10 Most Anticipated Athletes at the NFL Scouting Combine

Michael Schottey@SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterFebruary 14, 2013

10 Most Anticipated Athletes at the NFL Scouting Combine

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    The NFL scouting combine is just around the corner, and anticipation is already picking up. 

    Over the next few weeks, you'll hear the same "informed" comments about the combine. It doesn't matter, they say. Don't pay any attention to workout times! Only tape—tape, tape, tape and more tape! Don't dare even think about trying to attempt to reference the 40-yard dash!

    Of course, all of that is nonsense. NFL teams keep heading to the combine for a reason—they use the information it provides. They value the chance to measure the players on a level playing field. 

    They get to see whether a guy was truly as athletic as he looked on tape or if he was just a man among boys. They also head to Indianapolis for a chance to talk to the players, see how they handle themselves under pressure and make sure their medical reports check out. 

    The combine is a very important part of the process. It's not the biggest part, but people who trumpet the idea that it means little or nothing don't pay attention to the results the combine often has. Every year, it shakes up the positional rankings, breaks ties on countless teams' boards and gives some players new life while deep-sixing others. 

    Which athletes are we anticipating most this year? Click ahead.

Ezekiel Ansah (DE/OLB Brigham Young)

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    Ansah is a reluctant one-year wonder at the game of football. Recruited to BYU out of Ghana by a Mormon missionary, he walked on to the track team and was cut from basketball before he finally took up the sport he was meant for. 

    The tape on Ansah is so maddeningly inconsistent that personnel people are dying to put this kid through the paces. It's important to do this and talk to Ansah about how much he actually loves this game. 

    With so many Jason Pierre-Paul comparisons, Ansah will need to work out extremely well to put himself into the legitimate discussion for a selection in the top half of the first round. 

Marquise Goodwin (WR Texas)

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    Before I took off for the Senior Bowl this year, I stated that one of my wishes for the week was to see Goodwin hit top gear. It isn't often that Olympic-caliber speed is on show, and I was excited to see that speed up close. 

    Sadly, as impressive as Goodwin was in Mobile and as fast as he looked, we didn't truly see his athleticism in full display. Indy is the perfect location for that, however, and he's sure to turn some heads and test the trigger fingers of all the stopwatch scouts who are brought out of mothballs for the combine. 

    If he runs and jumps as well as he's capable of, he'll rise up some draft boards. If he works out well in the positional drills, Goodwin could make some noise in the second day of the draft.

E.J. Manuel (QB Florida State)

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    Potential is a tricky phenomenon. 

    While all teams want a guy with a Hall of Fame ceiling, they don't necessarily want a guy who is going to take up a ton of their time. People talk so often of long-term projects in the NFL, but what coach has time to work one-on-one with backups? Think of how practice times have been slashed under the new CBA or how many practice reps are often weighted heavily toward the starters. 

    Potential is great, but if potential isn't ready to be realized awfully quickly, players can find themselves bouncing around and never realizing anything other than some frequent-flyer miles. 

    Manuel has to prove he has the physical tools to serve as a crutch as he refines the technical aspects of his game. If he's a special athlete, teams will find a spot for him even if he's got a ways to go as a passer. If he's in the middle of the pack athletically, some teams will take him off their board altogether. 

Sam Montgomery (DE LSU)

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    When your school's strength coach calls you out in his office window and tells NFL personnel that he won't take time to talk about you because you don't take the time to do what it takes to succeed, teams remember that. It's an image burned in the brains of strength coaches around the league.

    Montgomery is going to be asked about it by countless defensive line coaches who don't have time for lazy jackanapes. These players have the ability to get their coaches fired if they don't have more effort in the pros. 

    If Montgomery shows up to the combine with the same lackadaisical attitude about working out as he once had in college, teams aren't going to want anything to do with him.

    If he shows up having polished his natural talent with a rigorous combine prep, defensive line coaches will hop up on the table for him and claim they're perfect to keep him motivated at the next level. 

