Combine Dish: Offensive players who need to do well

Before the NFL Scouting Combine kicks off Wednesday, Russ Lande and his team of former NFL scouts name 11 offensive players who can solidify or improve their draft stocks with strong performances in Indianapolis.

Jimmy Clausen can impress teams with his words, not his throws, at the Combine.
Jimmy Clausen can impress teams with his words, not his throws, at the Combine.

Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame

Clausen has been hyped as a possible top-10 pick. Even though he is not throwing at the Combine, he needs a strong appearance to be drafted that high. Right off the bat, he can allay concerns that he is under 6-2, which would hurt his draft status. Then, Clausen will get to sit down with NFL teams and prove himself in interviews. Any team interested in drafting Clausen in the first round will most likely schedule a longer interview with him after the Combine, but these initial meetings will give teams insight into Clausen’s intelligence, communication skills and presence.

Levi Brown, QB, Troy University

Brown might be the prospect most in need of a strong Combine performance. During the 2009 season, Brown created a lot of buzz among scouts because of his athleticism, strong arm and outstanding production. However, a disappointing week of practice at the Texas vs. the Nation game raised concerns about his ability to make the leap to the NFL and play in a traditional pro offense. Brown needs to show that his physical tools are as good as they look on film to convince teams he merits more than a late-round selection or free-agent signing.

Colt McCoy, QB, Texas

After suffering a pinched nerve in the BCS championship game, McCoy supposedly wants to show his stuff at the Combine if he is 100 percent healthy. First, he will have to pass a physical and prove he is ready to throw. If he is healthy enough to work out, McCoy needs to assuage fears about his arm strength. If he cannot make all the NFL throws, McCoy could see his stock fall significantly.

Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford

No one denies Gerhart is tough, physical and aggressive, with the playing strength, balance and agility to run through contact. He will be drafted before the fourth round regardless of his Combine performance, but if he demonstrates big-play speed in Indy, then he could move up draft boards substantially. Gerhart may be a straight-line athlete, but we have a feeling he will surprise people by running the 40 in the low 4.5s or high 4.4s, which could result in him being a late-first-round pick.

Indianapolis is the next stop on LeGarrette Blount's road to redemption.
Indianapolis is the next stop on LeGarrette Blount’s road to redemption.

LeGarrette Blount, RB, Oregon

Blount’s pro prospects took a devastating blow when he was suspended after Oregon’s season-opening loss to Boise State. But just five months later, his draft stock is rising. He showed maturity by earning reinstatement late in Oregon’s season, and he shined at the Senior Bowl, where he showed better quickness, agility and athleticism than people expected from someone weighing more than 240 pounds. While Blount is still considered a third- to fifth-round pick right now, a strong Combine performance could make teams consider him for the second round.

Mike Williams, WR, Syracuse

After Williams was suspended for the 2008 season, many doubted he would make it back onto the Syracuse team, let alone replicate his prior productivity. Then, he had a stellar first month of the 2009 season and was on his way to becoming a second-round pick. However, the bottom fell out again when he either quit or was suspended for the rest of the season for reasons that haven’t become public. Williams has a chance to help his draft status with a strong Combine performance. He must impress in interviews to ease concerns about his inability to stay on a team, and he must run well. If he does, then Williams could be a third- or fourth-round pick.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona, and Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma

Gronkowski and Gresham are both elite tight end prospects with medical concerns. They must pass their physicals at the Combine to show NFL teams the injuries that ended their 2009 seasons won’t hinder them throughout their careers. Additionally, they must be deemed healthy enough to work out at the Combine, which could solidify their first-round statuses and keep them from sliding down draft boards.

Anthony McCoy, TE, USC

McCoy is a big tight end whose blocking skills are unquestioned. At the Senior Bowl, he looked quicker and more athletic than expected, making observers believe he could be a receiving threat in the NFL. At the Combine, McCoy needs to catch the ball in drills, run well in the 40 and jump well in the vertical to convince teams he has the quickness, burst and speed to make plays as a receiver.

Jimmy Graham, TE, Miami

Graham is one of this year’s more interesting prospects. After playing basketball during his first four years at Miami, he played football for the first time since ninth grade in 2009. Graham flashed the receiving skills NFL teams are desperate to find in a tight end. However, at the Senior Bowl, he did not perform as well as many expected, looking more like a developmental project than a surefire pass-catching tight end. Still, if Graham shines at the Combine, he could fly up draft boards and become a first- or second-round pick.

Rodger Saffold, OT, Indiana

Saffold was surprisingly one of the biggest risers of all-star-game season. He came to the East-West Shrine Game viewed as a late-round prospect by most NFL teams, but after shining all week in Orlando, many were talking about him being a third-round pick, at worst. Then, when NFL teams spent a week watching Senior Bowl practice, they suggested Saffold would have been the best offensive tackle there if he had been invited. As a result, Saffold has been mentioned as a possible second-round consideration. If he performs well at the Combine, he could not only lock up a spot in the second round, but also become a late first-rounder, because offensive tackles with exceptional athleticism and natural strength have been rare in recent drafts.

Former NFL scout Russ Lande evaluates college players for Sporting News’ Pro Football War Room and GM Jr. Scouting LLC.

