|Vontaze Burfict must answer questions about his maturity and inconsistent production. (US Presswire)|
All eyes will be on Andrew Luck as he familiarizes himself with the environs in Indianapolis and Lucas Oil Stadium this week.
Luck is widely expected to be the Colts' choice with the first overall pick in April's NFL Draft.
While off-field agendas are worth tracking this week -- players meet with individual teams for face-to-face interviews in hotel suites in between psychological and medical testing and the all-important workouts at the stadium -- there are several players who need to put together a great week in all phases of the combine.
Each session, from the 40-yard dash to the Wonderlic to the cattle call that is weigh-in and the shuttle to head-to-toe medical testing, can affect a player's final grade.
Here are the players the NFLDraftScout.com staff considers squarely in scouts' crosshairs:
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Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
The Heisman Trophy winner has been an impressive performer on and off the field, and the combine will represent an interesting test for him. First, what are his accurate height, weight, hand size, body type? And although he is expected to interview well, Griffin will also need to show an above-average football IQ when NFL teams talk X's and O's at the blackboard. Finally, will he throw in Indianapolis in an attempt to show a competitive edge or wait until his pro day in Waco?
Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson
The emergence of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham as verifiable No. 1 targets in 2011 will have teams searching for similar matchup nightmares in the 2012 draft. Allen won the Mackey Award as the nation's top college tight end, but his position atop NFLDraftScout.com's rankings is far from secure with both Stanford's Coby Fleener and Georgia's Orson Charles nipping at his heels. Charles in particular is expected to put up exciting workout numbers. Allen's superior size and blocking won't matter if his closest competitors prove significantly more athletic at the combine.
Vontaze Burfict, MLB, Arizona State
Since he first stepped foot in Tempe, Burfict has garnered comparisons to Ray Lewis for his ferocious hitting and short-area burst. But his undisciplined outbursts and fits of rage have also been well-documented, leading to strong concerns about coachability and maturity. Even more troubling to some is his lack of consistency and production. Burfict will need to do some major damage control in face-to-face interviews to secure a top-100 pick.
Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
Dennard entered the 2011 season rated higher by some scouts than former teammate Prince Amukamara, the Giants' 2011 first-round pick, but his senior season was a disappointment because of injury and inconsistency. Dennard's stock is slipping after he was beaten for big plays by South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery in the Capitol One Bowl and then by numerous receivers in the Senior Bowl. The 5-foot-10, 203-pound Dennard may have to work out well to slow the growing sentiment that his NFL future involves a position switch to safety.
Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
Considering his frame (listed by Alabama at 6-4, 260) and penchant for big hits, some consider Hightower to be the best run-defending linebacker in the 2012 draft. To earn a top 50 selection, Hightower has to run well at the combine. A number of teams operating out of the 4-3 defense question whether he has the speed to beat NFL backs to the edge.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
Despite posting gaudy career statistics against quality competition, few players have more riding on their performance in Indianapolis than Jeffery. Scouts not only will be very interested to see him perform in athletic drills testing his straight-line speed (40-yard dash) and burst changing directions (shuttles, cone drills), the former Gamecock could also be a popular interview target. Teams will heavily investigate Jeffery's fluctuating weight and production.
Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
The Ex-Florida Gator was a first-round caliber prospect in Gainesville, but multiple arrests and his eventual transfer to North Alabama in 2011 have surrounded the cornerback with doubt. He needs to interview well and be up front with NFL teams regarding his past encounters with the law to convince them his problems are in the past. But Jenkins also needs to run well to prove he has worked hard off the field to maintain his quick-twitch athleticism despite the lower level of competition. With a positive week in Indianapolis, he has a chance to secure the distinction as top senior cornerback and top-20 pick.
Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
In leading the nation in sacks (16) and forced fumbles (nine), he proved every bit as merciless to opponents as his surname would imply. Scouts question how much of his production was because of his motor and Illinois' hyper-aggressive scheme rather than elite burst or bend. North Carolina's Quinton Coples is the only defensive end universally regarded as a first-round talent. With an impressive showing in Indianapolis, Mercilus could join him.
Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis
Listed at 6-5, 350 pounds, Poe has rare movement skills and body control for a player with his frame and natural girth. But NFL decision-makers will look to get a better read on the mammoth tackle at the combine to find out how important football is to him. He comes with some questions, but stout and rangy nose tackles capable of carrying their weight as well as Poe usually don't last long on draft day.
Chris Polk, RB, Washington
After a mediocre showing at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Polk needs to show he has the necessary athleticism to be productive at the next level. Going through the short shuttle, three-cone and other agility drills will help answer questions about his natural burst and body fluidity to quickly change direction. After Alabama's Trent Richardson, the running back class is wide open, and Polk will have every opportunity to jump into the top 40.