Stop me if you've heard this before, but the Combine is just one piece to the overall puzzle that is the NFL Draft process. But it's an extremely important piece and far more than just 40-yard dash times.
From the medical evaluation to the team interviews and all the on-field drills, the NFL Combine puts the top prospects under the same microscope. Indianapolis becomes NFL headquarters for a week and NFL hopefuls are put through an intense ringer that is a 24/7 job interview. Lives will change at the NFL Combine, some positively and others negatively. Of the 331 prospects invited to the NFL Combine last year, 32 went in the first round (10.3%) and 109 went undrafted (32.9%).
Fact is, this list could include all 300+ names because each prospect has something to gain or lose at the NFL Combine, but these 10 stand out as prospects who could make or lose substantial money in Indianapolis this week.
10. TE Colt Lyerla, Ex-Oregon
The former Oregon Duck should thank his lucky stars that he even received an invitation, considering all the baggage he brings with him to Indianapolis. And yes, that's in the figurative sense. Lyerla was arrested for unlawful possession of cocaine and interfering with a police officer last October, just a few weeks after he left the team and dropped out of school. He is a fantastic talent with fluid athleticism and natural receiving ability, but trouble seems to follow him with a laundry list of other off-field issues. The interview process at the Combine will be the first step for Lyerla to prove he is worth the risk in the later rounds of the draft, something Da'Rick Rogers couldn't do last year.
9. WR Martavis Bryant, Clemson
For most, Sammy Watkins is the top wide receiver prospect this class has to offer, but he's not the only junior pass-catcher from Clemson who will hear his name called on draft weekend. Bryant more than doubled his career production as a junior with 42 catches for 828 yards and seven scores, showing more consistency catching the ball. Listed at 6-4 and 200 pounds, he is a terrific athlete with the speed/size combination to create mismatches at all levels of the field. Similar to Stephen Hill a few years back, Bryant could launch himself into the top-40 discussion with impressive agility numbers, including a sub-4.4 40-yard dash.
8. CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
After almost jumping to the NFL a year ago, Roby had a forgettable season in 2013 with some poor performances in big games for the Buckeyes. He appeared to be reading his own press clippings and struggled to stay alert in coverage, allowing a number of productive plays for opposing offenses. But Roby's athleticism and physical nature are two areas that keep him in high regard for many NFL scouts and the Combine will be his chance to remind the league why so many previously considered him a first round lock. If he doesn't run his 40-yard dash in the 4.3's and register low numbers in the short shuttle and 3-cone drill, it will be considered a disappointment. Roby's height-weight measurements will also be important.
7. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
An impressive athletic specimen for his frame and build, Seferian-Jenkins has the size of a tight end, but the speed and body control of a wide receiver. Despite winning the 2013 Mackey Award as college football's top tight end, it was a mediocre season for the former Huskie as he battled focus issues and wasn't a large part of Washington's offense. Seferian-Jenkins leaves you wanting more on tape, but if he tests as well as expected, teams will be more willing to take a chance on him earlier than his on-field play might suggest. Also, his 2013 DUI arrest will most certainly come up during his team interviews.
6. Notre Dame DL: Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt
Due to injury and inconsistency, Nix and Tuitt went from a terrorizing tandem destined to be high picks to a disappointing duo hoping to soon hear their names called in the first round. Tuitt is built well for the NFL with the impressive size and athletic tools, but played more like a third round draft choice on tape in 2013. He needs to test well during the on-field and agility drills to remind teams why he was so highly thought of entering the year. Nix had better in-game consistency than Tuitt and boasts a skill-set that is in high demand by 3-4 defenses, but his lingering knee issue is the elephant in the room. His medical results will likely cement Nix's top-20 status or drop him down draft boards.
5. CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
Arguably the top collegiate cornerback in the country this past year, Dennard won't have the fastest 40-yard dash in Indianapolis, but if he runs in the 4.42-4.48 range, the whispers that he lacks NFL speed will start to quiet down. He is able to be effective with his quick, coordinated feet to mirror and the physical demeanor to match up against anyone on the football field. But right or wrong, many evaluators in the NFL believe cornerbacks need break a certain speed threshold in the 40-yard dash to crack the top-20 picks. A number in the 4.5 range won't kill his draft status, but a 4.4 could really help.
4. Physical marvels: OT Greg Robinson, DE Jadeveon Clowney
Based on tape, these two prospects are worthy of a spot among the top-three picks in the draft. So if Robinson and Clowney arrive in Indianapolis and perform like they're capable, both could easily be first non-quarterbacks drafted in May. But if something were to go wrong, either during the interview process, medical evaluation or agility drills, some doubt could start to creep into the minds of decision-makers. Realistically, the possibility of that happening is slim, but because they are such physically-gifted specimens, much is expected. And when the expectations are high, it's sometimes tough for prospects to answer that hype.
3. DT Dominique Easley, Florida
If health wasn't a concern, Easley would be talked about as a potential top-10 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. But after two ACL tears, both on non-contact plays, the long-term durability is a red flag that could knock him into the third day on draft weekend. Easley has exceptional get-off quickness to be in the backfield before the center sets up shop, constantly playing on the other side of the line of scrimmage. But after the doctors and trainers are done poking and prodding, their medical report on Easley will likely be the determining factor in his draft projection.
2. WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel will probably be drafted top-five and ahead of Evans, but he owes a good amount of his collegiate success to his Texas A&M teammate, who is a projected first rounder himself. The question for Evans is how will he go? We won't know the answer for a few more months, but many around the league believe his Combine workouts will correlate with his draft position. Everyone seems to have a guess as to what Evans will run in the 40-yard dash, some think he'll get in the 4.4's, while others forecast a number in the 4.7's. But regardless of his timed runs, Evans is most dangerous when he can box out defenders and use his strong hands to highpoint and come down with tough grabs in traffic. A 40-yard dash in the 4.52-4.58 range would just be icing on the cake.
1. All 19 Quarterbacks
From Teddy Bridgewater's hand size to Derek Carr's accuracy during passing drills, every quarterback invited to the Combine has a lot to gain or lose this week. Manziel won't throw, but his interviews are paramount, whether the questions are football-related or not. Central Florida's Blake Bortles will compete in every exercise and needs to show accurate ball placement during passing drills. On the training table, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Georgia's Aaron Murray are both in the midst of rigorous rehabs, battling back from ACL injuries – how close are they to returning to the field? And then of course, the exact height-weight measurements for the underclassmen: Will Manziel get above six-foot? Will Bridgewater come in over 210-pounds? Just how tall is Bortles? Above all, the Combine is an opportunity for quarterbacks to perform on the big stage – who will separate himself?