Margus Hunt (DE/DT/OLB SMU)

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    No matter what team is drafting Margus Hunt, he will end up being a square peg in its round hole when he gets into the NFL. Much of his success in college was lining up all over as his coaches found the weakest offensive lineman to match him up with and let him dominate, because SMU didn't spend a ton of time playing the best competition.

    Hunt is such a freak athlete with an atypical frame for a defensive lineman that I've heard NFL scouts wistfully talk about trying to convert him to offensive line. Others claim he can only be a interior pass-rusher and he needs to add about 20 pounds. Still others claim he needs to stand up in a 3-4 defense and lose weight before he's successful in the NFL. 

    One thing is certain: Tweeners have fallen out of favor in the league. That is, tweeners who aren't head and shoulders above their peers have fallen out of favor. Teams will find a spot (or make a spot) for guys who don't fit in the neat little boxes of normal roster management if it's felt that player can be dominant wherever they put him. 

Manti Te'o (LB Notre Dame)

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    Most of the work Te'o needs to put in during his time at the combine will be done in hotel rooms, behind locked doors with his potential future coaches interviewing him about all of the nonsense that has gone on with his "girlfriend."

    However, Te'o needs to answer some questions on the field as well. Can he work out well enough to put himself legitimately in the conversation as a top-10 pick? 4-3 linebackers just don't go that high in the first round.

    If Te'o shows he's a better athlete than people think, he could convince some team that he's the next great defender and that everyone needs to look past the hoax and snag him as quickly as possible. 

Tyrann Mathieu (DB LSU)

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    This is pretty self-explanatory. 

    If the Honey Badger didn't care about keeping himself in shape during the past year, he's not going to go much higher than the final night of the draft.

    Some teams aren't going to want to take a shot at him at all. Others might take a chance if they can get him post-draft. Still others don't care a lick about his personal issues but think he's too small to stand up against the NFL's latest crop of monster receivers. 

    Mathieu can change all of that if he blows up the combine workout. 

Alec Ogletree (LB Georgia)

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    The converted safety is rocketing up media draft boards as one of the few 4-3 OLB prospects in the draft that can legitimately combine athleticism, college production and NFL potential in a neat little package. He can track down running backs all over the field and hold up well in coverage. 

    That said, he's small for the middle linebacker position, and non-pass-rushing linebackers aren't valued enough to go as high as some are projecting him. Ogletree has to show that he's put some work in to refine his linebacking talents, but he also has to show that he's as great an athlete as everybody thinks. 

John Jenkins (DT Georgia)

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    Nothing gets the Twittersphere going quite as fast as a behemoth rumbling down the field and showcasing some of that earthshaking speed en route to the end zone. 

    In the same way, nothing gets scouts' hearts racing quite as much as the classical "dancing bear" prospect. The massive body that can lithely get in and out of his cuts, rumble down the 40 track (shirt on, please) and leap up into the air as the earth quivers in anticipation of his return. 

    The idea is that the earth is only so big. Grabbing one of the biggest men on the earth is great—lots of teams get that. However, having one of the biggest men on the earth who happens to be one of the best athletes? That's a must-draft kind of prospect. 

    At the combine, Jenkins can prove he's capable of playing multiple line positions because of his athleticism and create top-15 buzz for himself. 

Denard Robinson (QB/WR/ST Michigan)

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    When a guy claims he could beat Usain Bolt in a 40-yard dash, scouts and media are going to make sure to have their stopwatches at the ready when he steps up to the line. 

    Shoelace spent his time at the Senior Bowl tripping over his own two feet while trying to show (unsuccessfully) that he could play the wide receiver position. He needs to remind people what a fantastic athlete he is if wants to go anywhere near the top half of the draft. 

    If he's not breaking or threatening any combine records, teams won't need him languishing around the back end of their roster. 


    Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.