2011 NFL Draft: Cam Newton and the 10 Players Who Need the Draft Combine

Benjie KleinCorrespondent IJanuary 14, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: Cam Newton and the 10 Players Who Need the Draft Combine

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    Shuttle runs, 40 times, bench press and psychological interviews.

    The NFL combine (Feb. 23) and private workouts are right around the corner with no shortage of players looking to improve their draft stock. 

    While prospects like Patrick Peterson have solidified themselves at the top spot of their position, others are wide open. No Andrew Luck leaves the door open for Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton and others to take charge.

    A good combine and interviews could be the difference of millions of dollars for some. It could also be the difference between hearing their name called on day 1, 2, 3 or not at all.

    With even more question marks surrounding a potential lockout and rookie wage scale, the combine is more vital than ever.

Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama Crimson Tide

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    After winning the Heisman Trophy following the 2009 season, Mark Ingram had an up and down 2010. Early season injuries cost him a couple games and from that point forward he produced hit or miss games while splitting time with Trent Richardson. 

    Ingram has proven to be a tough runner between the tackles and willing to fight for every inch. He is an intelligent player who has all the tools to become a successful back in the NFL. He is seen as the top running back prospect, but analysts have projected him anywhere from top 10 to early second round.

    Leading to why his workouts will be so important.

    Number one he must prove how fast he truly is. The amount of plays where he exploded for big gains were sporadic in 2010. While certainly not slow, most saw Trent Richardson as the speed back at Bama. In order to convince an NFL team to draft him early, Ingram needs his speed to push him over the edge. 

    Next is mentality. While Ingram himself has proven to be a good kid he will face questions about his dad's past, growing up around the NFL, and other mind games to catch him off guard.  Whether a person agrees or disagrees with the way executives handle this portion of testing, it'd important for a prospect to keep their cool.

    Look for Ingram to step up to the challenges and find himself drafted mid first round by the New York Giants at number 19.

Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon Ducks

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    For some reason the ability of Casey Matthews has been questioned over and over. USC passed on him, disregarding the history of the Matthews family and the university. Many have seen him as a 3rd round pick and a solid, but not overwhelming NFL linebacker.

    Instead, he went to Oregon where he only developed into one of the best linebackers in college. His skill set and physique are extremely similar to his brother Clay. His family's football pedigree is embedded deep inside his soul.

    Even when Matthews isn't making tackles, he's making an impact in the field. Matthews reads and reacts extremely quickly to what an offense is doing. He had three interceptions this season and showed his athletic ability in coverage. 

    Entering the combine the strength of Matthews will be under the most scrutiny. If scouts feel blockers will too easily knock him down or tight ends overpower him for balls, his stock will drop. 

    Look for him to use his strengths of fundamental tackling and intelligence to convince scouts in taking an early chance on him than many project. His motor will keep on going and Matthews is the type of player coaches want on their team.

    Look for Matthews to make it into the second round with a team looking to recreate what his brother has done in Green Bay. With his endless desire to keep improving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will add him to their young defense in the late second round. 

Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin Badgers

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    For the first time since 2005, an offensive lineman may not be selected in the top 10. 

    Gabe Carimi, Outland trophy winner for best offensive interior lineman, hopes he can be the one to keep the streak alive. He started every game he played at Wisconsin doing an admirable job replacing Joe Thomas in 2007. 

    Standing tall at 6'7 and weighing 327 pounds he has the size to compete with NFL defensive lineman. A few questions do linger however.

    First, Carimi's pass blocking. With Wisconsin heavily relying on the run and winning most games with ease, pass blocking situations weren't too common. Many have questioned if Carimi can play tackle or if he is more suited as an NFL guard and this is where that debate starts. 

    Strength will not be a question for Carimi, but athleticism and the ability to fight out speed rushers on the edge will be vital for Carimi. He improved as his senior season went on, but left too many question marks when forced to rely on more than brute strength.  

    If Carimi can't prove his worth as a tackle, he might not hear his name called until round 2. Odds are he will end up as a right tackle, killing his chances of a Top 15 pick. Look for him to fall to the bottom of the first round, being scooped up by the Chicago Bears.

Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas Wildcats

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    Since the day Ryan Mallett entered college he has been projected as an NFL quarterback. Sometimes players can handle that and other times it blows up in their face. 

    The most important part of the Ryan Mallett combine and workout experience will be his character.  Rumors have been swirling for years about his maturity and the way he handles himself. Last year, Jimmy Clausen, a quarterback with a similar background dropped quickly on NFL draft boards. If Mallett wants to have any chance of that not happening he must prove the rumors incorrect.

