Marcus Mariota, Shane Ray hit center stage in pro day season

With the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine in the rearview, it's time for the next step in the pre-draft process: pro days. In advance of this month-plus, cross-country campaign, former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks provides 10 burning questions for this scouting edition of March madness.

1) Is Jameis Winston ready to be the face of a franchise?

Florida State pro day: March 31

The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner is the most polished quarterback in the 2015 class, with the arm talent, football IQ and clutch factor to develop into an elite NFL player. He has an impeccable on-field résumé that includes a national championship and a 26-1 record as a starter at Florida State. Yet, there are still questions regarding Winston's ability to serve as the face of an NFL franchise, due to a series of knuckleheaded acts and a sexual-assault allegation that overshadowed his remarkable feats on the field. Thus, Winston must convince scouts that he is ready for the responsibility of leading an organization through his actions at team visits and private workouts. He must own up to his previous mistakes and make a compelling case to team officials that he has grown into a more mature adult. Most importantly, Winston needs to convince head coaches that he can be trusted to win games and represent the team in splendid fashion at all times.

2) Can Marcus Mariota excel as a pocket passer?

Oregon pro day: March 12

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner checks off all the attitude boxes as a mature leader with exemplary character and a strong work ethic, but evaluators worry about how he will transition to the pro game after running a fast-paced spread offense at Oregon that featured few complex reads in the aerial attack. In addition, scouts are concerned about Mariota's ability to master dropback footwork, given that he extensively operated in the shotgun in Eugene. Although this would appear to be a minor adjustment on the surface, Mariota will need to retrain his eyes and feet to become a deadly passer from the pocket. Thus, coaches and scouts will take the ultra-athletic quarterback through a battery of drills at his pro day, to monitor his progress through the transition. Also, coaches will challenge Mariota on the chalkboard, to assess his football IQ and see how much he remembers from chalk talk at the combine. If he shows progress in both areas during his pro day and private workouts, Mariota could ease concerns about his ability to grow into an effective pocket playmaker.

3) Is Shane Ray athletic enough to play OLB in a 3-4 scheme?

Missouri pro day: March 19

A foot injury prevented Ray from participating in drills at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, making his pro day that much more important. The ex-Missouri star is arguably the best pure edge rusher in the draft. Ray exhibits exceptional first-step quickness and overwhelms opponents with his non-stop motor, routinely notching sacks on extra-effort plays. Despite his success, scouts question whether he is athletic enough to play OLB in a 3-4 -- and the uncertainty could see his stock plummet, with so many teams utilizing that scheme. Thus, Ray needs to show outstanding agility, balance and body control in pass-coverage drills to convince coaches he is athletic enough to play as an upright player in a 3-4 defense. If he can flash decent movement skills in space and show a solid understanding of basic coverage concepts, Ray could boost his chances of coming off the board as a top-10 pick.

4) Will Todd Gurley show scouts that he is healthy enough to play in 2015?

Georgia pro day: March 18

OK, I'm kind of cheating here. Gurley, who suffered a torn ACL in November, isn't expected to do much of anything at Georgia's pro day -- but that doesn't mean he lacks a vital appointment in the coming weeks. Gurley wasn't able to take part in the athletic aspects of the combine, but he will return to Indianapolis for a medical recheck prior to the draft. That examination will be critical for his draft stock. Despite the injury, Gurley remains one of the most coveted prospects in the draft due to his exceptional combination of size, speed, vision and physicality. It is uncommon for a big back to display explosive pitter-pat in the hole while also flashing strong hands and superb ball skills. As a result, teams are willing to gamble on Gurley's talent and potential despite his lengthy recovery from a serious knee injury -- if he gets a positive review at the combine recheck. That could alleviate concerns about his availability in 2015.

5) What is Shaq Thompson's best position in the NFL?

Washington pro day: April 2

Thompson is one of the most dynamic defensive playmakers in the draft, but scouts and coaches are divided on whether he is best suited to play linebacker or safety as a pro. The all-Pac-12 first-teamer has repeatedly told teams that he would prefer to play linebacker, but his size, athleticism and instincts would make him an ideal safety in today's game. In fact, he could play as a hybrid safety/linebacker in a "Big Nickel" package and deliver impact plays on passing downs.

