Burning Questions Heading into the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine

Alessandro Miglio@@AlexMiglioFeatured ColumnistFebruary 16, 2015

Burning Questions Heading into the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    The NFL Scouting Combine—the annual event that launches a thousand hot takes—hits the airwaves soon.

    There are plenty of storylines already out there, and with them come plenty of questions. Who will run the fastest, jump the highest or bench press the most? How will the positions sort out once players are put through the ringer?

    Let's take a look at some of the hottest questions heading into the combine.

Will Either Top Quarterback Set Himself Apart?

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    As usual, quarterbacks dominate the discussion during draft season.

    This year, the question is whether or not quarterbacks will go one-two at the top of the draft, and which one will be drafted first between Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.

    The past two Heisman winners do not come without question marks, but they are neck and neck when it comes to public opinion. Some scouts think Winston has too many character flags, while others say Mariota's skills won't translate to the NFL.

    Welcome to draft season.

    The combine might offer a little insight into these two quarterbacks. Questions about Winston's athletic ability—such as if he is out of shape, as a recent picture suggested—and Mariota's size will be answered.

    Neither quarterback is expected to actually throw at the combine, which means we won't really be able to settle much.

Who Will Emerge Behind Mariota and Winston?

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    There is a gulf between the top two quarterbacks and the rest of the pack. But there are other prospects at the position, believe it or not.

    Perhaps the best of those is Brett Hundley. 

    Once touted as a top prospect in this year's draft, the former UCLA quarterback has taken quite the tumble. He regressed in his final year with the Bruins, and questions about his quarterbacking skills linger. 

    Hundley's athleticism will shine through at the combine, however, perhaps setting him apart from other guys. He needs to show he can make all of the throws, though, which may not happen until his pro day.

    Bryce Petty is certainly in the mix to be the No. 3 quarterback in the class.

    The Baylor product is surrounded by question marks stemming from his offensive system, and he can answer some of those with a great throwing session should he choose to throw. He could get a boost when the prospects measure in if he compares favorably to the rest.

    Colorado State product Garrett Grayson has the most to gain with a great combine showing, possibly rising to become the third quarterback taken in the draft.

Will Nick Marshall Perform at a New Position?

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    One quarterback who won't be jockeying for position behind Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota is Nick Marshall. Or will he?

    The former Auburn signal-caller has been tabbed as one quarterback who should change positions in the NFL, not unlike many others before him. It got to the point where he actually did switch to cornerback for the Senior Bowl, a transition he managed pretty well considering his short time there.

    Apparently he wants to try his hand at quarterback anyway, or at least that's what it seems like considering he is listed as a QB on the official invite list. After saying he would continue on his cornerback path, Marshall has recanted a bit, per Justin Hokanson of 247Sports.com, saying, "I'm not sure yet. I'm going to do what they want me to do. It will make me more valuable to do both."

    It's not as if we couldn't use his 40-yard dash and other events as barometers for his viability at another position, but he should take every opportunity he can to show he can play another position. So will he take up that mantle and do positional drills at cornerback?

Can Clive Walford Catch Maxx Williams?

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    The consensus No. 1 tight end in the draft is Maxx Williams out of Minnesota. That is well-deserved—Williams was a beast in college, a big-play pass-catcher with huge upside. 

    Hot on his heels, however, is another University of Miami stud: Clive Walford.

    The big tight end actually led the team in receptions last season, and he is Miami's all-time leading receiver at tight end with 121 receptions for 1,753 yards and 14 touchdowns in his career. But statistics only tell a small part of the story.

    Walford was a big seam threat for the Hurricanes with underwhelming Stephen Morris and true freshman Brad Kaaya at quarterback. He had his ups and downs, but he finished his career on a high note with 44 receptions for 676 yards and seven touchdowns.

    Should Walford outshine Williams at the combine, he could put some serious heat on Williams to become the first tight end taken in the draft.

Will a Running Back Break Away from the Pack?

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    By all accounts, this year's running back class is stacked—so much so that there isn't much clarity as to who is at the top.

    The combine is a place to break away from the pack, at least in the minds of the public. So which player might turn heads enough to become the clear No. 1?

    Perhaps the true top back—Todd Gurley out of Georgia—won't be participating in the combine beyond interviews and measurements. The big back suffered a torn ACL last season, which is going to hurt his draft stock and may keep him out to start the 2015 season.

