While there are questions about every prospect at the NFL Scouting Combine, some players have more to answer for in Indianapolis, be it with a 40-yard-dash time, agility drills and/or character-based interviews.
Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson, taken by the Detroit Lions with the No. 2 overall pick in 2007, solidified his draft stature at the combine when he donned a pair of borrowed shoes, and, at 6-foot-5 and 239 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash. He said he didn't plan on running at the combine, but he put up a time of 4.33 seconds. East Carolina running back Chris Johnson improved his stock last year by blazing the 40 in 4.24 seconds at the combine and was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the first round.
On the flip side, Michigan wide receiver Mario Manningham was projected to be drafted in the first two rounds in 2008. He then posted 40-yard-dash times in the high 4.5- to 4.6-second range at the combine, raising questions about his speed. Manningham ended up being selected in the third round -- 95th overall -- by the New York Giants.
These are some of the draft hopefuls who could help or hurt themselves by disproving or verifying concerns at this year's combine.
1. Ramses Barden, WR, Cal Poly: His size alone (6-6, 227) has garnered Barden attention. Barden helped his stock at the Senior Bowl, proving he can play against top-tier defenders. He isn't a speed-burner, but a good time in the 40-yard dash could help him maintain the momentum that he has generated.
2. William Moore, S, Missouri: The All-Big 12 Conference playmaker drew mixed reviews at the Senior Bowl and left some people wondering if the 6-1, 230-pounder might be best suited as a linebacker in the NFL. He has good north-and-south speed and excellent instincts, but teams are putting a lot of emphasis on safeties being interchangeable and having more coverage skills -- especially against the deep ball. Moore's ability to change direction in coverage drills will be scrutinized.
3. Coye Francies, CB, San Jose State: Francies has generated a lot of buzz because of his size (6-0, 180), wingspan and excellent performances in the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl. He also returned kicks during his college career. He can help or hurt himself in the 40-yard dash. Despite no problems of late, Francies must prove to teams during interviews that he's a solid citizen because a gun possession charge led to him being suspended at Oregon State, where he started his college career.
4. Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland: This 6-2, 206-pound speed-burner could be the player who drums up the most eye-candy hype. His size and speed -- he can only make people take further notice if he turns out a better-than-expected 40-time -- are his main attributes. However, his marginal body of work, which doesn't include a true breakout season, could cause concerns that he has reached a plateau. It also could lead to belief that his potential has yet to be tapped. Good, if not great, interviews could really help him.
5. Percy Harvin, WR/KR/RB, Florida: Harvin is a multi-talented speed threat who did magical things on the field in college, but his injury proneness and failure to establish himself at any position will make pegging his NFL future a guessing game. Harvin resembles Reggie Bush in a lot of ways, which could be viewed as a good or bad thing by some teams because he could require special plays or packages to best use his skill set. Showcasing his athleticism this week could entice, more than dissuade, suitors for Harvin.
6. Eben Britton, OT, Arizona: At 6-6 and 310 pounds, Britton has the prototypical size for an NFL offensive tackle and is durable and reliable. However, he played in a spread offense in college, bringing his ability to play in tighter quarters into question. He's regarded as a very good run blocker from left tackle, but his agility in pass protection against NFL-caliber linemen could prompt a switch to right tackle, a position not viewed as vital as the left side. If Britton shows solid footwork and agility, he could remain at left tackle, which tends to draw bigger paychecks.
7. Kenny Britt, WR, Rutgers: Britt declared for the draft after his junior season, which was enough time for him to accumulate more than 3,000 receiving yards. At 6-4 and 215 pounds, Britt has the size a lot of NFL teams want. However, his strength, speed and vertical explosion could determine whether he's perceived as a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver and, therefore, a first- or second-day draft choice. In other words, Britt's 40 time could be very important to his future earnings.
8. Gartrell Johnson, RB, Colorado State: Johnson is a highly productive and versatile player at 5-11 and 222 pounds, but his performances in the 40-yard dash and pass-catching drills will be under close watch. He showed good hands to go along with a physical rushing style that could translate into a role like LenDale White plays with the Titans. Johnson's low center of gravity also is becoming more a favorable body type (see DeAngelo Williams, Michael Turner and Tim Hightower) for NFL running backs.
9. Shawn Nelson, TE, Southern Miss: He's a member of the emerging group of flex/receiving tight ends, and Nelson's athleticism and speed have him fairly high on some teams' draft boards. At 6-5 and 240 pounds, Nelson has the ability to gain weight, which could be a concern for teams who view him as a possible every-down player. His strength and blocking techniques in drills will be scrutinized.
10. Herman Johnson, OG, LSU: Johnson had been listed at 6-7, 382, but has lost some weight. Still, he needs to re-establish himself after a shaky Senior Bowl in which he was tested at tackle. His lateral footwork was a problem and convinced many teams he will have to play guard in the NFL. Though he likely won't be reconsidered as a tackle, should he display good strength and better mobility in guard-related drills, Johnson could emerge as a first-day pick.