Five Combine prospects, one goal: the first round

For the first time, the NFL draft will be a three-day event. Only 32 players will hear their name called April 22, when the draft begins with only the first round.

Some players are already first-round locks, such as Tennessee safety Eric Berry and Florida cornerback Joe Haden. Here are five not-so surefire prospects who need to improve their first-round standing this week, when the NFL Combine begins Wednesday in Indianapolis:
 
Arrelious Benn, WR, Illinois. His numbers from his final college season (38 catches, 490 yards, two touchdowns) do not look worthy of a high pick, but Benn has that potential if he impresses scouts with his speed.

"He’s a first-round caliber player," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said during a conference call last week. "I think the Combine workout is going to be important. I think he’ll jump out at certain areas."

Scouts love Benn’s size (6-2, 225), and he showed excellent hands in college. Erratic quarterback play at Illinois contributed to Benn’s lack of production last season, and he also played on a sore ankle that he injured early in the season.

Mount Cody is expanding; the Bama giant needs to keep his weight in check to ensure himself a spot in Round 1.
Mount Cody is expanding; the Bama giant needs to keep his weight in check to ensure himself a spot in Round 1.

Benn needs to run well to convince teams he can make an early impact in his pro career. If performs well, there are several receiver-needy teams who may consider him in the first round, including the 49ers (No. 16), the Ravens (No. 25), and the Jets (No. 29). A poor showing, however, would almost surely drop Benn into the second round.
 
Bruce Campbell, OT, Maryland. At least two offensive tackles are rated higher than Campbell, Rutgers’ Anthony Davis and Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung. However, Kiper believes Campbell has the athleticism to spike his stock.

"His numbers at the Combine and individual workout wise should be spectacular," Kiper said. "Even though he didn’t always play like a first-round pick, his physical gifts and his potential will almost put him in the late first-round area."

Campbell’s job is to convince scouts that he can play left tackle in the NFL, and that he is better than two other tackles who are first-round candidates, Oklahoma’s Trent Williams and Iowa’s Bryan Bulaga.

A good showing by Campbell would make him intriguing for the Packers (No. 23), who need to do a better job protecting Aaron Rodgers, or the Cowboys (No. 27), who were manhandled by the Vikings’ front four during the playoffs.

Terrence Cody, DT, Alabama. Many believe Cody has already eaten himself out of the first round, after weighing in at 370 pounds at the Senior Bowl. If he weighs closer to 350 in Indianapolis, he could regain first-round consideration faster than you can say "hold the French fries."

Remember this: Cody can play. He projects very well as a run-stopping nose tackle in a 3-4. That makes him valuable to a team such as the Chargers (No. 28).

Nobody’s weight at the Combine will carry more weight than Cody’s. The heavier he is, the further he may slide, but if he stays in decent shape leading up to the draft, teams looking for nose tackles will need to look Cody’s way.

"He’s the space-eater that certain teams in the first round will target," Kiper said. "Some teams will say third or fourth round. Whether it’s Pittsburgh at 18, San Diego at 28, or somewhere in between, there you could see Cody come off the board. I think he’s a late first-round pick. 

"There’s value with Cody, there’s no question about that. He occupies, he frees up the linebackers, and he loves to play the game. His weight’s always going to fluctuate, and that’s going to be an issue."

Devin McCourty, CB, Rutgers. His twin brother, Jason McCourty, was a drafted in the sixth round by the Titans last year, and contributed immediately as a backup cornerback. Devin is regarded as the better player, and after a strong Senior Bowl, McCourty has a chance to be a first-round pick if he impresses scouts in Indianapolis.

"I think he’s one of those guys who’ll probably go in the second or third round, but he’ll play a long time for you," said Gil Brandt, former Cowboys vice president of player personnel and NFL.com analyst. "He has good ball skills. I’d never compare him to Darrelle Revis, but he has ball skills that in some ways remind you of Revis."
 
Golden Tate, WR, Notre Dame. It’s a chance for Tate to answer lingering questions about his route-running and speed. At 5-11, 195, Tate isn’t the big target that some scouts prefer, nor does he have blazing speed on which to fall back. But he adjusts well to the airborne ball, is a tough runner after the catch, and doesn’t hesitate to run inside routes. The odds are against Tate going in the first round, but a strong week could put him on more teams’ radars.

"Wide receiver is one of the hardest positions to come in and play as a rookie," Brandt said. "He’s also a shorter wide receiver. He’s a talented guy, but I don’t think I’m as high on him as some people. He’ll have to show some speed at the Combine."

Proving ground

These five offensive players will have much at stake this week at the Combine:

Colt McCoy, QB, Texas. With Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, and Tim Tebow not throwing in Indy, McCoy can move up to at least the second round by displaying an NFL ready arm. "We are a quarterback driven league," said Bills coach Chan Gailey, a team with quarterback issues. "You have to have a quality player there."

Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Georgia Tech. If he erases concerns about his weight and pass-catching ability, he has the talent to be one of the first five running backs selected.

Jahvid Best, RB, California. He suffered a severe concussion last season. He could be a first-rounder, but concerns about his health after medical evaluations could cause him to drop.

Bryan Bulaga, OT, Iowa. Bulaga, a likely first-rounder, needs to assure scouts he can handle left tackle in the NFL.

Maurkice Pouncey, G/C, Florida. By showing the aptitude and ability to play both center and guard, he could sneak into the late first round.

This story appears in Feb. 23’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today for free.

Clifton Brown covers the NFL for Sporting News. E-mail him at cliftonbrown@sportingnews.com.

