The NFL Scouting Combine is the biggest event on what is a long road to the NFL draft for pro prospects.
As is the case every year, the lengthy interview process can make or break a prospect's stock in the eyes of the NFL. Whether it is the off-field interviews or performance in the various on-field tests, millions of dollars can be gained or lost outright for players of various stock.
With the official list of players who have been invited released, fans can now get a good idea of players who are sure to wow scouts and onlookers alike en route to a better draft position.
De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
De'Anthony Thomas is one of the 2014 draft's most polarizing players. He has blinding speed, a highlight reel worthy of multiple viewings and a versatility that is hard to find at any level.
But he also only stands at 5'9", weighs 169 pounds and had a down year. Football Outsiders' Matt Hinton put it best:
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
This resume to date has the world split on Thomas.
Regardless of pre-combine thoughts, there is no question that Thomas is one of the elite athletes entering the event. He will surely be one of the fastest prospects to hit the field in a variety of drills.
When scouts pair Thomas' jaw-dropping measurements with his versatility that allows him to contribute at running back, wide receiver and on returns, his stock will simply go through the roof as a weapon NFL teams must have.
Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Ra'Shede Hageman is far from the biggest name as he enters the Senior Bowl, but upon his exit, fans of all 32 teams will want him aboard in the first round of the draft.
At 6'6" and 311 pounds, Hageman possesses a quickness for a man his size that can only be described as rare.
His ability to generate an unorthodox interior pressure, in the same vein as Geno Atkins of the Cincinnati Bengals, makes him a must-have commodity.
The above is before he takes the combine by storm.
A certain player by the name of J.J. Watt blew spectators away at the combine a few years ago and is in the midst of a great career with the Houston Texans.
According to NFL.com's Bucky Brooks, via Rotoworld, Hageman will post "J.J. Watt-like numbers at the Combine" and says "From a physical standpoint, he is everything," which is high praise from one of the community's most respected names.
Believe the hype with Hageman. Not many come close to his combination of size and athletic ability, and it will show in a big way at the combine.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Unlike Hageman, Jadeveon Clowney is arguably the biggest name headed to the combine.
Clowney more than earned the right to be a household name after an illustrious collegiate career, and is confident he will have a big day at the combine, via Josh Kendall of The State:
Jadeveon Clowney will participate in all drills at NFL Combine, he says. "The numbers I am going to put up are going to be amazing."— Josh Kendall (@JoshatTheState) January 18, 2014
It is hard to argue that notion.
Clowney comes in at 6'6" and 274 pounds. It sounds repetitive, but it rings true—Clowney has a set of rare physical traits that will be on full display at the biggest job interview of his life.
Bob McNair, owner of the aforementioned Texans and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft concurs, via NFL.com's Chase Goodbread:
He's not a J.J. Watt. J.J. didn't have that natural (ability). He worked. He developed his. I said to J.J., 'I don't know what will happen but if we get Clowney, we want you to instill in him the same kind of work habits that you have.' He said, 'Well, if he's in the same room with me, he'll have them.'
He is a remarkable player. He's one of these players that is really a once-in-every-10-years kind of physical specimen that comes along. Mario Williams was that way. I think Clowney is actually a better athlete than Mario, so that kind of tells you what kind of player he can be.
In an event that measures athleticism over all else, Clowney will walk away the biggest winner as there is simply no prospect in the class who can compete with what he brings to the table.
Clowney's performance may help to make him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft.