NFL Combine: Top Players To Watch

Tom SistiContributor IFebruary 24, 2011

NFL Combine: Top Players To Watch

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    Somehow the Pepsi Max guy didn't get an invite to the combine, but rest assured, there will be enough other athletes there to warrant your attention. One of the few times a year where people actually get excited to watch practice, the combine is here, and there are certain players to pay attention to.

    Every year there are a handful of players who stick out from the crowd and create a real buzz in Lucas Oil Stadium at the combine. Sometimes, it's expected, other times it's more of a, "He just ran what?!?" This is the weekend where a player can make up for deficiencies on the game tape by showcasing his pure athletic ability.

    Millions of dollars are won and lost here every year, and these are the guys you should focus on because either they have pivotal questions to answer, or they will just flat-out put on a show for you to kick back and enjoy.

    Please leave a comment after you're done reading, whether you loved it or hated it.

QB-Colin Kaepernick, Nevada

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    After flashing his potential at the Senior Bowl, Kaepernick will need to continue to impress.

    He is probably the most raw of the highly-touted QBs but probably has the most potential, too. He will certainly run a good time in the 40 (possibly sub-4.5), but teams are going to be more concerned with his mechanics and how well he can throw the football under the microscope of the combine.

    He has been rumored to go anywhere from the second round to the fourth, so Kaepernick needs to have a great showing throwing the ball to secure himself  somewhere in Rounds 2 or 3.

RB-Noel Devine, West Virginia

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    Always thought to be a dynamic playmaker, there are serious concerns if Devine can hold up at the next level.

    He only measured in at 5'7", 160 at the Senior Bowl and managed just eight yards on seven carries in the game. It looks like he is strictly a third-down back, and there's actually uncertainty about his ability at that position.

    He really needs to showcase his speed, footwork and receiving ability, or else, he will have a serious slide come draft day, possibly not getting drafted at all.

WR-Titus Young, Boise State

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    Titus Young is someone on this list who fits more in the "put on a show" category.

    After burning everyone in his path at the Senior Bowl, Young will look to do more of the same at the combine. He can put himself securely in the end of Round 1 with another great day and a great 40.

    Titus says he will run a 4.2, though his career best is a 4.35. It would be shocking to see him meet his goal but even a 4.35 would leave scouts thrilled and keep his stock on the rise.

TE-Weslye Saunders, South Carolina

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    Saunders is someone with first or second-round ability but seventh-round intelligence.

    He was suspended for this season amidst NCAA investigation and was kicked off the team by Steve Spurrier. He almost missed out on being eligible for the draft, but that has been cleared up. There are big questions surrounding his maturity, and it's possible they are so severe, he may not get drafted.

    He really needs to nail this weekend, both on and off the field, or else, he might not get another chance to prove to teams how good he can be.

OT-Ben Ijalana, Villanova

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    Ijalana is someone who is getting first-round buzz, though there are questions about his level of competition coming from FCS Villanova.

    He appears to have the requisite skills and athleticism to play tackle in the NFL, but if he has a poor workout, then teams will be quick to go back to the tape and question if he has what it takes. Just as he's used to being an offensive lineman, Ijalana is in a position where his only job is to protect, though in this case, it is his draft stock instead of a quarterback or running back.

G-Marcus Cannon, TCU

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    This weekend will go a long way in determining both Cannon's draft stock and ultimately millions of dollars because it will give scouts more of an idea whether he is a guard or tackle.

    If his footwork is really sloppy and he's sluggish, he can expect to move to the interior next year. But good work in the drills will leave some thinking he could be a tackle. Another thing that's huge for him is the weigh-in, since reportedly he has hovered around 370 lbs. 

    Cannon needs to showcase his footwork and agility if he wants to make the big money at tackle in the NFL.

C-Brandon Fusco, Slippery Rock

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    Just like every other year, the football factory that is Slippery Rock just churns out NFL prospects. Okay, so he's actually the first player from "The Rock" to be invited to the combine, but he sure got there for a reason.

    Fusco is someone else who must overcome level of competition concerns after playing at the D2 level. He has gotten graded out very well through the entire scouting process and should get drafted sometime on day three, but if he gets shown up by the other linemen, then that could be in danger.

    A good day, though, cements him as an intriguing developmental center.

DE-Robert Quinn, UNC

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    There's little concern that Quinn will be one of the big winners of the combine (he very well may be the biggest winner), but after not playing football for a year, it is imperative that he looks like the same player he was before.

    Quinn has superior athleticism and should dominate drills and tests, but if he doesn't, teams will question what he's been doing for the past few months. Most fully expect him to excel, but if he doesn't, then it's unlikely he will remain the top-10 guy he is now.

DT-Nick Fairley, Auburn

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    Nick Fairley is still considered by the majority of experts to be a top-five pick, but it seems like fewer and fewer people every day have him pegged at No. 1.

    He needs a dominant performance to place himself back on that perch for those who have moved him off it. He needs to show that he has kept his body in peak physical condition and quell any character concerns there may be. His stock has cooled somewhat since the National Title Game, but a great weekend from Fairley should put him in prime position to be the Panthers guy at No. 1.

OLB-Dontay Moch, Nevada

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    Moch, a linebacker, has supposedly run the 40 in the 4.2's or faster multiple times, including a 4.08. Seriously.

    I'd be shocked to see that this weekend...but boy would I love to see it. That should be reason enough to watch him, but it's important he does well in coverage drills as he will be a 3-4 OLB in the pros. Moch is one of the players who has the most to gain at the Combine, and if he manages to run those times again, he will become a combine legend.

ILB-Casey Matthews, Oregon

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    It seems like every fanbase out there wants Casey, but there are some real questions he must answer.

    He is not the biggest inside linebacker, so it will be important to many to see exactly what he does measure in at. Also, his 40-time will probably not be stellar, but it has to at least be good enough to not scare teams away. Finally, his coverage skills leave a little to be desired, so his performance in those drills will help teams in their evaluations of him.

    It certainly won't be hard to miss Casey, who rocks the long, flowing locks just like his older brother Clay.

CB-Patrick Peterson, LSU

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    Peterson will surely wow many with his pure athleticism this week.

    He's slimmed down a few pounds but is still huge for a corner at about 6'2", 215. He also has been running in the low 4.3's, so he is a true H-W-S specimen. There are concerns about his hips, though, and how he moves in and out of cuts. If he looks good in drills and does manage to run a sub-4.4 40, he will have cemented himself as the No. 1 corner in this class and should go no later than No. 7 to San Francisco.

S-Robert Sands, West Virginia

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    Sands is a freak like Peterson, and, as you might expect, faces many similar concerns that PP7 does.

    He's listed at 6'5", so A) We'll find out if he's really that big, and B) We'll see just how well he can flip his hips in coverage. Rahim Moore appears to be the No. 1 safety on the board, but there's no real clear-cut No. 2 behind him.

    A great week from Sands can vault him into that position.

Almost There!

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    Thanks again for reading and make sure to leave a comment. Only 63 more days until the draft! In the meantime, be sure to read as many mocks as humanly possible so that you can come to no conclusion whatsoever on who your team is going to end up with.