NFL Combine 2011: Top 10 Prospects Who Need Strong Interviews

Kelly CohenCorrespondent IFebruary 24, 2011

NFL Combine 2011: Top 10 Prospects Who Need Strong Interviews

0 of 10

    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 2: Defensive back Eric Berry of Tennessee runs the 40 yard dash during the NFL Scouting Combine presented by Under Armour at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 2, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
    Scott Boehm/Getty Images

    As the NFL Scouting Combine gets underway, all eyes look towards Indianapolis.  It will showcase around 300 players entering into the draft. 

    The players undergo tests–physical and mental–in front of officials from every NFL team such as coaches and general managers.

    The scrutiny they experience, and how they perform under this pressure usually adds a new flavor to the usually unpredictable and entreating NFL Draft, which is held at the end of April.

    Although some of the tests get more hype than others (i.e. the Wonderlic Test), the interview can be one of the most important components of the combine to a team.  The interview process is also very selective (only 60 players are chosen by NFL teams), meaning the “wow-factor” comes into play even more.

    Fifteen minutes may seem daunting or maybe downright pointless; but can you really make or break your NFL career based on a simple interview? 

    Regardless, these players need strong interviews to not only improve their draft status but also prove to the NFL that they mean more than just business.    

Blaine Gabbert (QB, Missouri Tigers)

1 of 10

    TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 28:  Quarterback Blaine Gabbert #11 of the Missouri Tigers drops back to pass during the Insight Bowl against the Iowa Hawkeyes  at Sun Devil Stadium on December 28, 2010 in Tempe, Arizona.  The Hawkeyes defeated the Tigers 27-24.  (P
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The new hype surrounding the junior quarterback has overwhelmed us all.  He has moved up to the number-one quarterback prospect in the draft, and is slated to go in the top 10.  Listed at 6’5’’ and 235 lbs shows he is physically NFL-ready.  Previous Mizzou quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Chase Daniel was listed at 6’1’’ and 218 lbs when he participated in the 2009 Combine, and went undrafted.

    Looking at Gabbert’s stats shows his extremely athletic talent, not only on the ground but in the air as well.  Most of the physical drills he will undergo should benefit him.

    Gabbert, who is 21, only has two years starting-quarterback experience. 

    This is where the interview process comes into play.  A strong interview will show that his has football intelligence and the ability to lead an NFL offense.  The Mizzou offense has a similar style to that of an NFL team; he is used to a spread- and shotgun-style offense.  Still, the transition from college to the pros is tricky, and his interview grading will determine whether or not he is able to prove to the teams that he is able to succeed.

Cam Newton (QB, Auburn Tigers)

2 of 10

    SAN DIEGO, CA - FEBRUARY 10:  2010 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton of the Auburn Tigers goes through his workout routine for the media at Cathedral High School's sports stadium on February 10, 2011 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Kent H
    Kent Horner/Getty Images

    Where to start? 

    Is he or is he not the most controversial star to come through college football?  What are the odds that he will have to return his Heisman Trophy in a few years?  Is Auburn’s BCS title tainted because of the accusations surrounding him?  These are a few of the questions many around the country wonder.  They may even be some of the questions he is asked in his interview.

    Newton, who at 6’6” and 250 lbs, is predicted to be a first-round, top-10 draft pick, despite what some may think of his off-the-field doings.  On the season, the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner threw for 30 touchdowns and 2,854 yards and ran for 20 touchdowns and 1,473 yards. 

    His numbers also don’t do his uncanny football knowledge and skill justice as it is rumored he may run a 4.4 40-yard dash.  The physical tests he will undergo, and his willingness to participate in all of them, will just prove his talent.

    The interview process is incredibly important, as Newton needs to prove his character is not flawed and he can be trusted by NFL execs.  How he does in the combine will undoubtedly determine how high he will be drafted.

