NFL Combine 2014: Top Prospects Who Will Raise Draft Stock with Strong Showing

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2014

COLUMBIA, MO - OCTOBER 19:  Defensive lineman Kony Ealy #47 of the Missouri Tigers reacts after a sack of quarterback Tyler Murphy #3 of the Florida Gator sduring the game at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium on October 19, 2013 in Columbia, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The attention paid to the NFL Scouting Combine may perturb some confused onlookers, but teams greatly consider the results before the draft.

There are several flaws with the combine, or at least with how much teams value the outputs. Anyone who has ever watched an NFL game knows that lifting things up and putting them down the most isn't a prerequisite for success. Nor is sprinting well for a few seconds without pads.

Nevertheless, all eyes are glued to the results, and decision-makers are prone to get swept up by a fast 40-time and other feats of athleticism. With that said, this is the time for physical specimens to shine.

A player with more nuanced concerns may alleviate that doubt by running incredibly fast and jumping incredibly high. Some ultimate risk-reward prospects should convince some general managers to take the plunge during the first round.

Let's take a look at some of this year's possible benefactors.


Dri Archer, RB, Kent State

Dri Archer certainly set the bar high for himself.

One of the draft class' smallest running backs at 5'8" and 173 pounds, Archer sounded as bold and reckless as the fictional Archer when he declared a new 40-yard dash record is in the making to NFL's College Football 24/7.

Those high expectations place him firmly in the danger zone of letting everyone down, but Archer has the speed to make it interesting.

His senior numbers from Kent State won't blow anyone away, but the scatback averaged 7.8 yards per carry in limited work. The previous year, he ran for 1,429 yards and 16 touchdowns on 159 carries.

Smaller backs are starting to receive a larger welcoming in NFL offenses as coaches become more adept at utilizing their skills in open space. While Archer won't succeed running inside the tackles, he can wreak havoc as a return specialist and change-of-pace back who receives looks in the passing game.

Now that he has hyped his 40 time, he must deliver the goods to impress NFL teams. He doesn't necessarily have to best Chris Johnson's record of 4.24 seconds to garner attention, but a speedy time will entice someone to take a chance on him.


Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

Kony Ealy has already dashed his way up big boards, but he could climb even higher after the combine.

After recording nine sacks during his junior year, the Missouri defensive end will look to translate his explosiveness into a successful pro career. The 22-year-old is just the type of ferocious pass-rusher organizations desire.

CBS Sports' Rob Rang, who compared Ealy to Pro-Bowl lineman Robert Quinn, gave his take on the Missouri standout.

Ealy's length and burst off the edge are his most exciting traits, but don't overlook his instincts against the pass. In two seasons as a starter, Ealy defended 13 passes, showing the instincts and athleticism to wreak havoc against quarterbacks in more ways than one. Proponents of the 4-3 and 3-4 schemes alike will appreciate that ability to generate turnovers.

While the ability to defend the run and drop back in coverage could create some concerns at the next level, he just needs to run, jump and lift things during the combine. His rapid steps will help him notch intriguing tallies that allure scouts.

Many mock drafts project him as a first-round pick, but that status is far from set in stone. With an impressive combine display, Ealy will feel a lot better about his chances.


Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State

Ryan Shazier's stock should be pointing upward after the combine events.

The Ohio State linebacker displays more speed than the average linebacker, and he'll demonstrate that advantage with an easily digestible 40-time. It's imperative for him to build on that strength, but he can also dispel worries about his size.

An unnamed NFL scout expressed those fears to The Plain Dealer's Zack Meisel.

I struggle with what he's going to do against big boys pushing him around. The kid is athletic and productive and has a nose to find the football, but I'm afraid that he's going to get lost trying to fight through blocks and is just not going to be able to get to the ball.

As's Mike Huguenin noted, Shazier weighed in seven pounds heavier at the combine. With size being the linebacker's major concern, the extra bulk should please drafters.

A decent amount of bench presses should have scouts sleeping easier at night. If not, maybe they'll realize that weight-lifting and football have a weak direct correlation.

Shazier has seemingly taken that criticism to heart. Either that or he has enjoyed fast food in excess once football season ended. Either way, here is his chance to show that athleticism should be the least of teams' concerns with Shazier.