Former College Football Stars with the Most to Prove in the NFL Combine
The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine will bring out the worst and best from some of the nation’s top prospects.
While every player who is participating in drills during the combine will be looking to improve his stock, some will have a lot more on the line. In fact, it could be the difference between receiving a major payday or being a mid-round draft pick.
Thankfully, the combine allows players another opportunity to prove to scouts that they’re ready to make the leap to the NFL.
Join Bleacher Report as we take a closer look at the players with the most to prove during this year’s combine.
CB Pierre Desir (Lindenwood)
One of the biggest surprises of this combine could be Lindenwood cornerback Pierre Desir.
Not much stock was put into the St. Charles, Mo., native’s stats, since he played for a small Division II school. He was nearly lights out against opposing receivers, recording 33 tackles (1.0 for loss), four interceptions and eight passes broken up.
He surprised many scouts when he showed up to the Senior Bowl and continued his dominance, even picking off a pass.
He has an outside shot of becoming a first-round selection in this year’s draft. All Desir needs is a stellar showing in the drills.
DL Louis Nix III (Notre Dame)
The decision of Notre Dame defensive lineman Louis Nix III to enter the NFL draft early was quite confusing.
However, given that he has 13 siblings to provide for, it makes sense financially.
But if he wants to make a lot of money in the NFL, he has some work to do. His recent play at the collegiate level didn't give him momentum heading into the combine.
In eight games, the Jacksonville, Fla., native recorded just 27 tackles (2.0 for loss) and broke up two passes. To make matters worse, his season was cut short due to surgery to repair a torn left meniscus.
Although Nix would have benefited from honing his craft for another year in South Bend, he has the size (6'3", 357 pounds) and power to make an impact at the combine.
But will the pressure of supporting himself and his family prove to be too much?
RB De'Anthony Thomas (Oregon)
Running back De’Anthony Thomas made waves as the backup behind LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner during his career at Oregon.
However, he never quite established himself as the go-to guy.
He had that opportunity with the Ducks in 2013, but an injury stopped a fast start in its tracks. In his six games after returning from injury, he only rushed for 256 yards and two touchdowns on 54 carries.
Although he has the potential to play in the NFL one day, returning for his senior season seemed to be the right move.
Now, it’s up to Thomas to prove he has the chops to succeed in the pros as a starting running back.
QB Blake Bortles (UCF)
Quarterback Blake Bortles is coming off an impressive campaign.
The Oviedo, Fla., native threw for 3,581 yards, 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions on 67.8 percent passing. But more impressively than that, he led UCF to a 12-1 season, including an improbable upset of Baylor, 52-42, in the Fiesta Bowl.
Now, the only thing left to do is to prove he is worthy of being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
It’s a gutsy move, but it’s one that could also pay dividends.
DE Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina)
There’s no doubt defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has the talent to succeed in the NFL.
During the 2012 season, the Rock Hill, S.C., native put that on full display. In 12 games, he recorded 54 tackles (23.5 for loss), 13.0 sacks, three fumbles forced and one fumble return.
Unfortunately, a 2013 season filled with controversy and disappointment—only 3.0 sacks—left Clowney’s maturity and work ethic in doubt.
For someone in his shoes, the NFL combine is a perfect opportunity to put all of his baggage behind him. It’s a chance for him to re-establish himself as what he is: a game-changing defensive end.
If you ask him, he's confident where he should be selected.
"I'd really be happy anywhere I go. But if I go [to Atlanta] I'd be excited. I'd be close to home still," Clowney told the Dan Patrick Show, via CBS Sports' Will Brinson. "I just think I should be the No. 1 pick taken overall in the draft."
Can Clowney step up to the challenge?
DE Michael Sam (Missouri)
Former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam made headlines earlier in the month after announcing that he is gay in an interview with Chris Connelly of ESPN.
Entering the NFL combine, the Hitchcock, Texas, native will be looking to make headlines for another reason: his play on the field.
There’s no doubt coming out about his sexual orientation only weeks before the combine was a risky move for Sam. But there’s also no doubt that he is a premier defensive talent.
In 14 games for the Tigers last season, he recorded 48 tackles (19.0 for loss), 11.5 for sacks, two fumbles forced and one fumble return. He took that return 21 yards for a touchdown.
However, he didn’t do too much to stand out in the Senior Bowl. And at 255 pounds, he’s not as big as many scouts would like him to be at his position.
Newsday.com's Bob Glauber touched on Sam's lack of size a little bit more: "At 6-2 and 255 pounds, Sam is undersized for an NFL defensive end. That lack of size makes him a “tweener” -- too small to be an every-down defensive end, too raw to play outside linebacker."
That second part was evident during Senior Bowl workouts in January. Sam reportedly struggled to adapt to a stand-up linebacker role, which left some to wonder if he would be able to handle the transition at the next level.
Still, with some solid drill work and a good 40-yard dash time, Sam can take the attention off his sexual preference and shine it on his talents.
That will be the challenge for him during the combine.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of ESPN.