The 2013 NFL Combine will start Feb. 23 and go through Feb. 26 in Indianapolis, Indiana. It will be a valuable tool for scouts and coaches to use to evaluate talent, as it will provide them with an up-close look at more than 300 prospects in April's draft.
The combine is of keen interest to the Jacksonville Jaguars and general manager David Caldwell, who are in possession of the No. 2 overall selection. The combine gives the players a chance to impress scouts, and it will help Caldwell determine whom to select with the second-overall pick.
Caldwell has already laid out his draft plan, saying he will draft for need (via John Oehser of Jaguars.com) rather than talent if the prospects are comparable. With needs on the offensive and defensive lines and at cornerback, the Jaguars have a lot to focus on early in the draft.
Although there isn't one standout player in this draft like there was with Andrew Luck in 2012, the 2013 draft class is rich with talent where the Jaguars need help. Caldwell will be able to find starting quality players in the middle rounds of the draft, and the right picks will give the rebuilding process a head start.
Jacksonville needs an influx of good young talent, and these are 10 prospects the Jaguars need to watch closely during the combine because they would provide immediate help. The players are ranked based on the team's needs and where they are projected to be drafted.
Jaguars linebacker Daryl Smith is set to be a free agent this offseason, so the franchise might be looking for his replacement in the draft.
Howard's Keith Pough is cut from the same mold as Smith, and he could be Smith's replacement.
Pough is an athletic linebacker who has good closing speed on quarterbacks and ball-carriers. He maintains his assignments and can disengage from blockers to make tackles. He is able to get through traffic at the offensive line, and he is the FCS all-time leader in tackles for loss (71).
The biggest criticism about Pough is that he played at a lower level, which is something that will be difficult to overcome at the combine. Pough will need to perform just as well as the FBS linebackers in the different drills to silence those critics, but his ability to play at the NFL level is something that can only be seen once he makes a team.
Pough is a late-second to early-third day pick, and the Jaguars need to keep an eye on him to see if he is ready for the NFL.
The Jaguars are moving to a zone-blocking scheme (per Vito Stellino of The Florida Times-Union) in 2013, and they must find players who fit the system.
Both left tackle Eugene Monroe and right guard Uche Nwaneri will reclaim their starting roles next season. Players already on the roster such as John Estes, Will Rackley and Mike Brewster fit into the zone-blocking scheme, but they are not reliable starters, so the Jaguars must look to add talent to the offensive line.
One player who fits the new system is Arkansas Pine-Bluff's Terron Armstead.
He is a fantastic athlete, as he was an eight-time SWAC track and field champion as well as a three-time All-SWAC honoree in football.
Armstead is agile and gets to the second level of the defense quickly. He redirects pass-rushers well and extends his arms to keep them contained.
He will wow scouts in the workout drills due to his natural athleticism. Armstead needs to have a good positional workout to improve his draft stock, especially in the kick-slide drill.
Armstead needs to get better at getting his hands up and having a consistent aiming point. Those weaknesses will be exposed in the kick-slide drill, so he has to make sure he works on those parts of his game.
Armstead is a natural fit in the zone-blocking system. A good showing at the combine could make him a late second-day prospect in the draft.
GM Caldwell has said (per Pro Football Weekly) that he plans to address the quarterback position this offseason.
With no long-term answers in free agency, the Jaguars will likely wait until the draft to find a quarterback. Jacksonville has more pressing needs to fill in the early rounds of the draft, which means the team probably won't go after a quarterback until the later rounds of the draft.
One player who should be available is Arizona's Matt Scott.
Scott thrived in Rich Rodriguez's spread offense and had a great senior season. He completed 60.3 percent of his passes for 27 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He's also a running threat, and he finished 2012 with more than 500 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
Scott has a strong arm and can fit passes in tight windows. He is elusive in the pocket and can make defenses pay with his legs.
He will have a chance to move up draft boards since neither Matt Barkley (per ESPN's Adam Schefter) nor Zac Dysert (per NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah) will throw at the combine. This leaves Scott with an opportunity to impress scouts by making good throws.
To do so, though, he will have to show improved accuracy and better footwork at the combine, as those have been two of his main criticisms. If he is able to correct those flaws, he could have a great combine.
Scott has the arm strength to be successful in the NFL, but he needs to be developed into an NFL quarterback. The NFL Combine will show how much development is needed.
Penn State's Gerald Hodges is another player who could replace Smith, and he would make an immediate impact on the Jaguars defense.
He has the downhill speed to quickly get to ball-carriers and can get through traffic to get to them. His biggest asset is his ability to cover since he began his collegiate career at safety. He has the ability to play both man and zone coverage, and he can break up passes.
Hodges doesn't always play with the proper leverage, making it difficult for him to get off blocks.
Hodges will have to show he's able to disengage from blocks, but he would be a good pick for the Jaguars on the second day of the draft.
With both Derek Cox and Rashean Mathis set to be free agents, the Jaguars could potentially be very thin at cornerback entering the draft. It's unclear whether either player will return to the team next season, which means the Jaguars will have to find players in the draft.
