There are a lot of factors that can lead to a player being selected early in the NFL draft, but having incredible athleticism certainly helps.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, top prospects can solidify their spot in the top half of the first round with strong performances in the workouts. Players like Tavon Austin, Dion Jordan and Barkevious Mingo saw this happen a year ago, and there will be even more this season.
Although there will always be players who come out of nowhere to post big numbers, the following men are already on the radar as first-round selections. A big showing will only put them even higher on draft boards and possibly into the top 10.
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Usually when drafting a cornerback, you have to choose between a fast player capable of covering the slot or a big one who can match up with some of the top receivers in the NFL. Amazingly, Justin Gilbert is the best of both worlds.
Standing at 6'0", the Oklahoma State product has the speed to stick with anyone in the league and the athleticism to catch balls at their highest point. All of his athleticism will be on display this week at the scouting combine.
Not only does Gilbert have good speed for his size, he could be one of the fastest players in the class. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com says he could post the best 40-yard dash time at the combine, explaining:
I asked several area scouts and personnel executives to give me the names of a few players that they thought would run blazing times, and Gilbert's name was easily the most mentioned during those discussions. ... To use a scouting term, Gilbert has 'easy speed.' He doesn't labor when he runs and he picks up ground in a hurry. He's expected to run in the mid-to-low 4.3s.
It is not surprising that Gilbert was able to return six kickoffs and two interceptions for touchdowns in his college career.
Add this speed to what will certainly be big numbers in the vertical and broad jump, and Gilbert could find himself drafted in the top 10 in May.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Although college success does not always translate to the NFL, it is hard to ignore what Brandin Cooks did at Oregon State. After posting solid numbers in 2012, he exploded in 2013 with 128 catches, 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns, winning the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver.
While scouts might be afraid to draft the 5'10" receiver, Cooks will attempt to use the combine to show what he can do.
The playmaker should post one of the fastest 40-yard dash times at the event, but he also plans on showcasing his strength, as he told Matthew Barrows of the Sacramento Bee:
Maybe the question they have is, ‘He’s 5-10, how strong is he?' But that’s something I want to showcase at the combine, to get these teams and these GMs to understand that I’m a pretty strong guy. Don’t let the size fool you.
Last year, Austin ran a 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds but also had a solid 14 reps on the bench press, proving that he would not get pushed around at the next level. Cooks has to replicate or better this success in order to get a spot in the first round.
Based on what he has shown throughout his career, the Oregon State star should be taken on the first day of the draft.
Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, UCLA
It did not take long for scouts to be enamored with Xavier Su'a-Filo. The offensive guard earned plenty of fans at the interviews, including Eric Edholm of Yahoo! Sports:
UCLA OG Xavier Su'a-Filo is an impressive young man. Said he loves the way Logan Mankins plays. "He's nasty." #patriots— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) February 20, 2014
However, it is the workouts that will help him move up draft boards. Gil Brandt of NFL.com predicts the UCLA product to be a breakout star at the combine:
Su'a-Filo, who is scheduled to work out with Group 2 on Friday, will have an opportunity at the combine to show off his athleticism and speed, which should be enough to land him in the first round of the draft. Right now, most teams have assigned him a second-day grade, but he'll move up.
Su'a-Filo has a good combination of talent on both runs and passes, and his technique takes him a long way. Still, the athleticism is tough to replicate, as he can help a lot of teams with his ability to get outside on the edge on pulling plays and screens.
This skill will be shown in Indianapolis, and it could be enough to make him the top interior lineman in the class. While this position is not often valued highly in the draft, Su'a-Filo should do enough to see himself be drafted in the first round.
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