NFL Scouting Combine Preview

Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame

Indianapolis, Ind. - There are plenty of storylines heading into the NFL Combine. While fans across the country want to know who blazed a fast 40 or jumped through the gym (Lucas Oil Stadium), more important will be how these draft prospects go through the interview process, as each of the 32 teams will question and even interrogate them one by one.

All eyes will be on two highly publicized players in middle linebacker Manti Te'o (Notre Dame) and cornerback Tyrann Mathieu (LSU). Teams will grill these two, peppering them with questions surrounding what transpired with each away from the game.

How will Te'o answer the questions regarding his online girlfriend that was actually a hoax? Has Mathieu changed his partying ways after being dismissed from the Tigers for drug use?

It's not just Te'o and Mathieu. Highly touted players like middle linebacker Alec Ogletree (Georgia), cornerback Greg Reid (Florida State), wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers (Tennessee Tech), and many others, will each have their own opportunity to prove to all the NFL General Managers, coaches and scouts, that the past is the past and it's time to move forward.

How they handle the interview process is huge in the evaluation process. Big money contracts are on the line and GMs can't afford to make that critical mistake of a player that could cause problems down the line.

A good example is what happened with Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict last season. While he had a good career for the Sun Devils he had issues off the field. He came to Indy for the Combine and didn't interview particularly well nor did he test well. He fell in last April's draft and signed with Cincinnati as a free agent. Ironically, he had a terrific rookie season with the Bengals with no problems off the field. But what he didn't do at this event one year ago cost him a lot of money.

And for the players cited above, how they handle themselves and the interview process could go a long way to where they are drafted in April.

The QB race
This isn't 2012. There isn't an Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin, III in the 2013 draft. But there are a handful of quarterbacks that are getting all the attention in Geno Smith (West Virginia), Matt Barkley (USC), Mike Glennon (N.C. State), Tyler Wilson (Arkansas), Landry Jones (Oklahoma), and Tyler Bray (Tennessee), to name a few.

Smith appears to be the guy, at least at this point, that can make the biggest jump. He has the size (6-3/215), the arm and athleticism. Smith can make all the NFL throws and he can run. He's not RG3 or Michael Vick but he's plenty fast and quick in and out of the pocket. This is a guy that had a brilliant first half to the 2012 season but the Mountaineers struggled down the stretch. He still finished with 4,205 passing yards, 42 touchdowns and only six interceptions.

As we all know, the NFL is a quarterback driven league and teams will overdraft for a quarterback. Kansas City desperately needs a signal caller and they have the top pick. Buffalo GM Buddy Nix has already said publicly that he wants to draft a franchise QB. The Bills pick in the eighth hole. Other teams need a quarterback.

Smith didn't participate in the Senior Bowl last month so this will be his first action in front of the NFL in 2013. What he does this week and at his pro day later this spring could certainly push him into the first round. How high is yet to be determined.

Speaking of quarterbacks Former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson had a super career in Ann Arbor as a quarterback. But to play in the NFL Robinson will have to make the move to wide receiver. This is the position we projected him at coming out of Deerfield Beach (Fla.) High School. But he wanted to be a college quarterback and stuck to his guns. No regrets for Robinson, as he made some dazzling plays and created many memorable moments for the maize and blue.

But Robinson struggled in Mobile at the Senior Bowl at his new position. He dropped too many passes and muffed too many punts. He really needs to have a big bounce back this week in Indy and follow it up with a solid pro day at Michigan later this spring. You would think at the very least that he should test very well this week.

Remember these names
The great thing about the NFL Combine is that is gives everyone a platform to show their athletic ability. For the mid-major prospects or low D1 guys it's even a bigger stage. Here are some names to keep an eye out for.

Three prospects that had very good weeks at the Senior Bowl were wide receiver Quinton Patton (Louisiana Tech) and Aaron Dobson (Marshall) and safety John Cyprien (FIU). Their stock is certainly on the rise and each needs a good week to keep their momentum on the upswing.

There are a trio of interesting and athletic offensive tackle prospects to watch for this week in Jordan Mills (Louisiana Tech), Terron Armstead (Arkansas Pine Bluff) and Mark Jackson (Glenville State). All three look good on tape.

Remember the name of Gavin Escobar. He's a talented tight end prospect from San Diego State that has size (6-6/255), speed and soft hands.

A very intriguing player is Branden Williams. He's a D2 defensive tackle from Missouri Southern State that had a very good Senior Bowl week. At 340 plus pounds he's ideal as a nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme.

Forty times and the bench press
It seems that Cordarrelle Patterson has emerged as the No. 1 wide receiver prospect in this year's draft. But Keenan Allen (Cal) could emerge as the guy. How these two run this week could sway the guys from the NFL one way or another.

?Speaking of running a good 40 there are a handful of players that have a chance to blow away the competition. Keep an eye on Denard Robinson, Tavon Austin (West Virginia), Marquise Goodwin (Texas) and Ace Sanders (South Carolina).

And how about Alabama defensive lineman Jesse Williams? It has been rumored that he has bench pressed 600-pounds in Tuscaloosa. Could he break the Combine record of 51 reps in the bench press?

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