2018 NFL Combine: Five prospects with the most to gain in Indianapolis

The 2018 NFL Combine will be the catalyst in a significant draft-stock boost for a handful of prospects, I can guarantee you that.

Players not considered first round picks will generate serious buzz to be one of the first 32 selections after the combine, and some widely-believed-to-be late-rounders will creep into the second day of the draft.

Happens every year.

These five prospects have the most to gain at this year's combine.

Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State

Ballage was the talk of the running backs during the week of practice at the Senior Bowl, as his twitchy athleticism was frequently on full display despite his 6-foot-2, 222-pound frame. He ran his routes with ease, bounced through cutback lanes toward daylight, and exploded through the second level when blocking was flawless. 

While the Arizona State standout's time in Mobile, Alabama undoubtedly boosted his stock, he's widely considered a mid-round selection at this point. 

If he continues his Senior Bowl momentum at the combine with one of the better performances among the backs -- especially considering his size -- he could join the second-round conversation.

Auden Tate, WR, Florida State

When he was on the field for the Seminoles, Tate was a monster. But he only appeared in 22 collegiate games and was severely hampered by inconsistent quarterback play in 2017. 

But check the Alabama film in the first game of the season before Deondre Francois' injury. Tate had just two catches for 41 yards but both were spectacular high-point snags over Crimson Tide defensive backs, and one went for a touchdown on Minkah Fitzpatrick.

There's no doubting Tate's inherent talent. If he blows up the combine at somewhere in the 6-4 to 6-5 and 225-pound range, he could sneak into the back end of the first round. Seriously. 

Sam Hubbard, EDGE, Ohio State

Like Ballage, Hubbard's athleticism didn't necessarily match his expected production in 2017. While seven sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss certainly aren't bad splash-play figures, there's some thought Hubbard didn't reach his potential on a loaded Ohio State defensive line this past season. 

At around 6-4 and 260 pounds, Hubbard has defensive end size and clearly moves fluidly toward the quarterback. He isn't the most refined pass-rusher at this juncture, but a blistering 40 time, excellent jumps, and a quick time in the three-cone drill could catapult him into being a lock for Day Two.

Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas

In a loaded linebacker class -- one of, if not the best in the past decade -- Malik Jefferson will enter the combine as somewhat of an overlooked prospect. There's Roquan Smith, Rashaan Evans, and the two gargantuan second-level roamers, Tremaine Edmunds and Leighton Vander Esch. 

Jefferson will likely fall between Smith and the Edmunds/Vander Esch duo from a size perspective, yet on film, he certainly can fly to the football. Because he's not a polished block-shedder or accomplished in coverage -- no interceptions and only five pass breakups in three seasons -- the Texas star is viewed as a relatively raw prospect. But Edmunds and Vander Esch have trouble with blocks too, however, they repeatedly win due to their ridiculous length and speed to the football. 

If Jefferson measures in somewhat close to Edmunds and/or Vander Esch and has combine performance that comes close to stacking up against those two, he'll firmly be in the early Round 2 discussion. 

Kemoko Turay, EDGE, Rutgers

There are moments on film when Turay looks like a first rounder. Electric first step, tight bend of the edge, dip to the quarterback, and a powerful finish. The only problem is, those moments are few and far between. He finished his senior year with three sacks and six tackles for loss. 

At the Senior Bowl, when essentially only asked to get after the opposing signal-caller, Turay was awe-inspiring at times, flattening to the quarterback unlike any other prospect in Mobile after a strong swipe move. If he crushes the three-cone drill and demonstrates sheer explosiveness in the broad and vertical jumps, the Rutgers alum will see his stock skyrocket. 

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