The 300-plus NFL draft prospects gathering in Indianapolis this week for the NFL Scouting Combine won't begin workouts until Friday, but they'll get a workout of a different sort beginning Wednesday, when reporters try to get straight answers to, in some cases, some difficult questions. Here are eight questions College Football 24/7 wants answers to this week from some of the draft's top prospects.
It's unlikely any player will be less comfortable walking to the microphone than the Ole Miss defensive tackle, who's a first-round talent but one that comes with character concerns. Nkemdiche put himself in that position when he broke a hotel window and fell some 15 feet in Atlanta, resulting in a police response and a discovery of seven marijuana cigarettes in the hotel room. He was suspended from the Sugar Bowl for that incident. What happened that day? And what will happen if NFL clubs don't buy his explanation? That's not the only character question Nkemdiche faces, but it's the one foremost on our minds for one of the draft's elite defensive talents.
Unlike Nkemdiche, there are no questions about Smith's character, but plenty about his health. The former Notre Dame star and 2015 Butkus Award winner tore knee ligaments in his final college game in the Fiesta Bowl, putting his availability for his rookie NFL season -- along with his draft status -- in some measure of doubt. Todd Gurley's rebound from a serious knee injury for an outstanding rookie year provides something of a benchmark for Smith, but Smith's injury came six weeks later in the year than Gurley's. Does that spell a later debut in the fall for the former Fighting Irish star?
The former Ohio State star was once banned from the Big Ten Conference following multiple failed drug tests, but revived his career at Eastern Kentucky. Indications are that Spence turned his life around at EKU and his performance at the Reese's Senior Bowl has NFL coaches and scouts excited about his potential as a pass rusher. Still, concerns about his history of drug use linger. The recent drug-related suspension of Dallas Cowboys 2015 second-round draft pick Randy Gregory might add to the reluctance clubs could have about Spence. Few players have as much on the line in combine interviews than Spence -- how will he handle that pressure and how well will his explanations be received?
The former Michigan State quarterback is likely to be asked more about character than quarterbacking by NFL clubs, but has this narrative run past the reality? From his teammates' choice not to elect him captain to his apparent snub of Ohio State legend Archie Griffin in accepting the MVP trophy for the Big Ten title game, the narrative on Cook as a draft prospect has slipped away from his on-field play. His decision not to compete in the Senior Bowl, also under question, was his first chance to begin changing that narrative. The combine will be his second. Multiple Spartans teammates have rushed to Cook's defense amid the criticism. How will scouts feel about Cook at the end of his week in Indy?
Jack withdrew from classes at UCLA after tearing knee ligaments in September in the hopes of a quicker rehabilitation. And while every indication is that Jack's recovery has gone well, he won't be a full participant in drills. Will Jack be fully ready to perform at the Bruins' pro day? Is he facing any potential training-camp limitations? As high as Jack is projected to be chosen, whichever NFL club chooses him will be looking for as quick an impact as possible.
His coach has predicted sub-4.4. Miller himself is shooting for sub-4.3. And scouts would no doubt be thrilled with either. There isn't a more intriguing athlete at the combine: A first-round physical specimen who has only one year of experience at his projected pro position.
7. How did a top-shelf cornerback prospect never intercept a college pass?
Exactly how did Clemson's Mackensie Alexander become one of the top cornerback prospects in the NFL draft when his last interception came in high school? As a two-year starter for Clemson, he was outstanding in coverage but never recorded a pick. For a defensive back with a chance to be a first-round selection, it's a unique, if not unprecedented, factoid. Quarterbacks wisely didn't throw his way very often, and NFL scouts are enamored enough with his man coverage skills that statistical production isn't a grave concern. Still, we're brimming with curiosity to hear the highly confident Alexander's explanation for this.
8. How will Baylor's vaunted trio fare?
Expectations are high for the combine performances of three Baylor players in particular: WR Corey Coleman, DE Shawn Oakman and DT Andrew Billings. Coleman and Oakman are freakish athletes who threaten to lead their respective position groups with eye-popping numbers in physical testing. Meanwhile, Billings has freakish strength. A national-champion weight lifter in high school, Billings' performance on the bench press is heavily anticipated, as well.