As everyone should, scouts are more or less looking to see if a guy can run (40 time, cone drills, etc.) and lift (bench press) at a speed/level that they expect based on film. Also, it's a chance to prove that these prospects don't have unknown injury issues (health check-up), are clean from drugs (mandatory drug test), and if they've got the NFL football IQ (at the whiteboard) while at the NFL Combine.
The Combine shouldn't be more than a small, reassuring step for most prospects if they've adequately trained. But for these five unique prospects, the Combine could be the difference in 15-20 draft slots if not more.
Brock Osweiler surprisingly declared for the NFL draft despite a mediocre and inconsistent junior year mostly because he wanted to seize a chance in a lackluster quarterback class. Despite having some natural athleticism for his 6-foot-8 size and isn't a lumbering, immobile passer, he's got a good — not great — arm, has some erratic accuracy, and overall isn't polished in most aspects of his release and footwork. He'll need to prove a few things at the Combine. For one, he'll need to show his athleticism and mobility for his size, so running "smoothly" (forget the time) in the 40 and an adequate 3-Cone Drill are important. Also, he'll need to show some polish in passing drills compared to other top passers. And finally, he'll show he's got some ability to diagram and dissect plays at the whiteboard. If he does well, it could be mid to late first round. If he struggles, as I'll slightly expect, he'll be a second or third round project passer.
Chris Polk, Running Back, Washington Already getting a chance to see him up close at the Senior Bowl, NFL scouts and I likely have a great feel for Polk as a prospect. He didn't get a chance to really show his development as a route runner and an adequate pass blocker in practices, and really couldn't showcase his outstanding vision and patience in practice or the game thanks to lacking chemistry with his blockers. Still, he's one of the top three or four running backs on most teams' boards. He told me he's expecting to run in a 4.4s somewhere, which would be fantastic for his size. And if he can win over scouts in some interviews along with impressive times, he'll be right back in that top 20 overall discussion.
Almost without question the prospect with the most to prove is Alshon Jeffery. After a dominating sophomore season, Jeffery took a step back in production. While some credit the mediocre quarterback play, it seemed on film to be more about a lack of separation ability, speed, quickness, and sometimes concerns about if he was in-shape. Rumors have been abound about his potential weight issues, and I've heard that he very well could be a 230 receiver running in the high 4.6s, low 4.7s, which would push him down every team's board. Most scouts likely consider him a late 1st rounder now and giving him the benefit of the doubt myself, but if he shows up not in pique physical shape, he'll plummet down draft boards.
Listed at 6-foot-5, 350 pounds, Poe is a rare athlete for a nose tackle on film. Finding a nose tackle at that size that has a good motor and room to improve is rare, and immediately pushes him into top 15 consideration. As any nose tackle at his size, he'll need to show that he's in shape and not too sloppy in the mid-section, if he can explode in his 10-yard split and 3-Cone Drill well, and can show focus and some scheme recognition in interviews, he'll likely secure his spot in the Top 20 picks.
With Vontaze Burfict, few will question his athletic ability. I'd expect he'll have a fantastic 10 and 20 yard split, maybe tops among all linebackers, and he'll look fairly smooth in every drill. However, what's most important for Burfict is to both answer the bombardment of questions about his off-the-field issues as well as his on-the-field penalty issues. Also, as a potential inside linebacker prospect, he'll need to show that he can be a leader of a defense football IQ wise by dissecting offenses well. Considered now a 2nd-3rd rounder now, but if he can show his character/football IQ concerns are over-blown, he could slide back into the 1st round area.
Eric Galko is the Owner, Director of Scouting of Optimum Scouting and lead editor for OptimumScouting.com. He has been scouting college football for eight years, and for pro teams and other sports professionals for the last four years. Eric is also a member of the FWAA.