Dion Lewis (RB, Pittsburgh Panthers)

3 of 10

    CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 04:  Dion Lewis #28 of the Pittsburgh Panthers runs for a touchdown during the Big East Conference game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Nippert Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Pittsburgh won 28-10.  (Photo by
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Who is sophomore running back Dion Lewis?

    At the beginning of the 2010 season, he was called “the game’s most complete runner” and a possible Heisman Trophy candidate by The Sporting News.  This was after a very successful freshman year in which he won the national and Big East Freshman and Offensive Player of the Year awards.  His 2010 numbers (1,061 yards and 13 touchdowns) were down from his 2009 numbers (1,799 yards and 17 touchdowns), which is why he is slated to go in the 3rd round. 

    Yet, despite his small size (5’8’’ and around 200 lbs) and young age (20), he has the ability to possibly become a role player in the NFL.  His bursting speed at tailback makes him attractive to many teams who need a little more oomph in their backfield.  He is also known as a patient and shifty runner when it comes to holes.

    Although he may not be the best running back entering the draft, he certainly has the ability to wow many scouts at the combine.  The interview can be a time for him to excel and prove to the scouts why he deserves a chance at being an early-round pick.

Marvin Austin (DT, UNC Tarheels)

4 of 10

    CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 07:  Marvin Austin #9 of the North Carolina Tar Heels watches on against the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Kenan Stadium on November 7, 2009 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Austin admitted to reporters after the East-West Shrine Game that he truly “messed up a great situation” during his time at UNC.  This lineman has not played football in more than a year because of an agent scandal, and has been doing everything possible to show that he is still a star lineman. 

    At 6’2’’ and 310 lbs, he once had the potential to go in the first round.  Missing an entire year of football has pushed in down to the second, maybe even third round.

    Yet, in his three years as a player, he had 103 tackles, one forced fumble and one interception for a touchdown.  He’s known as a big force to be reckoned with, but not necessarily the most consistent or athletic guy on the field. 

    Many question his judgment and maybe even his dedication when it comes to football.  Those who will be interviewing him will undoubtedly have questions pertaining to whether or not he will be a distraction come game time.  A strong interview grade may or may not be a factor that propels him far up on the draft board, but he will be able to answer to critics and end up with a team that will be able utilize him as soon as possible.

Jake Locker (QB, Washington Huskies)

5 of 10

    SEATTLE - OCTOBER 30:  Quarterback Jake Locker #10 of the Washington Huskies passes against the Stanford Cardinal on October 30, 2010 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Simply put, Locker has a lot to prove.  Before he decided to return for his senior season, he was slated to be the No. 1 overall pick.  But his senior season performance was so below his junior year that he has fallen to a second-, possibly third-round pick.

    Although this past season was one of injuries, Locker created many doubters, not only in his physical ability, but his mental toughness. 

    He needs to impress in every single drill and show that he is NFL-ready.  He needs to make teams fight over him so he is not stuck on draft day waiting for his name to be called.

    His performances in both Washington’s bowl game and the Senior Bowl were lackluster; he was missing his previous style and did not look NFL-ready.  A strong physical performance capped with an even stronger interview grade will push him back up the draft board.  Whether or not he can make it back to the first round is up in the air, but the combine is his last chance to do so.

Nick Fairley (DE/DT, Auburn Tigers)

6 of 10

    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Nick Fairley #90 of the Auburn Tigers celebrates a sack against the Oregon Ducks during the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    At 6’5’’ 300 lbs, this defensive end/tackle may be the number-one pick.  His competition comes from another defensive end, Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers, who may be shorter and smaller than him.  

    At the end of the 2010 season however, Fairley won the Lombardi Award in addition to the defensive player of the game award in the BCS Championship.  He also recorded 60 tackles (24 of them for a loss) and 11.5 sacks.

    Fairley’s character has never been questioned as he is said to be a family guy who loves football.  While the physical tests and challenges are obviously a large part of the combine, a strong interview may make or break whether he goes one or two.  He is said to be a master of control at the line of scrimmage, so a f15-minute conversation should be a piece of cake.

