The 2014 NFL scouting combine is arguably the most critical pre-draft event for prospects looking to cement their draft stock and relative unknowns hoping to get on the radar.
Spanning one week inside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the combine features hundreds of elite football players who are all looking to wow scouts, coaches and executives en route to making a smooth transition from college to the pros.
Featuring interviews, measurements, medical and psychological exams, and a plethora of workouts and drills, the combine breaks down and analyzes prospects from every angle.
Below I'll highlight a trio of must-see stars at this year's NFL combine.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
It's certainly no surprise that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is a player to watch this February. Not only is the junior pass-rusher a potential No. 1 overall pick, but he's spent plenty of time hyping himself up ahead of the combine.
Clowney set the bar sky high for himself earlier this month when he told Yahoo Sports' Anwar S. Richardson he's aiming for a 4.4-second time in the 40-yard dash.
I hope to run a 4.4 (second) right now. That’s my goal. On hand times, I’ve been running 4.4s. I hope I can get a 4.4 at the combine. A 4.5, I’m not too worried about … I ain’t going to run a 4.6. I’m probably going to run low 4.5, 4.4.
But while NFL fans are sure to be blown away by Clowney's physical abilities, some NFL executives will be more interested in how the defender responds to questions about his motor during the interview process.
South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier on @nflnetwork about the work ethic of Jadeveon Clowney "He was OK". Ouch.— Newy Scruggs (@newyscruggs) February 19, 2014
Clowney opened eyes during his sophomore year in 2012, recording 23.5 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks and three forced fumbles, but raised eyebrows and created doubts about his work ethic with some lackluster moments and dwindled numbers in 2013.
Still, if Clowney can put up impressive numbers and say the right things in Indy, you'll be hard-pressed to find a general manager or coach wary of selecting him in May.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Clemson playmaker Sammy Watkins boasts a ridiculous blend of hands and speed, making him one of the most fascinating players at the combine in 2014.
The 6-foot, 205-pound wide receiver is among the fastest players in Indianapolis and is likely to catch everything thrown his way during the position drills. Not only does Watkins have great hands, but he's brilliant at attacking the ball, leaping to catch it at its highest point.
Although Watkins won't be able to put his big-play ability on display at the combine, viewers should watch for him to impress in the 40-yard dash. He has the wheels to wow the same way West Virginia's Tavon Austin did in 2013, when he set the field ablaze with a time of 4.34.
You'll also want to keep an eye on Watkins' explosiveness. Not only does he possess tremendous ball skills, but he has an unrivaled ability to separate from defenders.
Assuming he can cement himself as the top wide receiver available, Watkins could very well be a top-five pick come May.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Although Johnny Manziel won't be throwing passes at the combine this winter, the former Heisman Trophy winner will take part in some key measurements and interviews that could very well determine where he falls this spring.
.@JManziel2 will do all of his throwing at his March 27th Pro Day & private workouts. Teams will have all the time & access they want.— Erik Burkhardt (@ErikBurkhardt) February 15, 2014
The biggest questions surrounding the 21-year-old signal-caller heading into May's 2014 NFL draft have centered on his size and dedication. While his height (listed at 6'1") will be confirmed during the measurement process, questions about his focus and passion for partying will have to wait until he sits down during the various interviews.
Again, Manziel clearly working on image to get away from Johnny Football and focus on being a PROFESSIONAL QB. Skipping SB Week etc. LOVE IT— Nathan Zegura (@NathanZegura) February 14, 2014
If Manziel says and does all of the right things, he's likely to improve his stock during his time in Indy. Regardless, Manziel's mobility and overall playmaking ability make him one of the most coveted prospects in this year's draft from a physical standpoint.
Still, unless he can convince teams that he's dedicated to perfecting his craft, he could wind up falling on some draft boards.
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