The NFL combine is one of sport's great paradoxes, as a football prospect can drastically alter his draft stock without ever actually playing football. But in a league in which athleticism is exponentially increasing, the reality is that one's measurables have nearly as much of an effect on draft stock as game film.
The label "combine star" comes with a negative stigma, as it is often a euphemism for a freakish athlete who cannot handle the nuances of football. Nevertheless, the combine is also an opportunity for worthy prospects to place themselves in the spotlight and grab the attention of prospective employers.
With that in mind, here are a few prospects likely to see their draft stock rise after February's combine.
Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Carey is arguably the highest-rated running back in the draft class, but that does not carry the same high-pick guarantee it used to. The former Arizona running back holds a second-round projection from CBSSports.com despite rushing for nearly 2,000 yards last season.
Carey's greatest asset is his open-field speed and elusiveness, a skill that should play well both in workouts and on film. Even at just 5'10" and 196 pounds, Carey ran much more powerfully in his junior season. As Matthew Fairburn of SBNation.com notes, Carey's biggest questions might come in the interview room:
NFL teams are sure to investigate Carey's off-the-field issues, mainly an incident in which he was charged with assault and disorderly conduct in a domestic violence case only to have the charges dropped. Things like that don't disappear completely, and Carey will have to answer questions about it between now and when he decides to enter the NFL.
So long as Carey's character checks out, his status as one of the draft's top backs should remain intact. With the impact Eddie Lacy made in Green Bay in 2013, perhaps a team will take the plunge on the draft's best all-around back in the late stages of the first round.
Jordan Tripp, OLB, Montana
The FCS label is a difficult one to shed, but Tripp ranks as one of the very best from college football's de facto second division. Like many FCS players, Tripp is a bit smaller than the prototypical NFL linebacker at just 6'3" and 237 pounds.
With that size comes speed and fluidity, which Tripp consistently demonstrated on tape. At his best, the ex-Grizzly could be a three-down player who provides a consistent pass rush off the edge. He needs to add a few pounds to hold up against NFL offensive linemen, but his range already reminds Bleacher Report's Matt Bowen of a defensive back:
Montana LB Jordan Tripp (6-2, 237) moves like a SS in individual drills when looking at the speed/burst coming out of his break.— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) January 21, 2014
Bowen himself was a safety in his playing days, so his praise is certainly eye-opening. A good combine showing could move him into the early rounds.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Tight ends have transformed from glorified offensive linemen to matchup nightmares in recent seasons, with an emphasis on big, athletic specimens. Like Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham before him, Washington's Seferian-Jenkins is an ex-basketball player who could wreak havoc at the position.
At 6'6" and 276 pounds, Seferian-Jenkins has drawn comparisons to Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in that both are huge and physically gifted all-around players. Like Gronk, ASJ was a red-zone monster, scoring 21 touchdowns over three collegiate seasons and compiling a 12.6 yards per catch average. Combined with his improved blocking, the Husky has few discernible weaknesses.
Shaping up to be a great TE group. ASJ rare size/catch radius MT @Softykjr: Austin Seferian-Jenkins told me this was his last game at UW.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) December 28, 2013
Austin Seferian-Jenkins is impressive blocking just for how natural he makes it look. Not overextending...treats it like a zone blocker.— NDT Scouting, KMC (@NFLDraftTracker) February 2, 2014
Seferian-Jenkins' biggest red flag is an intangible one, however. A DUI arrest in March 2013 led to a suspension, and some have questioned his erratic competitiveness, as noted by ESPN Insider (subscription required). If the hulking tight end can straighten out his character concerns, expect him to light up the combine and emerge as a first-rounder as teams salivate over his skills and tools.
Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
Hopefully, you're sensing a theme here. Like the aforementioned names, Purifoy is a supremely talented player whose character raises some concerns.
Purifoy came into his junior year needing to refine his mechanics rather than relying solely on instincts and speed to compensate.
Finished studying @GatorZoneFB Louchiez Purifoy from '12 tape. Great athlete w/smooth movement skills.. Raw, unrefined technician— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) August 8, 2013
However, Purifoy underwhelmed for an underachieving 4-8 Gators squad. He did record his first two career interceptions and illustrated his natural playmaking ability with a forced fumble, a blocked field goal and two sacks. In terms of pure cover skills, Purifoy rates out as one of the top defensive backs of the class.
Purifoy was arrested for possession of marijuana last year, though the charges were dismissed due to a lack of evidence. If the corner can prove that his on-field competitiveness usurps his spotty off-field record, he may end up as a borderline first-round selection.