Jonathan Baldwin (WR, Pittsburgh Panthers)

7 of 10

    PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 05:  Jonathan Baldwin #82 of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers catches a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Cincinnati Bearcats on December 5, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Ge
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Another talented Pittsburgh player, this former 5-star high school recruit was ranked the as the country’s number-three wide receiver before the 2010 season. 

    Although his numbers were not the most impressive (53 receptions, 822 yards, 5 touchdowns), his height at 6’5’’ gives him the ability to get above defenders and be a threat down the field.

    While he is considered a late first-round, early second-round pick, he still needs to have an incredibly strong combine performance.  He needs to prove to the scouts that he can be a threat as a receiver at all levels.  He is an attractive red zone receiver, but can he come through in a short passing play?  His interview needs to show that he is willing and able to learn and adapt to the NFL style of play

Colin Kaepernick (QB, Nevada Wolfpack)

8 of 10

    LAS VEGAS - OCTOBER 02:  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #10 of the Nevada Reno Wolf Pack looks to pass against the  UNLV Rebels in the third quarter of their game at Sam Boyd Stadium October 2, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nevada Reno won 44-26.  (Photo by Et
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Is he the next Jay Cutler?  He is fast, tall, and big.  These characteristics combined helped him become the first player in college football history to throw for over 10,000 yards and run for 4,000 yards.  He also threw for over 2,000 yards and ran for over 1,000 yards three consecutive seasons in a row.  At 6’6’’ and 225 lbs, he is one of the most dynamic quarterbacks headed to the draft. 

    Yet, he has many reported weaknesses including his lack of NFL-style playing.  He may not have the ability to transition from the WAC to the NFL, which is why scouts have him going in the mid-rounds of the draft.

    Although Kaepernick is not a star-studded name that has been tossed around, he is still a talented player who has the ability to become a sleeper pick.  He may be drafted in order to become a backup player, but he will still be drafted. 

    If he shows the scouts what they are looking for, there is the possibility of his movement up the draft board.  The interview process is a chance for him to almost plead his case and prove why he is a legitimate and worthy quarterback in the draft.

Adrian Clayborn (DE, Iowa Hawkeyes)

9 of 10

    TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 28:  Defensive end Adrian Clayborn #94 of the Iowa Hawkeyes waves to fans as he walks off the field after defeating the Missouri Tigers in the Insight Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium on December 28, 2010 in Tempe, Arizona. The Hawkeyes defe
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    At 6’4’’ 285 lbs, Clayborn may be the only Iowa player drafted in the first round.  Although his 2010 performance was not as dominant as in 2009 (52 tackles compared to 63 and 4 sacks compared to 11), he is still regarded as a very talented defensive player. 

    He excelled in the highly offensive Big 10 and has the ability to be a threat in the NFL.

    Yet, his subpar senior year numbers disappointed many of the NFL scouts.  Yes, he has a chance to go in the first round, but there is a very strong possibility that he falls to the middle rounds.  This is why he needs an incredible combine performance to show the teams that he is capable of performing at his 2009 level once again.  These teams want to see consistency and not draft a bust.  A well-rounded combine performance coupled with an excellent interview may instill faith back into Clayborn.

Torrey Smith (WR, Maryland Terrapins)

10 of 10

    Smith is a well-rounded player who is also a threat on special teams.  He holds many ACC and Maryland records as both a wide receiver and a return specialist, which helps improve his stock in the draft.  Although many argue he could go in the first round, some have him slipping. 

    His 2010 numbers (67 catches for 1,055 yards and 12 touchdowns) may not be the most outstanding of numbers, but has shown he has potential.

    Although he is only 6’1’’ and 205 lbs, he is a versatile athlete who can easily be a threat on any NFL team's offense. 

    In his interview, he needs to prove that he can work hard to make the transition and be prepared for whatever the NFL has to offer.  If he goes first round, look for him make an immediate impact on whatever team chooses him