The 2009 NCAA football season has finally wrapped up, and after some solid showings in the Senior Bowl, we're one step closer to uncovering the true identities of some of the players that will be in the 2010 NFL Draft.
But it's not over yet. In fact, the unmasking process only truly begins in the up-coming NFL Combine.
Players who are thought to be too small, too big, too slow, or lacking fundamentals will be tested, timed, and prodded.
But who needs the most work? Who has the most to prove?
As any smart analyst of college football and the NFL Draft would say, there truly is only so much one can learn about a player by using a stop watch and video tape, especially when it's not with pads or the player getting hit.
Still, as far as the April selection process is concerned, this gathering of players is still a pretty big deal.
Here's a rundown of 10 guys who need to show up in a big way, with a close look at exactly what it is they need to prove to NFL scouts and GMs:
Note: While there are plenty of guys that could improve (or hurt) their stock, the following players have the most to gain or lose.
Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
Tebow has been knocked in every possible way since finishing his NCAA career, with issues ranging from accuracy, to arm strength, to his release and throwing motion.
The truth is, his accuracy is solid, his arm strength is better than average, and he's already working on re-tooling his throwing mechanics.
Will he have his new look ready in time? That's what we're all so eager to find out.
If he can prove that he needs even less work than originally thought, that he has a stronger arm that predicted, or is more accurate than college showed, he could rise quickly up the quarterback board.
Regardless of any improvements, it probably wouldn't be a bad idea for Tebow to run some fullback and tight end drills, as well.
Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford
It seems scouts never run out of reasons to either not draft white running backs at all, or at least narrow them down to a more cliché position, like fullback or tight end.
Well, Gerhart is no exception.
If it's not his 2007 ACL injury that has people concerned (which he is completely recovered from), the amount of carries and hits he absorbed in the last two years, his potential baseball career, or his speed, then it's something else.
True, Gerhart has carried the ball a ton in the past two years, but thanks to an ACL injury in 2007, that's about all the action he's had in his entire college career, giving him fresh legs for the NFL.
As for baseball, well, as long as Gerhart gets a decent selection and a chance at running back, that won't ever be a real concern, either.
So, it comes down to two things. Can Gerhart run a 4.5 or lower, and can NFL GMs look past his skin color?
The horrible fact is this: Even if he runs a 4.5 (which is fairly fast still for any running back), he'll be deemed too slow to be an NFL running back. Cross your fingers Gerhart burns some rubber.
Anthony Dixon, RB, Mississippi State
Dixon is facing the same issue that Gerhart is, proving that the running back to fullback problem doesn't just face white college tailbacks.
However, Gerhart actually has some burst, while it's questionable if Dixon actually does.
He's already been tried out as a fullback at other workouts, so he'll need a fairly impressive 40 time to get some hard looks at running back.
Jahvid Best, RB, California
Best is a burner with insane agility, elusiveness, and can flat-out make plays. He's versatile, as he can run the ball all over the field, catch out of the backfield, and can return kicks.
He's a dynamite performer, and whatever team that gets him will be glad they took him.
However, he is coming off of head and back injuries that prematurely ended his 2009 season.
A good run through the regular drills and a passing medical grade will be crucial to him going before the third round. We still think he's a 1-2 rounder, anyways, though.
Golden Tate, WR, Notre Dame
Tate is a playmaker with great speed and playmaking ability, but is looked at as possibly too small and weak to be a dominant performer at the NFL level.
And considering all we know about Tate has happened in college, this is a fair flaw.
However, most smaller guys with his kind of speed and explosiveness have those attributes for a reason: because they're light and quick.
Hopefully Tate added a little bit of bulk to his frame, otherwise NFL GMs might start to get scared off that he wouldn't be able to survive the big hits of the NFL.
We wouldn't worry too much, though, even if Tate weighed in at his usual 190 or so. The guy's a true gamer.
Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State
Dez Bryant is still living off of his gaudy 2008 numbers, as he played in just three games in 2009 due to a suspension.
While he has mild character concerns, the real issue with Bryant is whether or not all that speed and jumping ability everyone saw a year ago is either still there, or possibly even better.
Regardless, the difference between him running a 4.4 or a 4.5 in the 40 could mean the difference between being drafted in the first or second round.
Eric Decker, WR, Minnesota
Decker is in a bad spot. Originally considered one of the better receiver prospects due to his good size and great hands, Decker could be flying down draft boards.
A Lisfranc injury took his final four games of 2009 away from him, and now he doesn't even appear ready to run for scouts.
He's never been considered a burner, but with a bad foot, he'll eventually have to prove he can run well (or at all) if he wants to be drafted before the middle rounds.
Taylor Mays, S, USC
After originally being viewed as a freak athlete for the safety position, due to his excellent height, size, and long arms, there is speculation that Mays may be better suited to play linebacker at the next level.
He had a weak showing at the Senior Bowl, and only had two take-aways in all of 2009, causing many scouts to wonder if he actually has the playmaking ability to make a difference as the last line of defense.
A weak 4.5 40 time hurts him, as well.
Mays suddenly needs to have some amazing drills to keep his stock high, or he could see himself drop out of the first round, altogether.
Jerry Hughes, OLB, TCU
Hughes is widely regarded as an outside linebacker at the next level in a 3-4 system, despite being a defensive end in his entire career at TCU.
Hughes will have to prove he has the speed and explosiveness to line-up on the outside at the next level, while his weight will also play a factor in how teams view him for the draft.
More than anything, Hughes needs to somehow prove he can make the position change, and do it seamlessly.
Brandon Graham, OLB, Michigan
Graham is in a situation a lot like Hughes, as he has played almost strictly on the line at Michigan.
However, he really doesn't have a choice as to where he's playing at the next level, as his small stature flat out tells us he has to play as an OLB in a 3-4.
He'll need to demonstrate good speed and acceleration, and will also need to perform well in pass coverage.
Performing well in all the major drills could vault him to the top OLB ranking, while a poor showing could drop him out of first round consideration.
For updates on the NFL Combine (which starts on February 24th), go to NFL Soup for all the news and reports.
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