldon's 40 times will be closely monitored. Yeldon (6-2, 221) has good size and quick feet, though he seemingly lacks elite speed. Could he get into the mix to be the third back selected? A strong combine certainly would help in that regard.
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Sammie Coates, Auburn: He is big (6-foot-2, 213 pounds), fast (he has been clocked at under 4.4 in the 40) and athletic (his vertical jump once was measured at 44 inches), and should test off the charts at the combine. So what's the problem? His hands are inconsistent, and a receiver with inconsistent hands is problematic no matter how fast or athletic. As NFL Media analyst Lance Zierlein puts it, "He has early round traits and late-round receiving skills right now." Still, expect scouts to be awed by the numbers Coates puts up in the event portion of the combine. Chances are, those numbers will be impressive enough that more than a few teams will be willing to overlook his inconsistencies.
Amari Cooper, Alabama: He will be the first receiver taken in the draft, right? Not necessarily. NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks has Cooper as the top receiver, but fellow analyst Daniel Jeremiah has Cooper No. 2, behind West Virginia's Kevin White. While their combine performances won't necessarily settle the debate, it will be interesting to compare. Cooper's 40 time will be especially interesting.
Phillip Dorsett, Miami: Dorsett's 40 time might end up being the fastest at the combine. Jeremiah called him "probably ... the fastest player in this entire draft class" during Senior Bowl week. Still, as fast as he is, he never was a dominant college receiver, finishing with 121 career catches, albeit at 17.6 yards per catch and with 21 TDs; Amari Cooper had 124 catches this season alone. Dorsett was a teammate at powerhouse Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas with Florida State's Rashad Greene, a far more polished receiver who also will be one to watch at the combine. Still, expect Dorsett to excite scouts in the 40 and other drills.
Dorial Green-Beckham, Oklahoma: He was the nation's consensus No. 1 recruit in the 2012 class and has a ton of talent. He also has had a ton of off-field issues and didn't play a down of football in 2014 after he was dismissed from Missouri last spring and ended up at Oklahoma. Green-Beckham is a big guy (6-6, 225) who can run. But how fast will he run at the combine? Zierlein says Green-Beckham's 40 will be scrutinized: "He needs to meet high expectations for his workout. If he doesn't run a really good 40-yard dash, I think that's going to hurt him."
DeVante Parker, Louisville: Here's the dark-horse candidate to be the first receiver off the board. He had 43 receptions for 855 yards (19.8 yards per catch) this season despite missing six games with a foot injury; he absolutely torched FSU's mega-talented secondary in a narrow loss, finishing with eight catches for 214 yards (27 yards per catch). He is a big guy (6-3, 211) with an 80-inch wing span whose athleticism is off the charts: vertical jump of 36.5 inches, broad jump of 10-10, a squat of 455 pounds, a bench press of 335 pounds. But he didn't seem quite as explosive when he returned from his foot injury, and his 40 time will be important.
Kevin White, West Virginia: He definitely is in the mix to be the first receiver off the board, which would continue his meteoric rise from complementary receiver in 2013 to go-to stud in 2014. He had 109 receptions for 1,447 yards (13.3 per catch) and 10 TDs this past season after a 35-catch season in 2013, which was his first for WVU after transferring in from a junior college. He, too, has good size (6-3, 210), but his perceived lack of top-end speed has been noticed. "His 40 time could define his draft stock," Zierlein wrote. His hands were like glue in 2014, and that obviously is a big positive.
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Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State: If Heuerman is healthy, he should surprise folks with his athleticism. He was underutilized as a receiver in the Buckeyes' offense, finishing his career with just 52 catches. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Heuerman clock in the high 4.7s in the 40, and he also should test well in the other events. A strong combine could mean he ends up being a second-day pick.
Jesse James, Penn State: James surprised a lot of folks by declaring for the draft, but given the relative paucity of talent at the position, he might have made a good call. He is huge (6-7, 254) and was an important part of Penn State's passing attack this season (38 receptions, 396 yards, three TDs). He has been dinged for a perceived lack of athleticism, so he will be looking to do well in the combine events. Penn State produced a ton of tight ends in the 1990s, but James is seeking to become just the third Nittany Lions' player at the position to be selected in the past 11 drafts.