With a pro day on the horizon to showcase his skills, Thompson aims to show scouts that he possesses the size and instincts to play near the line of scrimmage as a linebacker. He needs to tip the scales at around 235 pounds and blow coaches away with his football IQ when quizzed about defensive tactics in meetings. Otherwise, Thompson needs to focus his efforts on refining his backpedal, turns and transitions to prepare for a move to safety. Regardless, after a disappointing combine, Thompson must put on an athletic showcase to salvage his chances of coming off the board on Day 1.

6) Can Paul Dawson bounce back from a poor combine?

TCU pro day: March 27

The ex-TCU standout posted one of the worst workouts in Indianapolis. Dawson looked out of shape, and his poor workout numbers took attention away from his impressive play on tape. Consequently, scouts and coaches are suddenly concerned about his ability to perform as a front-line player in the NFL, due to his lack of speed, quickness and burst. Dawson's coverage skills and range also came into question after his dismal performance, leading evaluators to take a wait-and-see approach to his impending pro day. If Dawson improves his numbers and shows up in better condition, he can return the focus to the superb instincts and playmaking ability he displayed at TCU.

7) Is Byron Jones a workout warrior or a blue-chip prospect?

Connecticut pro day: March 31

Since shattering the broad-jump record and posting an astounding 44.5-inch vertical leap, Jones has seen his stock soar. Executives are excited about his potential as the most explosive athlete in the draft, but coaches are still harboring concerns about his football skills after scouring the tape from the past two seasons. While he displays solid instincts, awareness and ball skills in coverage, he hasn't played at an elite level consistently throughout his collegiate career. Thus, coaches will need to put Jones through his paces in workouts to see if he is simply a better athlete than football player at this point. If Jones can put on another show at his pro day while displaying exceptional footwork, agility and quickness in positional drills, he might entice a team to pull the trigger early on draft day.

8) Who is the third-best QB prospect: Brett Hundley or Bryce Petty?

UCLA pro day: March 10
Baylor pro day: March 18

At this point, the fight for the No. 3 QB position on the draft board comes down to Hundley and Petty. Each prospect posted impressive numbers directing a spread offense in college, but scouts are undecided on which player has the potential to develop into a front-line starter in a traditional pro-style system. Thus, the pro day workouts will help determine which guy gets the nod as the most intriguing quarterback prospect behind Winston and Mariota.

Hundley must display better accuracy and ball placement on intermediate and deep throws (particularly on vertical shots down the boundary). He also has to explain why he took so many sacks in college when there were plenty of opportunities to get rid of the ball to a hot receiver or check down prior to the rush collapsing the pocket.

Petty must show improved accuracy and touch on his deep ball. He missed a number of home-run throws last season; scouts will want to see him connect on deep shots during his workout. Petty also must display a high football IQ in meetings, to squelch the doubts about his ability to play in a system outside of Art Briles' quarterback-friendly scheme.

With a possible first-round selection on the line, Hundley and Petty must bring their A-games to their respective workouts.

9) Is Dorial Green-Beckham worth the risk as a top prospect?

Oklahoma pro day: March 11

There is no denying Green-Beckham's pure talent after watching his sensational exhibition of athleticism and ball skills at the combine. He is one of the most natural pass catchers in the draft, and his rare size (6-foot-5, 237 pounds) could make him a dominating force on the perimeter in the NFL. However, a laundry list of suspensions, failed drug tests and arrests makes it tough to endorse Green-Beckham as a first-round pick -- unless his character is fully vetted out. He also needs to answer questions about his work ethic and general attitude, given his dismissal from Missouri. With Green-Beckham also missing last season at Oklahoma due to transfer rules -- and thus, missing out on potential development -- he has a lot of work to do at his pro day to convince evaluators that he is a worthwhile gamble as a top pick.

10) Is P.J. Williams a blue-chip talent?

Florida State pro day: March 31

The Florida State standout was one of the best football players that I watched on tape during the fall, but a disappointing combine workout seemingly has dropped his stock in the eyes of evaluators around the league. Scouts have a tough time endorsing bump-and-run cornerbacks with 40 times in the high-4.5 range. Thus, it is imperative for Williams to run faster at his pro day. In addition, Williams needs to display better footwork and transition quickness in positional drills to convince coaches that he can comfortably play away from the line of scrimmage utilizing "off" technique. In my mind, Williams is a rock-solid football player with all of the skills to excel on the edge, but he needs to display more explosiveness and athleticism in workouts, so scouts will again be comfortable relying on positive film evaluations. (It's easy for evaluators to get caught up making rash decisions based off performances conducted in shorts and T-shirts.)

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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