For the first time, the NFL draft will be a three-day event. Only 32 players will hear their name called April 22, when the draft begins with only the first round.

Some players are already first-round locks, such as Tennessee safety Eric Berry and Florida cornerback Joe Haden. Here are five not-so surefire prospects who need to improve their first-round standing this week, when the NFL Combine begins Wednesday in Indianapolis:
 
Arrelious Benn, WR, Illinois. His numbers from his final college season (38 catches, 490 yards, two touchdowns) do not look worthy of a high pick, but Benn has that potential if he impresses scouts with his speed.

"He’s a first-round caliber player," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said during a conference call last week. "I think the Combine workout is going to be important. I think he’ll jump out at certain areas."

Scouts love Benn’s size (6-2, 225), and he showed excellent hands in college. Erratic quarterback play at Illinois contributed to Benn’s lack of production last season, and he also played on a sore ankle that he injured early in the season.

Mount Cody is expanding; the Bama giant needs to keep his weight in check to ensure himself a spot in Round 1.
Mount Cody is expanding; the Bama giant needs to keep his weight in check to ensure himself a spot in Round 1.

Benn needs to run well to convince teams he can make an early impact in his pro career. If performs well, there are several receiver-needy teams who may consider him in the first round, including the 49ers (No. 16), the Ravens (No. 25), and the Jets (No. 29). A poor showing, however, would almost surely drop Benn into the second round.
 
Bruce Campbell, OT, Maryland. At least two offensive tackles are rated higher than Campbell, Rutgers’ Anthony Davis and Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung. However, Kiper believes Campbell has the athleticism to spike his stock.

"His numbers at the Combine and individual workout wise should be spectacular," Kiper said. "Even though he didn’t always play like a first-round pick, his physical gifts and his potential will almost put him in the late first-round area."

Campbell’s job is to convince scouts that he can play left tackle in the NFL, and that he is better than two other tackles who are first-round candidates, Oklahoma’s Trent Williams and Iowa’s Bryan Bulaga.

A good showing by Campbell would make him intriguing for the Packers (No. 23), who need to do a better job protecting Aaron Rodgers, or the Cowboys (No. 27), who were manhandled by the Vikings’ front four during the playoffs.

Terrence Cody, DT, Alabama. Many believe Cody has already eaten himself out of the first round, after weighing in at 370 pounds at the Senior Bowl. If he weighs closer to 350 in Indianapolis, he could regain first-round consideration faster than you can say "hold the French fries."

Remember this: Cody can play. He projects very well as a run-stopping nose tackle in a 3-4. That makes him valuable to a team such as the Chargers (No. 28).

Nobody’s weight at the Combine will carry more weight than Cody’s. The heavier he is, the further he may slide, but if he stays in decent shape leading up to the draft, teams looking for nose tackles will need to look Cody’s way.

"He’s the space-eater that certain teams in the first round will target," Kiper said. "Some teams will say third or fourth round. Whether it’s Pittsburgh at 18, San Diego at 28, or somewhere in between, there you could see Cody come off the board. I think he’s a late first-round pick. 

"There’s value with Cody, there’s no question about that. He occupies, he frees up the linebackers, and he loves to play the game. His weight’s always going to fluctuate, and that’s going to be an issue."

Devin McCourty, CB, Rutgers. His twin brother, Jason McCourty, was a drafted in the sixth round by the Titans last year, and contributed immediately as a backup cornerback. Devin is regarded as the better player, and after a strong Senior Bowl, McCourty has a chance to be a first-round pick if he impresses scouts in Indianapolis.

"I think he’s one of those guys who’ll probably go in the second or third round, but he’ll play a long time for you," said Gil Brandt, former Cowboys vice president of player personnel and NFL.com analyst. "He has good ball skills. I’d never compare him to Darrelle Revis, but he has ball skills that in some ways remind you of Revis."
 
Golden Tate, WR, Notre Dame. It’s a chance for Tate to answer lingering questions about his route-running and speed. At 5-11, 195, Tate isn’t the big target that some scouts prefer, nor does he have blazing speed on which to fall back. But he adjusts well to the airborne ball, is a tough runner after the catch, and doesn’t hesitate to run inside routes. The odds are against Tate going in the first round, but a strong week could put him on more teams’ radars.

"Wide receiver is one of the hardest positions to come in and play as a rookie," Brandt said. "He’s also a shorter wide receiver. He’s a talented guy, but I don’t think I’m as high on him as some people. He’ll have to show some speed at the Combine."

Proving ground

These five offensive players will have much at stake this week at the Combine:

Colt McCoy, QB, Texas. With Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, and Tim Tebow not throwing in Indy, McCoy can move up to at least the second round by displaying an NFL ready arm. "We are a quarterback driven league," said Bills coach Chan Gailey, a team with quarterback issues. "You have to have a quality player there."

Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Georgia Tech. If he erases concerns about his weight and pass-catching ability, he has the talent to be one of the first five running backs selected.

Jahvid Best, RB, California. He suffered a severe concussion last season. He could be a first-rounder, but concerns about his health after medical evaluations could cause him to drop.

Bryan Bulaga, OT, Iowa. Bulaga, a likely first-rounder, needs to assure scouts he can handle left tackle in the NFL.

Maurkice Pouncey, G/C, Florida. By showing the aptitude and ability to play both center and guard, he could sneak into the late first round.

This story appears in Feb. 23’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today for free.

Clifton Brown covers the NFL for Sporting News. E-mail him at cliftonbrown@sportingnews.com.

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