NFL Draft 2011: 5 Prospects with the Most to Prove at This Year's NFL Combine
With NFL labor talks looking to resolve themselves in the next few weeks, we can now officially turn our attention to the NFL Draft.
Looking back, we've seen countless under-the-radar prospect move their way up into meaningful roles within NFL systems, and we're likely to see that again this year.
But for these many superstar players, exposure to the limelight is only part of their daily routines; and though success at the collegiate level can be attainable, flourishing at the NFL level is a whole new ordeal.
So as we evaluate the prospectus of elite players entering this year's draft, here are five guys with the most to prove at the combine.
Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Gathering major praise from many scouts across the country, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert will have his hopes high as the NFL Draft draws nearer by the second—and who's to blame him?
Gabbert was as impressive a quarterback as we've seen in the country last season, and he should transfer well into the next level if given the correct opportunity.
Great accuracy, prototypical frame and willingness to make the big play when needed will propel Gabbert to the top of the quarterbacking class in this year's draft; and should a team take a chance on him, they won't be in for a let-down.
Yet despite his solidarity amongst the so-called "draft experts", Gabbert does in fact have a workload in front of him at the NFL Combine.
If Gabbert can make a lasting impression on the scouts, he could potentially be taken by Buffalo with the third pick in the draft. If not, he could drop towards the middle ground of the draft.
Either way you look at it, Gabbert is a potential star in the making. The difference will be whether or not he can perform at a maximum level in front of the plethora of scouts on hand at the combine.
Best case scenario: early first round
Worst case scenario: middle first round
Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
North Carolina's savage defensive end Robert Quinn has gained draft recognition tenfold this offseason for his stellar 2009 season with the Tar-heels.
A season in which he recorded 11 sacks, two forced fumbles and 52 total tackles put Quinn in the category with some of the best overall defensive players heading into the 2010 season.
However, due to lingering injuries, Quinn was forced to sit out his junior season at North Carolina.
Still, a majority of scouts have gone so far as to say Quinn still maintains the elite status of others in this year's draft class such as Nick Fairley, Da'Quan Bowers and Von Miller.
But injuries are a liability in the eyes of NFL scouts—and with good reason.
Quinn must have a stellar performance at this year's combine to ensure that he is still worthy of becoming a top-five/top-ten pick for a needy defensive team.
Best case scenario: early first round (top five)
Worst case scenario: early first round (top 10)
Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
In a league where offensive production equates into championships, the necessity for a powerful, dominating defensive end is at an all-time high. And when you take a brief look at Iowa's stud DE Adrian Clayborn, you'll see a mirror image like that of a Dwight Freeney.
Quite the comparison, as I'm sure you've already taken note of. However, that is only the gist of what Clayborn brings to the table.
A 6'4'', 285-pound frame complemented by robust speed and initial burst can be a deadly weapon for any defense looking to upgrade through the draft.
As a primary three-year starter for the Hawkeyes, Clayborn registered 184 tackles, 19 sacks and a forced fumble—most coming from his unparalleled 2009 season in which he furnished a Big Ten high 11 sacks and 63 tackles.
Clayborn transfers to the next level as well as any other defensive lineman entering this year's draft; however, a disappointing 2010 season has dampened his draft status amongst scouts across the country.
An effective exhibit at the combine could push him into the middle first round; however, that may be a bit of a stretch. Remember: injuries are a liability for NFL scouts and franchises, and no one wants to be the guy who wasted their first-round draft pick on a physically unable prospect.
Teams will be hesitant before taking Clayborn, which could push him to the late stages of the first round, possibly the early first round if things start to get ugly. An adequate demonstration will be needed from Clayborn to increase his draft stock.
Best case scenario: middle to late first round
Worst case scenario: middle to late second round
Jake Locker, QB, Washington
When the 2010 season began, Jake Locker was undoubtedly one of the most sought-after quarterbacks entering this year's draft. But due to an insufficient season, Locker now finds himself in a bit of a predicament.
His meager 2,265 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2010 have severely dropped him out of the rankings of the "elite" quarterbacks heading into the draft. And unless a positive showing is bestowed onto scouts at the combine, Locker could be in a world of hurt.
A plethora of deserving quarterbacks have moved their way up to the top of quarterback rankings with great individual seasons in 2010, surpassing Locker rather easily.
Still, Locker's prototypical size and arm strength will be enough to have scouts salivating at the mouth. But unless he is able to display his effectiveness at the combine, Locker could be waiting around for more than he previously anticipated.
Because he is the most needy of a great showing at the combine, Locker's future will be reliant on his work ethic and showing off his skill set. If he can harness his full potential, there could be an opening for his services in Minnesota next season.
Best case scenario: early to middle first round
Worst case scenario: early to middle second round
Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Most of the prospects on this list can be classified as either "underachieving" or "injury-ridden." For the reigning 2010 Heisman Trophy winner, however, success at the next level is a must.
Some say he's overrated as a pocket-passer; some say he's just an athletic freak. Both are probably true; however, Cam Newton can't be classified as any one specific type of quarterback.
Yes, he maintains one the most physically gifted bodies the college game has ever seen, but talents do have their limitations—and Newton is no exception to that statement.
Scouts across the nation have broken down tape of Newton time and time again, yet they still can't seem to solidify where he will be taken off the draft board. Is he top-ten worthy? Is he a bust in the making? Honestly, it could go either way.
Where Newton is taken will be hinge on his performance at the combine. Should scouts find his talents intriguing (which they already are), Newton could very well be taken as a top-10 pick. If he disappoints at the combine, he could be in draft free-fall.
The key will be how much work he puts into it.
Best case scenario: early to middle first round
Worst case scenario: late first round/early second round