    There are plenty of running backs to go around, however. Can Miami's Duke Johnson buck size concerns to establish himself as a top option? Is the statistical superiority of Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon a mirage? Can Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah force his way into the conversation at the top?

    These are all questions that demand answers at the combine, and that's just the beginning.

Is Devin Funchess a Wide Receiver or a Tight End?

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Look, up there in the sky! Is it a wide receiver? Is it a tight end? It's...Devin Funchess!

    The 6'5", 230-pound pass-catcher out of Michigan played wide receiver last season, but there is plenty of buzz that he should move back to his original position. The combine could go a long way toward dispelling or reinforcing that notion.

    Funchess doesn't lack for size, to be sure. It's his athleticism that's in question.

    Should he come to the combine a few pounds lighter and run with the pack at receiver, he might gain traction at the position. But he could well have numbers more in line with other tight ends.

Is Shaq Thompson an Elite Linebacker or a Running Back in Disguise?

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Will he convert to running back or stick to defense?

    That's the question some are asking about Washington's Shaq Thompson, who succeeded at both running back and linebacker in college. For his part, Thompson wants to stick to one thing, per USA Today's Tom Pelissero:

    But I want to put it out there: I'm a linebacker. Outside linebacker. Strong side, that's where I feel most comfortable. It's basically like a strong safety. Nowadays, this is a passing game. You need linebackers who can cover and drop in zone. And I'm a three-down player. You don't have to take me off the field. Even on special teams, you don't have to take me off. I love special teams, especially kickoff coverage.

    Of course, things change. Thompson has said he wouldn't do running back drills at the combine, but what if several teams ask him if he would?

    Then there are the positional drills at linebacker: If Thompson doesn't look as smooth as talent evaluators would like, the running back option might grow more realistic.

Will Leonard Williams Solidify His Spot as the Draft's Best Prospect?

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Quarterbacks are all the rage, but there are other prospects at the top of the draft.

    One of those is Leonard Williams out of USC. The big defensive end is viewed by some as the top prospect in the class regardless of position. He is ranked as such by NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah, and Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has him as the top non-quarterback, for example—high praise for any prospect to be sure.

    There is a chance Williams will be the top player taken in the draft once the predraft process comes to an end—yes, even with the need at quarterback among some of the teams at the top—but he is going to need to back up the hype.

    It'll start this week at the combine, where Williams will get a chance to showcase his athleticism and skills. Should he falter while, say, outside linebacker Randy Gregory out of Nebraska blows the combine crowd away, Williams may take a little tumble down draft boards.

Who Will Be the Fastest Man in the Draft?

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    J Pat Carter/Associated Press

    The race to beat Chris Johnson's combine record is always fun to watch.

    That record is officially 4.24 seconds in the 40-yard dash, set by Johnson at the 2008 combine. Many players have tried since then—Kent State's Dri Archer came close to beating it last year—but the record still stands, waiting to be broken.

    This year's top contender hails from the University of Miami, known through the decades for its speed. His name is Phillip Dorsett, and he can set the carpet on fire in Indianapolis.

    The former Hurricane receiver reportedly broke a Miami record by clocking in at 4.21 seconds on average, per the Miami Herald's Susan Miller Degnan, with one stopwatch showing 4.18 seconds.

    Dorsett's speed is nothing new to anyone who has followed his career, but he turned some heads at the Senior Bowl and aims to make a national splash at the combine.

    He will not be without competition, however. After all, the top three times will win Porsches

    Auburn's Sammie Coates has generated some hype this offseason, and he might be Dorsett's biggest challenger. Grantland's Chris B. Brown thinks West Virginia's Mario Alford could take the top prize

    Tevin Coleman out of Indiana and Devin Smith from Ohio State are other strong contenders, and there may be a dark horse or two who will surprise us all.

Can Kevin White Get Himself into the Top 10 with a Strong 40?

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Last year's wide receiver class was incredible. There is no way this year's class will be able to live up to that.

    That doesn't mean there aren't great players at the position, and Kevin White may be the best of them all. The question is whether or not he is good enough to get into the top 10.

    A great showing at the combine could get him there, at least in the eyes of NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock (per NFL.com's Bryan Fischer):

    Kevin White is my No. 1 wide receiver. He has strong hands and is a physical runner after the catch. The only question is his long speed, and there is a huge difference between him running 4.58 and 4.48. If he runs 4.5 or better, I think he's a lock top-10 pick.

    Beyond the 40-yard dash, White will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his athleticism in the vertical and broad jumps. He should shine in receiver drills, to boot.