The NFL Scouting Combine isn't enough by itself to completely reshape a prospect's outlook. A sixth-round talent isn't suddenly going to become a first-round selection because of strong workouts. The event is simply a chance to make a push up the big board.
General managers and talent evaluators had already watched a mountain of tape on most prospects before the combine. That information is used to shape a team's rankings. The combine is used to confirm what they seen on film and give them an idea about which players need to get evaluated further.
With that in mind, let's examine three prospects who helped their cause in Indianapolis. After strong combine performances, they now must maintain that positive trend during individual workouts leading up to the draft.
Khalil Mack (LB, Buffalo)
Khalil Mack faced some added pressure heading into his combine drills. He was already viewed as a likely top-10 selection but was suddenly receiving top-pick hype. A lot of that was fueled by Mike Mayock of the NFL Network, who said he would struggle to take Jadeveon Clowney over the Buffalo product:
"It would be hard for me to take Jadeveon Clowney over Khalil Mack." - Mike Mayock— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) February 22, 2014
The linebacker lived up to the high billing. He was ranked as a top performer in four of the six athletic drills among players at his position, including the 40-yard dash, which he ran in 4.65 seconds. It was the same all-around skill he showed on a weekly basis with the Bulls.
Whether he'll be able to pass Clowney to become the first defensive player off the board is still very much a question mark. That said, it was a performance that could very well push him into the top five, and all signs suggest he's worthy of that type of investment.
Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh)
Aaron Donald doesn't possess the same size as some of his fellow defensive tackles. He more than makes up for it with outstanding athleticism, though. He ran the 40-yard dash in an impressive 4.68 seconds, but he also showed off his strength by ranking second among defensive linemen in the bench press with 35 reps.
He also ranked high in the three-cone drill to round out a very solid showing. Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette passed along comments from the standout defender after his workout, and he was pleased with the results:
I'm a competitor; I like to try to be the best at everything I do. I did everything on the football field [at Pitt], I proved it more at the Senior Bowl and I racked it up here at the combine.
There's a close battle between Donald, Timmy Jernigan, Louis Nix and Ra'Shede Hageman atop the defensive tackle rankings. If the Pittsburgh star can continue his upward trend in the remaining time before the draft, there's a very good chance he earns the top spot.
Brandin Cooks (WR, Oregon State)
The goal for Brandin Cooks leading up to the draft is to establish himself as a first-round pick. He's been on the borderline of the first two rounds for awhile. He took another step in the right direction by putting his speed and quickness on full display at the combine.
Which of these players helped themselves the most at the combine?
He led all wide receivers in the 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle and 60-yard shuttle. In other words, he's the type of player where the key is simply figuring out ways to get him the ball in space and letting him work his magic from there.
Like Donald, he doesn't have ideal size for his position. That means he likely won't challenge the likes of Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans in the final rankings. But his performance was enough to push him inside the first round, at least for the time being.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker.