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2011 NFL Draft: 10 Defensive Players With The Most To Prove at The Combine

Peter HillCorrespondent IIFebruary 16, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: 10 Defensive Players With The Most To Prove at The Combine

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    Marvin Austin has character and work ethic questions to answer in IndianapolisGrant Halverson/Getty Images

    Year in and year out, the NFL Combine is a highly-touted event.

    Countless scouts from all over the league, and even from other countries, come to scout out the next round of top talents.

    This year is no different.

    More than 300 participants will be invited to this year’s combine in Indianapolis.

    The goal for all these players is simple: prove that you belong in the NFL along with improving your draft stock.

    While the rookie pay scale is still out of control, these prospects need to cash in while they can.

    Here is a look at the 10 defensive players with the most to prove in Indy.

10. Corey Liuget

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    Ron Zook praised the work of Corey Liuget for IllinoisJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    After Nick Fairley, the list of defensive tackles on draft boards is pretty slim .

    Liuget, pronounced legit, is out to prove to NFL scouts that there is not a huge gap between him and the Auburn standout.

    Listed at 6’3" and 300 pounds, Liuget has all the physical tools you need in a d-tackle.

    Believe it or not, Liuget might have been the most productive defensive tackle in college football this year.

    Clogging up the middle on runs, pushing offensive linemen into the backfield, having a quick jump off the line, and possessing above average hands are just a few of the traits Liuget brings to the table.

    Few players have seen a bigger leap in draft stock over the course of this year.

    Liuget needs to prove this season was no joke at the combine, by continuing to impress scouts.

    Liuget might be the next B.J. Raji, and since he is expected to be a mid-first round pick, he could come relatively cheap.

9. Jimmy Smith

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    Jimmy Smith of Colorado has seen his stock rise quicklyEric Francis/Getty Images

    Smith is a guy that can easily be forgotten when watching Colorado. A great player playing for a bad team, it was tough to know how good he really was.

    Offenses routinely kept the ball away from Smith, knowing how dangerous he is.

    Smith is listed at 6’2", 205 pounds, which makes him a big and physical corner on paper.

    However, at the combine, Smith will have his opportunity to show how quick he can be.

    Smith has seen his stock move up quickly since the end of the season. If he wants it to get even better, he will have to have good workouts in Indy.

    For cornerbacks, there is never a bigger test than the 40-yard dash.

    If Jimmy can run in the 4.30-4.45 range, his stock will shoot up.

    Watch out for Smith to have a good combine, followed by a starting job in the NFL next year.

8. Cameron Jordan

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    Jordan needs to build on his great Senior BowlSean Gardner/Getty Images

    Similarly to Smith, Jordan has seen his stock rise since the season ended.

    Cameron might have had the best Senior Bowl of anyone, proving that he is ready for the next level.

    With the growing popularity of 3-4 schemes, Jordan has come along at a great time.

    He is listed at 6’4" and 280-plus pounds, which is typical for a DE these days.

    His father, Steve Jordan, was a six-time NFL Pro Bowler, meaning Cameron has football in his blood.

    Adding to his football prowess, Cameron has only missed one game over his whole career at Cal, so durability questions will not be an issue.

    Not everything is all good and dandy for Jordan, however.

    He was arrested in 2008 for suspicion of DUI. On top of that, he has garnered the reputation of locker room clown.

    Jordan will definitely have to interview well in Indy to avoid slipping down the boards.

    However, if he can dominate workouts, expect him to be a definite first round pick.

7. Casey Matthews

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    Casey Matthews needs to prove to scouts he can be everything and more that his brother isKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Playing in the shadow of a standout sibling is always hard. Most stuck in that position just want to break away and create their own identity.

    For Casey Matthews, following in his brother's footsteps would be the best thing he could do.

    As most football fans know, Clay Matthews was a dominating force in the NFL this year. In just his second year, he recorded 13.5 sacks to go along with a Super Bowl ring.

    For Casey, the similarities don’t stop with their last name.

    Like Clay, Casey was an under-recruited player out of high school who eventually earned major playing time.

    Also like his big brother, Casey has great instincts.

    His instincts are so good that Oregon head coach Chip Kelly said Casey has the best instincts of any player he has coached.

    If Casey can come out to the combine and show his passion, relentlessness, and high motor, he might be in a similar situation to his brother in a few years.

    Don’t be surprised if teams take a reach on Matthews just because of his bloodline.

6. Brandon Harris

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    Harris was one of the few bright spots on the underachieving HurricanesKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Brandon Harris has had a solid career at Miami.

    He does all things well, but does not appear to do anything great.

    At just 5’11" 195 pounds, he is a tad undersized. Even though his height restricts him, he plays very physical football.

    Harris is not scared to put his body on bigger players, if he can catch them.

    The former Hurricane has been known to miss way too many tackles, something that will scare scouts away from drafting him early.

    Many critics, like me, think Harris is only a nickel corner in the pros.

    However, Harris has displayed his hunger and passion for football. He visibly is a player wanting to learn and absorb more football knowledge, meaning improvement is very likely.

    Brandon needs to have a very good combine to prove to NFL scouts that he can play corner on a full-time basis.

5. Cameron Heyward

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    Heyward has plenty of opportunity to move up the draft boardsJamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Considered one of the top defensive ends in 2009, Heyward had a disappointing year in 2010.

    The Ohio State product posted his lowest sack total since his freshman year at 2.5.

    He also showed some of his weaknesses, like his disappearing acts during games Ohio State needed.

    Scouts also complain about his lack of moves, saying he just tries to bully the opposing player every down. Fortunately, technique can be taught in the NFL.

    While Heyward did have a down year, he has plenty going for him.

    Like fellow defensive lineman Cameron Jordan, Heyward has football in his blood.

    Heyward’s dad is a former running back, which gives Heyward exceptional feet moving off the line.

    On top of his good feet, Heyward’s biggest strength is probably in his hands. Cameron is great at using his hands to push around the opposition.

    Heyward also has the special ability NFL scouts drool over: versatility.

    Right now Heyward is somewhat in between the positions of DE and DT.

    That type of “tweener” label makes Heyward a good prospect for a 3-4 defense.

    The combine will be a huge event for Heyward, who has plenty left to prove.

4. Muhammad Wilkerson

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    photo courtesy of gridironfans.com http://gridironfans.com/forums/attachments/latest-nfl-headlines/16562d1294296798-temple-dt-muhammad-wilkerson-declare-2011-nfl-muhammad-wilkerson.jpg

    Players like Wilkerson are tough to scout until the combine.

    Playing in the MAC, Wilkerson does not have a lot of serious offensive linemen to go up against.

    Watching film, Wilkerson makes every play on the d-line. However, this is all against lowly MAC opponents.

    Wilkerson left college early, meaning he was not able to play in the Senior Bowl. This probably hurt his stock a little, considering scouts are dying to see him go against big-time linemen.

    Muhammad is listed at 6’5" and 305 pounds. His body type is very solid, with room to gain weight.

    If Wilkerson can put on good weight and come into the combine around 315-320, he could be a beast next to other defensive tackles.

    Players like Wilkerson have huge implications relying on the combine.

    At this point Wilkerson can be labeled as a “high-risk, high-reward” type of guys.

    Keep an eye on Muhammad in Indy, he has a big opportunity to skyrocket his draft standing.

3. Adrian Clayborn

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    Clayborn needs to prove he is better than how he played his senior yearChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    Hate to say it, but Clayborn should have left school after his junior year.

    Clayborn posted 11.5 sacks in his junior campaign, and placed high expectations for him and the Hawkeyes in 2010.

    Unfortunately, Clayborn underachieved badly, recording just 3.5 sacks as a senior.

    Playing opposite of another future pro in Christian Ballard, Clayborn was definitely given opportunities to get into the backfield. He simply could not seem to get it together.

    Clayborn looked less quick, slower off the line, and missed makeable tackles again and again this season.

    While his draft stock is not completely shot, he dropped at least a round from where he would have been last year.

    The combine is Adrian’s last chance to prove himself, and he desperately needs to have a good showing.

2. Robert Quinn

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    Robert Quinn without a doubt had the explosive ability of a pro defensive end two seasons agoStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Quinn was easily a top-five NFL prospect heading into this season.

    Unfortunately for him and some of his teammates, they made a huge mistake.

    Quinn was suspended for the entire season by the NCAA for contact with an agent.

    That alone makes Quinn a huge risk. NFL teams are critical on players who have previous problems like this one.

    On top of the character part of it, not playing for a whole year kills him.

    It’s not often you hear about a player getting better after a whole year off of football, especially in college.

    While all these things work against Quinn, he is still an elite talent.

    He has amazing quickness off the line often getting to the quarterback easily. He is slightly undersized, but his non-stop motor makes him nearly impossible to block.

    Quinn will have to do everything well at the combine to keep his stock up, otherwise more problems could arise.

    Robert Quinn is the biggest risk in the entire NFL Draft.

1. Marvin Austin

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    After sitting out the year, Austin has plenty of unanswered questionsStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Wow, does Marvin Austin have some work to do at the combine.

    Like his teammate Robert Quinn, Austin was suspended for the entire 2010 season.

    After sitting out the year, it’s impossible to anticipate what type of player he is now.

    Austin is a 6’2", 315-pound monster at defensive tackle.

    When he wants to, he can be the best player on the field at any time. The key words being “when he wants to.”

    On top of the big NCAA scandal, Austin has been known to have character issues.

    His motivation and competitiveness have long been a question for him. On top of that, he visibly takes plays off and seems not to care.

    With character issues along with big time weight, Austin is already a high-risk prospect.

    Three years from now it’s easy to assume Austin will either be far from the NFL or routinely playing in Pro Bowls.

    Marvin Austin needs to come in and wow scouts right away at the combine.

    Keep an eye on Marvin, he for sure has potential to be an elite defensive tackle.

    Marvin Austin officially has the most to prove at the NFL Combine.

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