    On top of that, Mallett does have some actual in-game concerns. His footwork and pocket presence have been sketchy from time to time. With very little speed, Mallet's lateral tests will become important.

    Another question mark has been accuracy. Mallett's improved immensely from 2009 to 2010, from 55.8% to 64.7%. Going through drills he must prove that Bobby Petrino's system isn't the reason for the improvement, but the way he approached the game.

    Mallett can read defenses, but also make stupid decisions. His wonderlic scores will be something to watch.

    The quarterback projects anywhere from mid first round to third round. Look for him to still have NFL execs concerned about his attitude and off the field issues. Either the Buffalo Bills or Arizona Cardinals will snatch him with their early second round picks, hoping to develop a quarterback for the future.


Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia Cavaliers

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    The first two cornerbacks to be selected in the NFL draft, Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara, are solidified. Once Janorris Jenkins announced his intentions to stay at Florida, Ras-I Dowling's opportunity to move up in the draft opened up some more.

    Dowling returned for his senior season in order to graduate and continue improving. Unfortunately, it was marred by injuries and officially ended in November when he fractured his ankle.

    His ankle and knee will be the first thing scouts want to look at when it comes to him. Entering the season, many projected him an All-American candidate and probable first round pick. Following 2010, his projection is murky. He needs to show these injuries are fully healed and not going to be chronic problems for the future.

    Dowling will have to speak at length about his rehab and the amount of work he has continually put in getting back to where he wants to be. His leg strength and speed will be watched closely to see if it's still there. 

    At 6'2, 200 LBs, his size allows him to utilize press coverage and not be tossed like a rag doll by bigger receivers. While he hasn't been able to do much on his feet, scouts will want to see his upper body strength has improved as much as possible. 

    Finally, scouts will want to make sure he has stayed mentally sharp. Watching film of his techniques and the way he locates the ball could be important in improving some of his junior year mistakes.

    Look for Ras-I Dowling to claw his way back into the first round as a cornerback teams are willing to believe is healthy. The Baltimore Ravens keep improving their defense by adding another physical member to the defensive backfield.

Eric Gordon, LB, Michigan State Spartans

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    While many know of his linebacking teammate, projected 2nd or 3rd rounder Greg Jones, Eric Gordon has a chance to solidify himself in the late rounds of the NFL draft. 

    Overshadowed for most his career, Gordon started 48 out of 50 games in his college career. He proved his worth making 327 tackles, 29 for loss throughout his career. Gordon has bulked up since he entered MSU and could prove his strength at the combine. 

    He has proven to be solid, but not great in many facets of the game. He can drop back in coverage, stop the run, and has bulked up over his four years at the school. 

    At the combine he still must prove he has the speed and strength to compete at the highest level. Gordon projects as a quality special teams player and backup, however, he still must break out of the Greg Jones shadow and show that a lot of his plays were manufactured by himself. 

    Look for the shuttle run and cone drill to be areas the scouts watch closely to see how fluid and quickly Gordon moves.

    In conjunction with a strong senior season Gordon should show that he is good on his own and find himself drafted in round six. 

Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina Tar Heels

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    Marvin Austin was one of the many North Carolina Tar Heels suspended for most of the 2010 season. The combine, East vs. West Shrine Game, and personal workouts will be essential in determining when and where he ends up. 

    While Austin was sitting on the sidelines, plenty of defensive tackles like Nick Fairley made sure to solidify their spots.

    The off the field concerns will be up there, but the first check for him will come from his physique. If Austin seems sluggish or not in peak shape during the Shrine game, work ethic will become a concern. He has been in control of how to keep himself working and that ethic could play a large role.

    Austin has all the skills to be a run stopper and disruptive on passing downs in the middle. He never lived up to the full hype of being the number one defensive tackle coming out of high school, but the talent still remains. Without this year to prove he's reached his full potential, it's time to prove it in any way possible.

    With the defensive tackles becoming more important than ever, look for the Minnesota Vikings to take a chance on Austin midway through round two to beginning replacing the Williams Wall.

Cecil Shorts III, WR, Mount Union Purple Raiders

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    Cecil Shorts has been a hot name of late. Invited to the East/West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl, this speedy small school wide receiver has a chance to fly up draft boards.

    In Division III at Mount Union, Shorts was spectacular. He had three straight 1,000 yard receiving seasons and over 250 receptions in his four years. He also ran the ball and returned kicks from time to time making an impact for the Purple Raiders.

