NFL Combine 2014: Players with the Most to Prove in Indianapolis

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NFL Combine 2014: Players with the Most to Prove in Indianapolis
Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

This Saturday, 335 invitees will descend upon Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind., for the start of the 2014 NFL Combine. The four-day long event offers draft prospects the opportunity to showcase their physical talents in front of scouts from all 32 NFL teams.

Some of the participants have already been labeled first-round picks, while others aren't expected to be taken until the sixth or seventh round. However, those projections can change dramatically over the course of four days.

The workouts of elite prospects like Jadeveon Clowney and Anthony Barr will most likely be getting the most attention from the media, but even with a terrible workout performance, would either of those guys slip out of the first round? No chance.

So who should we really be watching? Who's performance means the most to their draft stock?

Let's take a look at three prospects with the most to prove in Indianapolis. 

 

A.J. McCarron, Quarterback, Alabama

McCarron is one of the most well-known and overanalyzed prospects entering this year's draft, finishing his career at Alabama as one of the most decorated collegiate players in history.

Up to this point, however, it appears his team's incredible success over the course of his time there is causing scouts to question how good McCarron is individually. Right now, the jury appears to be out.

On one end of the spectrum, McCarron has been compared to Andy Dalton, with scouts citing his lack of arm strength as an area of concern.

On the other end are those who liken him to Tom Brady, due to his moxie and throwing ability.

Ideally this weekend, McCarron will prove to be a combination of the two, possessing the throwing ability of Brady and the mobility of Dalton.

In order to legitimize the Brady comparisons, he needs to show that he can complete his passes. All the moxie in the world means nothing in the NFL if you can't consistently hit open receivers inside and outside the numbers.

Additionally, he would also showcase his mobility with a better-than-expected performance in the 40-yard dash. According to Football Nation, McCarron has been clocked at 4.84 seconds, which would rank him seventh among this year's top 10 quarterback prospects. If he can move into the top five that would be huge for his draft stock.

If McCarron displays the composure that we have come to expect from him while also surprising scouts with his arm and overall speed, he could make NFL reporter Albert Breer look like a genius when its all said and done:

Okay, maybe that's a stretch, but are Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel really any more of a "sure thing"?

 

Aaron Donald, Defensive Tackle, Pittsburgh

Aaron Donald is an intriguing prospect in that he doesn't necessarily fit the mold of an NFL defensive tackle yet has produced some of the most eye-popping statistics you'll ever see during his time at Pittsburgh.

At 6'0", 285 pounds, Donald would appear minuscule next to fellow defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, who stands 6'6", is 311 pounds and is also a potential first-rounder.

However, while Hageman was a solid player at Minnesota, his career numbers can't hold a candle to what Donald has accomplished. Last season alone, he took home the Nagurski Trophy as the nation's most outstanding defensive player and led the country with 28.5 tackles for loss.

If Donald can show the explosiveness and athleticism in Indianapolis that have scouts comparing him to the Bengals' Geno Atkins, he'll be the first or second DT taken. He'd also benefit from a strong performance in the bench press—arguably the most important event for defensive tackles.

Once scouts see that he can physically match up with the much bigger linemen in the NFL, they'll have no problem taking a guy who was so dominant that he was in the Heisman conversation by last season's end.

 

Aaron Lynch, Defensive End, South Florida

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Aaron Lynch is one of those prospects with a ton of potential but not much tape to back it up. After spending his freshman year at Notre Dame, Lynch transferred to South Florida, where he played just one season before declaring for the draft.

The combine can be incredibly friendly to athletic guys such as Lynch, who is looking to prove to scouts that his impressive stature (6'6", 244 pounds) and burst (4.75 in 40-yard dash) will translate perfectly to the NFL. 

Though there have been plenty of questions about his lack of production in college, we've seen prospects in the past (particularly Dontari Poe) really bring it at the combine and end all of those questions immediately.

If he can run his 40-yard dash in under 4.7 seconds while also showing some added muscle (he appeared a bit lean in college), Lynch will be one of the most talked about guys among scouts this weekend. Though Lynch is currently projected to go in the fifth or sixth round, I could see a dominant performance moving him up into the third or fourth rounds. 

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