Ben Koyack, Notre Dame: Koyack struggled at times during Senior Bowl week, and his college production (just 44 career catches) certainly didn't match his hype. That said, he's a guy who could blossom as a pro and far outpace his college production. How athletic is he compared to the other tight ends? That's a question he needs to start answering at the combine.
Jean Sifrin, Massachusetts: His age, 27, is a negative, as is the fact that he played just one season of FBS football (and it came at a MAC school). He quit school as a high school senior to work, earned his GED, then eventually got an itch to play football again. He played at two junior colleges, then had a solid 2014 season at UMass (41 receptions, 15.5 yards per catch, six TDs). He has excellent size (6-7, 250) and is a good athlete who should test well. He is raw but looks to have a big upside. One concern: Can he reach that upside before he turns 30?
Clive Walford, Miami: NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock calls Walford "the most explosive tight end in this year's draft." He definitely is a receiver-first tight end, and while his blocking needs a bit of work, his skills as a pass catcher make him a good fit in today's NFL. He looks to have the versatility and speed to be a threat to be used all over a formation. He can further show that with his combine workouts. (Walford is part of College Football 24/7's "Path to the Draft" series.)
Maxx Williams, Minnesota: Williams was a third-year sophomore who declared for the draft, and he could end up as the first tight end off the board. He played in a run-heavy scheme at Minnesota but still had 51 receptions in his two seasons, including 36 (for eight TDs) in 2014. While he did a lot of blocking for the Golden Gophers, his receiving skills are what stand out to NFL scouts. He made a couple of highlight-reel catches for Minnesota this season, and chances are, he will be impressive in his combine workouts. His dad, Brian, was a longtime NFL offensive lineman.
OT T.J. Clemmings, Pittsburgh: Clemmings has played just two seasons on the offensive line after moving over from the defensive line. And those two seasons were at right tackle. He would seem to have the necessary attributes to play left tackle -- "He has the physical traits to become a Pro Bowl left tackle," NFL Media analyst Lance Zierlein says -- but struggled a bit at the Senior Bowl. He has some work to do to prove he can play of the left side -- i.e., the side that will make him the most money. He can help himself by showing off his athleticism at the combine.
OT La'el Collins, LSU: At one point, he was considered to be in the mix to be the first tackle taken, but he has fallen down most draft boards and there is a concern he cannot play left tackle at the next level. Zierlein says Collins "lacks (the) athleticism to be a consistent left tackle and will have to move to right tackle or bump inside to guard." And fellow analyst Daniel Jeremiah has Collins as the No. 32 overall prospect and the No. 4 tackle. A strong combine performance in the 40 and in the drills might start to change some minds.
OT Ereck Flowers, Miami: Jeremiah has Flowers -- who left school after his junior season -- as the No. 33 overall prospect and the No. 5 tackle. He is considered to be further along as a run blocker than as a pass protector. Flowers is a better athlete than a lot of folks think, though, and might be able to open some eyes with his combine performance. He was a high school and college teammate of RB Duke Johnson, and as with Johnson, he could make a move at the combine into the top three or four of his position group.
OT Andrus Peat, Stanford: Peat is a big, physical run blocker, but there are concerns from some about his pass-protection abilities. He did not play all that well against Utah, which had four sacks against Stanford. As with Flowers, Peat left school after his junior season. It will be interesting to compare his combine numbers with those of the other top linemen. Despite the concerns, Peat -- whose dad, Todd, was a guard in the NFL for six years -- could be the first tackle off the board.
OT Ty Sambrailo, Colorado State: Sambrailo is the best offensive lineman from outside the Power Five conferences. Zierlein notes that he looks to be a mid-round guy, "but if he puts up just 16 or 17 reps in the bench press, it's going to really hurt him." Sambrailo's work in the drills will be closely monitored; he seems to have the needed athleticism to play left tackle at the next level. Former Colorado State offensive line mate Weston Richburg went in the second round of the 2014 draft, to the New York Giants, and was a rookie starter at guard though he played mostly center at CSU.
OT Donovan Smith, Penn State: Smith left Penn State a year early, but was a Senior Bowl participant because he already has graduated. While he was criticized for his early entry decision, his work at the Senior Bowl was better than expected, and he will be a closely monitored lineman at the combine. He is a big man (6-5, 335) who might fit best inside at the next level. He will be looking to show that he has the needed athleticism to play tackle; the perceived lack of athleticism is a knock on him.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.