    By being invited to these senior events he has a chance to prove his speed and hands will remain valuable in the NFL. With some big name receivers like Michael Floyd and Justin Blackmon deciding to stay in school he has a chance to climb up even more.

    The 40 yard dash will be extremely important for Shorts. Odds are some team is going to take a chance on him hoping he can impact the return game as well as being a slot receiver.

    He has good size at 6'2, but his strength needs to be proven as well. The bench press may not be the most important drill, but he needs to reassure scouts it won't be too easy to jam him at the line.

    Look for Cecil Shorts to be taken in the 4th round, but don't be surprised if you see his name in the 3rd if he has good senior games and great workouts.

Joseph Barksdale, OT, Louisiana State University Tigers

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    In a rugged SEC it becomes imperative to protect the team's quarterback, even if that QB changes on a Les Miles whim. 

    Joseph Barksdale has plenty of tools to develop into a great tackle in the NFL. He proved durable at LSU and uses more than just strength to compete with some of the better defensive lineman in college.

    As part of a questionable offensive scheme, Barksdale may have been put in situations that didn't help his continuing development. He still had a solid year and looked on top of his game in LSU's dismantling of Texas A&M.

    He needs to show scouts his raw talents are for real and he can be trusted to block for quarterbacks at the top level. He also needs to show his ability to run block and overpower lineman to open up holes.

    The toughest tests, however, may come in the mental game. Barksdale's physical tools are top notch, but he needs to prove the mean streak that coaches love in a lineman. He also has to avoid mental lapses, a problem that occurred at times throughout his career. If he can do that than the sky is the limit.

    Right now anywhere from rounds three to five seem to be the range for Barksdale. With question marks in all the college lineman entering this year's draft he can take advantage and jump up as high as round two. Look for him to go early third as a team looks to mold him into a future starter.

Cam Newton, QB, Auburn Tigers

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    Being the best player in college football doesn't always project to first round status.  For Cam Newton he has a chance to rise to the top of draft boards or start sliding down into the second round.

    Currently, Blaine Gabbert seems to be the consensus top quarterback with Andrew Luck out. But, the biggest question mark of all the QBs might be Newton.

    Many have compared him to Ben Roethlisberger, while others have seen him more Vince Young-like with a better arm. His up and down National Championship game still left people wondering how he would enter the NFL.

    The combine and private workouts for Newton will focus on a few items. First and foremost, character. After being the story of the season for off the field allegations his personality and leadership have come under question.

    Then we get to the football part of it.

    First up, speed. Many feel his speed won't matter much in the NFL. His running ability depended more on strength and escaping the pocket than a Michael Vick type running. Newton has the chance to show he's quicker than it appears.

    Whether his speed checks out or not passing accuracy and power will be scrutinized closely. Too much running in the NFL for a QB, no matter the size, will catch up to anyone. Newton has to show he can stand in the pocket and throw the ball. He missed some wide open passes that would be inexcusable at the next level.

    Look for Newton to project somewhere in the middle of the top 5 QBs. Don't be surprised to see the Seattle Seahawks take a run at the QB in the 1st round and have him learn under Matt Hasselbeck. 

Other Players Who Can Help Themselves

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    Hundreds of players could be put under this section, but these are a few more to watch closely...

    Jake Locker, QB, Washington- After a junior season where many thought he should go pro, Locker decided to remain in college. It might not have been the best decision. Locker played on a mediocre team and still had some success, especially with his feet. He has a chance to dazzle scouts with the skills they believe in. Look for him to solidify himself as the #2 QB behind Blaine Gabbert and remain a 1st round pick.

    Greg Jones, LB, Michigan State- His teammate was mentioned earlier, but he can still do a lot to help himself as well. Size has always been a concern with Jones in regards to an NFL career. Right now he is projected as a mid 2nd-3rd round draft pick. In order to cement a spot in round 2, he needs to show solid strength and show size doesn't matter. His pass coverage took a big step forward this year, but the Alabama game didn't do him any favors against a team with superior physical talent.

    Jordan Todman, RB, Connecticut- Todman was a solid running back all year long for UConn, but the Big East's competition was nothing to brag about. Against Oklahoma he had a solid, but not outstanding game. He pounded opposing defenses in order to gain yards. The key for him will be speed, power, and his ability to catch the ball.  Running backs are more versatile than ever and he never became a pass catching demon out of the backfield. He could go anywhere from the second to fourth round depending on how his workouts go.