North Carolina State's David Amerson is a player to keep an eye on in the middle rounds of the draft.
Amerson is a physical and athletic cornerback, who possesses receiver-like ball skills. He is a sure tackler, and he can dislodge the ball from receivers.
At 6'3", Amerson also has the height that Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley covets in cornerbacks.
There have been some questions about his flexibity and speed. He will have to null those criticisms at the combine, and he will get the chance to do so in the speed-turn drill. If he is able to show he can transition out of the backpedal and make quick cuts in the first part of the drill, Amerson will impress scouts with his ball skills in the last part of the drill.
Amerson has a chance to silence critics at the combine and solidify himself as a sleeper pick in the draft.
Cal center Brian Schwenke is another offensive lineman who fits Jacksonville's new zone-blocking scheme.
The Jaguars will need help at center, as 12-year veteran Brad Meester is set to be a free agent this offseason. John Estes and Mike Brewster are already on the roster and fit the zone-blocking scheme, but neither has had the chance to be a consistent NFL starter. The Jaguars will need to add another player to compete for the starting center role.
Schwenke is a perfect fit for the new scheme and will be available on the second day of the draft.
He is a versatile player, as he started 36 games at three different positions. He moved to center before his senior season, where he excelled despite his inexperience.
Schwenke has a great initial burst off the snap and quickly gets his hands on his target. He has a low center of gravity, helping him win leverage battles against bigger defenders. He's an alert player who helps teammates with double teams.
He lacks great power, so he will have to show scouts his explosiveness at the combine. If he does so, he will show he's an ideal candidate for the Jaguars' zone-blocking scheme.
Another cornerback who could be an immediate starter for the Jaguars is Florida State's Xavier Rhodes.
Rhodes is a big, physical cornerback who plays his best in man coverage, which makes him a perfect fit for Gus Bradley's defense. He is an excellent press-coverage cornerback, and he gets a consistent jam against the player he's covering.
His size matched with his athleticism makes him one of the top cornerbacks in the draft. Rhodes stands at 6'2", making him an even better fit in Bradley's defensive scheme.
There is concern about his top-end speed, so he'll have to perform well in the combine's individual workouts to overcome that. Still, his press-coverage ability will make him a successful NFL cornerback.
Rhodes is projected to be a first- or second-round pick, and the Jaguars might have to trade into the end of the first round to get him. Caldwell and company need to keep a close watch on Rhodes to see if he's worth trading up for.
The Jaguars' main priority in the offseason will be fixing the terrible pass rush. Jacksonville had just 20 sacks in 2012, and that has to improve for the team to get better.
The Jaguars could take BYU's Ezekiel Ansah with the No. 2 selection, and he would immediately upgrade the pass rush.
Ansah is a big and strong player, who has great foot speed. He consistently gets through the line of scrimmage, locates the ball-carrier and pulls him down with a good closing burst.
He showed versatility during his senior season, lining up at defensive end, defensive tackle and outside linebacker.
Ansah's technique fades at times, but he is very coachable and he implements what his coaches tell him.
The biggest criticism about Ansah is his lack of stamina. He often gasses out after a few plays. He will need to show he doesn't fatigue as easily during the multitude of drills he'll take part in at the combine.
Ansah is an elite talent in a draft full of good defensive ends, and he will be a first-round selection. The Jaguars need to keep a close eye on him to see if he's their guy.
Depending on the direction the Kansas City Chiefs go with the No. 1 pick, West Virginia's Geno Smith could be on the board for the Jaguars. Although the Jaguars have more pressing needs at other positions, Smith is the best quarterback in the draft and the only one worth taking this high in the draft. If Caldwell is serious about finding a franchise quarterback, he will have to take a hard look at Smith.
Smith has a quick delivery to go with terrific accuracy. He has the arm strength to fire throws into tight windows, but he is also able to place the ball where only his receiver can catch it. Smith keeps his eyes downfield and can find open receivers on his second or third read.
Although Smith is the best quarterback in the draft, he's far from a finished product. He doesn't always set his feet properly, which causes passes to sail on him. He's going to have to prove that his footwork has improved during the combine's passing drills to be one of the top picks in the draft.
The Jaguars most likely won't pick a quarterback early in the draft, but Smith is the only quarterback worth taking that high. If Jacksonville wants to get a franchise quarterback, Smith should be Caldwell's pick with the No. 2 selection.
LSU's Barkevious Mingo is the prospect the Jaguars need to watch the closest.
Mingo's speed and athleticism could be a perfect fit for the LEO position in Gus Bradley's defense. The LEO is designed for a quick pass-rusher who can pressure the quarterback, and Mingo's skill set is tailor-made for the position.
He is an explosive pass-rusher with an incredible first step. He has great straight-line speed and can chase down ball-carriers. Not only is he fast, but Mingo is also a strong player who can push tight ends backward to get to the quarterback.
Mingo will impress scouts with his speed during the drills at the combine, which will only further cement him as the best prospect to fit the LEO role in the draft. If the Jaguars are looking for someone to fill that position, then they need to keep an eye on Mingo.