Before the NFL Scouting Combine kicks off Wednesday, Russ Lande and his team of former NFL scouts name 11 offensive players who can solidify or improve their draft stocks with strong performances in Indianapolis.

Jimmy Clausen can impress teams with his words, not his throws, at the Combine.
Jimmy Clausen can impress teams with his words, not his throws, at the Combine.

Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame

Clausen has been hyped as a possible top-10 pick. Even though he is not throwing at the Combine, he needs a strong appearance to be drafted that high. Right off the bat, he can allay concerns that he is under 6-2, which would hurt his draft status. Then, Clausen will get to sit down with NFL teams and prove himself in interviews. Any team interested in drafting Clausen in the first round will most likely schedule a longer interview with him after the Combine, but these initial meetings will give teams insight into Clausen’s intelligence, communication skills and presence.

Levi Brown, QB, Troy University

Brown might be the prospect most in need of a strong Combine performance. During the 2009 season, Brown created a lot of buzz among scouts because of his athleticism, strong arm and outstanding production. However, a disappointing week of practice at the Texas vs. the Nation game raised concerns about his ability to make the leap to the NFL and play in a traditional pro offense. Brown needs to show that his physical tools are as good as they look on film to convince teams he merits more than a late-round selection or free-agent signing.

Colt McCoy, QB, Texas

After suffering a pinched nerve in the BCS championship game, McCoy supposedly wants to show his stuff at the Combine if he is 100 percent healthy. First, he will have to pass a physical and prove he is ready to throw. If he is healthy enough to work out, McCoy needs to assuage fears about his arm strength. If he cannot make all the NFL throws, McCoy could see his stock fall significantly.

Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford

No one denies Gerhart is tough, physical and aggressive, with the playing strength, balance and agility to run through contact. He will be drafted before the fourth round regardless of his Combine performance, but if he demonstrates big-play speed in Indy, then he could move up draft boards substantially. Gerhart may be a straight-line athlete, but we have a feeling he will surprise people by running the 40 in the low 4.5s or high 4.4s, which could result in him being a late-first-round pick.

Indianapolis is the next stop on LeGarrette Blount's road to redemption.
Indianapolis is the next stop on LeGarrette Blount’s road to redemption.

LeGarrette Blount, RB, Oregon

Blount’s pro prospects took a devastating blow when he was suspended after Oregon’s season-opening loss to Boise State. But just five months later, his draft stock is rising. He showed maturity by earning reinstatement late in Oregon’s season, and he shined at the Senior Bowl, where he showed better quickness, agility and athleticism than people expected from someone weighing more than 240 pounds. While Blount is still considered a third- to fifth-round pick right now, a strong Combine performance could make teams consider him for the second round.

Mike Williams, WR, Syracuse

After Williams was suspended for the 2008 season, many doubted he would make it back onto the Syracuse team, let alone replicate his prior productivity. Then, he had a stellar first month of the 2009 season and was on his way to becoming a second-round pick. However, the bottom fell out again when he either quit or was suspended for the rest of the season for reasons that haven’t become public. Williams has a chance to help his draft status with a strong Combine performance. He must impress in interviews to ease concerns about his inability to stay on a team, and he must run well. If he does, then Williams could be a third- or fourth-round pick.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona, and Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma

Gronkowski and Gresham are both elite tight end prospects with medical concerns. They must pass their physicals at the Combine to show NFL teams the injuries that ended their 2009 seasons won’t hinder them throughout their careers. Additionally, they must be deemed healthy enough to work out at the Combine, which could solidify their first-round statuses and keep them from sliding down draft boards.

Anthony McCoy, TE, USC

McCoy is a big tight end whose blocking skills are unquestioned. At the Senior Bowl, he looked quicker and more athletic than expected, making observers believe he could be a receiving threat in the NFL. At the Combine, McCoy needs to catch the ball in drills, run well in the 40 and jump well in the vertical to convince teams he has the quickness, burst and speed to make plays as a receiver.

Jimmy Graham, TE, Miami

Graham is one of this year’s more interesting prospects. After playing basketball during his first four years at Miami, he played football for the first time since ninth grade in 2009. Graham flashed the receiving skills NFL teams are desperate to find in a tight end. However, at the Senior Bowl, he did not perform as well as many expected, looking more like a developmental project than a surefire pass-catching tight end. Still, if Graham shines at the Combine, he could fly up draft boards and become a first- or second-round pick.

Rodger Saffold, OT, Indiana

Saffold was surprisingly one of the biggest risers of all-star-game season. He came to the East-West Shrine Game viewed as a late-round prospect by most NFL teams, but after shining all week in Orlando, many were talking about him being a third-round pick, at worst. Then, when NFL teams spent a week watching Senior Bowl practice, they suggested Saffold would have been the best offensive tackle there if he had been invited. As a result, Saffold has been mentioned as a possible second-round consideration. If he performs well at the Combine, he could not only lock up a spot in the second round, but also become a late first-rounder, because offensive tackles with exceptional athleticism and natural strength have been rare in recent drafts.

Former NFL scout Russ Lande evaluates college players for Sporting News’ Pro Football War Room and GM Jr. Scouting LLC.

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