Although the college football season is over, this is arguably the most pivotal stretch in the careers of the players entering the 2014 NFL draft.
It's the buildup to the draft that you see prospects earning or losing millions of dollars as a result of the Senior Bowl, pro days and scouting combine. The stakes are unquestionably high.
This draft class is full of players who have both the combination of talent and physical tools with which they can use to take a nice jump ahead of the draft in May and in turn get a nice payday.
Among that group of stars, these three players stand out.
Tajh Boyd finally won the big one, or at least a big one.
Given Clemson's struggles in the past and losses to South Carolina and Florida State this year, Boyd was earning a reputation as a choker. In his final game as a Tiger in the Orange Bowl, he torched the Ohio State secondary for 378 yards and five touchdowns. The two interceptions were a slight concern, but Boyd also led a great fourth-quarter drive that saw Clemson take the lead for good.
As a whole, the good far outweighed the bad.
Going into the game, Boyd knew how much was on the line, telling The Greenville News, "I think everything toward the end of this process is going to be a deciding factor in how high I go (in the 2014 draft)."
Now Boyd has the combine and Senior Bowl with which to continue impressing scouts. Free of the monkey on his back, he should go into Indianapolis a little more relaxed.
While not the best quarterback on the board, Boyd has a strong enough arm that's accurate enough to succeed in the NFL. He's also fleet of foot, which will make him look good when the 40-yard dash rolls around.
Once you get past Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater, the 2014 quarterback class is a crap shoot. There are a bunch of notable names, none of which jump off the page.
By making a good account of himself, the Clemson star could elevate himself from the pack and go from a third- or fourth-rounder to a late first- or early second-rounder.
You might be asking, how could a player with a consensus first-round grade be drastically helped by the NFL combine?
Remember Eric Fisher?
Coming out of Central Michigan, Fisher was battling with the perception that since he didn't see great defensive linemen each and every week, he wouldn't be worth an early pick in the first round.
As a result, he hovered around the 15-25 range heading into the Senior Bowl. He impressed scouts in Mobile and then had a strong showing at the combine.
Then, sure enough, the Kansas City Chiefs drafted Fisher No. 1 overall, ahead of Luke Joeckel, who looked to be the consensus top overall pick.
Greg Robinson is a tremendous run-blocker and possibly the best one in the draft. In addition, he's a great athlete for his size (6'5", 305 pounds), who's more than capable of learning how to shuffle over and stop pass-rushers coming off the edge.
Here's what Bleacher Report's Matt Miller wrote about Robinson after the BCS National Championship:
No one player dominated the BCS title game more than left tackle Greg Robinson. Big No. 73 stood out from the opening snap and continued to dominate until the final whistle in what was his final college game.
Robinson has rare athletic ability for a left tackle. That was on display when he sprinted 20 yards downfield to put a crushing block on an FSU defender to spring running back Tre Mason into the end zone on a screen pass.
While Robinson is likely a top-15 pick, don't be surprised to see scouts raving about him at the combine. He's got the measurables that everybody looks for in a franchise tackle, so he could parlay a strong showing in Indianapolis into a Fisher-like rise.
One of the most interesting players to watch in the draft is De'Anthony Thomas.
You can argue all you want about whether the junior running back/wide receiver should've entered the draft, but the fact of the matter is, Thomas declared for the 2014 NFL draft, and there's no going back now.
While the Oregon star was a bit of a disappointment during his time with the Ducks, he's still a freak athlete, the kind that seduces scouts every year heading into the draft. Few players, if any, will be faster than Thomas.
As Matt Hinton of Football Outsiders points out, in the right situation, Thomas can be a major weapon.
De'Anthony Thomas is a fascinating prospect. Stock plummeted in 2013 (injuries/lack of production) but he's dynamite in the right offense.— Matt Hinton (@MattRHinton) January 6, 2014
The combine is the perfect place for a player with superior physical skills to display his possible worth in the NFL. A team is going to see that and feel that the risk is worth the possible reward.