Thursday, February 24, 2011

7 intriguing players at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine

The NFL Scouting Combine is upon us and hundreds of NFL hopefuls are in Indianapolis today preparing to be analyzed, scrutinized and disected in every way possible. For a lot of these athletes, this will be their last opportunity to prove they belong in the NFL.

Of the approximately 300 players attending the Combine, there are seven players who intrigue me the most. They are all big name players who stand to gain - or lose - a lot this week in Indianapolis.

Jake Locker, QB, Washington
After a disappointing performance at the Senior Bowl, Locker is looking to prove to scouts that he belongs in the NFL. Locker has been working with former NFL quarterback Ken O'Brien on his mechanics and has reportedly made a lot of progress. But that will be put to the test on the field in Indianapolis. Locker will excell at the interview portion of the Combine, but he needs a near perfect performance on the field to get teams interested in him again.

Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
I'm not sure there is anything Mallett can do to help his sagging approval rating. No player in this draft class has fallen further than Mallett has. Questions concerning possible drug use and attitude problems have surfaced and some experts are puishing him down draft boards. Once considered a potential top 10 pick, Mallett is now projecting to be a second-round, maybe even third-round pick. He has a ton of talent, but I'm not sure there is anything he can do to sway opinions at this point. His best option this week is to be honest and transparent with teams, it might cause someone to take a chance.

Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada
In a draft class filled with athletic quarterbacks, Kaepernick needs to prove this week that he's unique. Kaepernick showed during the Senior Bowl that he can move the pocket and make plays with his feet. What he needs to do at the Combine is show he can play within the pocket and throw with accuracy. He's a smart kid so I expect him to do well during interviews. Scouts love his upside and a strong performance could convince a team to spend a second-round pick on him.

Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
After missing all of last season due to suspension, Quinn will look to prove at the combine that a year off didn't hurt his game. He's as physically gifted as any defensive lineman in the draft and could jump into the top 5 with a lights out performance at the Combine. The hardest challenge for Quinn will be convincing teams that his academic cheating allegations in college are not a reflection of who he is. If he can impress teams during the interview portion of the Combine, Quinn's name might join the #1 overall pick conversation.

Cameron Jordan, DE, California
In a draft that is loaded with exceptional defensive ends, Jordan is a bit of a wildcard. He shot up draft boards after a strong performance at the Senior Bowl and is projected to be a mid- to late-first round pick. What Jordan needs to do is solidify his spot in the first round. He likely won't move ahead of Da'Quan Bowers or Quinn, but being the third best DE in the draft could land him in the top 10. What hurts (or helps) Jordan is he's the perfect fit for a 3-4 defensive. Not many teams in the NFL run a 3-4 defense, so his suitors are limited. With that said, if a team that runs a 3-4 is interested in Jordan, they will make a move to get him. What Jordan needs to do at the Combine is sustain the Senior Bowl buzz and prove he's worth a top 15 pick.        
J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Much like Jordan, Watt is currently in that second-tier group of defensive ends. He's not considered an elite talent like Bowers or Quinn, but he is drawing rave reviews from scouts. Watt can help himself at the Combine by showing teams he's improved his technique and footwork. He's only played the defensive end position for a couple of years so he's still learning. If he shows improvement it will signal to teams that he's coachable. I expect Watt to do extremely well during the interview portion of the Combine, as he is a high character guy. There is a lot of positive momentum on Watt's side right now and a strong performance at the Combine will solidfy his spot in the top 15.

Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
at 6'5" and 230 pounds, Baldwin is a monster at wide receiver. But despite his size, he's absent from most first-round draft boards. The concern about Baldwin is his passion and character. Some scouts worry he doesn't have a strong work ethic. Baldwin can prove those scouts wrong at the Combine by showing improvement in his route running and an ability to seperate himself from defenders. Also, a blazing fast 40-yard dash time by Baldwin could raise eyebrows and make teams ake another look at the Pitt receiver.

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