There are 335 invitees to the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. This event is one of the most crucial points in these young athletes' careers, as their performances here can dictate their futures in the NFL. From draft position to salary, the scouting combine is a huge stop on the road to professional football.
Some of the combine's participants are already cemented as top picks in this year's draft. Others have some work to do if they are to prove to NFL scouts that they have what it takes to become a factor at the next level.
Let's take a look at a few prospects who must shine during the scouting combine to quiet doubters and prove to NFL teams that they are worth selecting in the 2014 NFL draft.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Benjamin enters the scouting combine as a favorite to be selected in the first round of this year's draft. However, there are still some concerns circling around him that could end up causing him to drop down draft boards.
After all, with other receivers such as Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and Marqise Lee looking at first-round grades, Benjamin will need a fine showing to keep pace with a very good wide receiver group.
Benjamin's best attribute is his size. At 6'5" and 234 pounds, he is a big, quarterback-friendly target who could be heavily utilized in red-zone situations.
Having such a large wingspan, Benjamin has a huge catch radius. However, his hands have let him down at times, as one of his glaring weaknesses is his many dropped passes.
The gauntlet will be one of the most important events for Benjamin at the combine. Having to keep his eyes on the ball, rotate his body and make solid catches with his hands could be problematic for him. He has allowed too many balls into his chest over his college career, and scouts can tell which players are natural hands catchers—Benjamin isn't.
If he can put up a good performance and prove to scouts that he has improved in this department, his draft stock could certainly rise. However, if he falters, he could see other wide receivers like Odell Beckham Jr. surpass him in this year's draft.
AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
McCarron is one of the most highly analyzed, yet confusing draft prospects this year. He finished an illustrious career in Alabama as one of the most decorated quarterbacks in college football history. However, scouts and analysts continue to argue over what they see in him.
In November 2013, one AFC college scouting director compared McCarron to future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, according to a report from Albert Breer on NFL.com:
Good size, outstanding touch on all throws, can make all the throws but only has average arm strength. Average running ability but very good feet and movement in the pocket to avoid sacks. Outstanding progression-read quarterback, makes throws to his second and third reads consistently. Doesn't turn the ball over. Winner. Mentally tough. Has the moxie and cockiness most great QBs have. Very similar to Tom Brady in stature, athletic ability, arm strength, touch and the most important category—wins.
Then, on Thursday, NFL Media analyst and former Houston Texans and Washington Redskins personnel executive Charley Casserly explained why he felt McCarron was more like Andy Dalton during an appearance on NFL AM. Chase Goodbread of NFL.com recorded the quote:
Very productive quarterback, smart guy, but what I want to see (is) arm strength. I want to see this arm live. I just want to see at what level it's not strong. Is this guy Andy Dalton? I'm trying to make a positive out of that, but Dalton has his deficiencies, and one of them is accuracy, deep especially. Is he Andy Dalton, or is he a lesser Andy Dalton? That's my question on him.
The 6'4", 214-pound McCarron will certainly get his chance to prove to scouts what he is all about during the scouting combine.
It appears that the two aforementioned perspectives on McCarron are in agreement that he lacks exceptional arm strength. However, one mentions that he can make all of the throws, and the other questions his accuracy.
When McCarron throws during the combine, he will be one step closer to putting those questions to rest.
Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Carey has been one of the most productive running backs in college football over the past several seasons. In 2012, he led the country with 1,929 rushing yards; however, there are still some questions that must be answered during the scouting combine.
Having good size for a running back at 5'10" and 207 pounds, Carey dominated in college with powerful interior runs and showed a good ability to make precise cuts.
Unfortunately, the same praise is not sung for him once he gets past the line of scrimmage. He does not possess great straight-line speed—especially for a running back of his size.
When Carey declared for the NFL draft, CBS Sports analyst Derek Harper had this to say about the running back:
Carey runs with good power between the tackles and has excellent vision to see holes and make a strong cut. There are some questions about his maturity and straight-line speed, both of which he'll have an opportunity to address at next month's Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
At the combine, it seems as though Carey shouldn't have problems with workouts such as the three-cone drill. He will, however, be tested when it comes to the 40-yard dash and 20-yard shuttle. Those drills will give NFL scouts a much better idea of what he can do in the open field.
As far as his off-the-field issues go, he's had run-ins with police, most recently during an Arizona basketball game in which he was asked to get off the back of a seat, declined and then issued an expletive-laden comment to the officer.
Once again, Carey will get a shot at redemption during the interview process at the combine in which NFL teams will have the opportunity to ask him about his past and incidents like the one mentioned above.