Much attention was given this week to the players who won’t be full participants in the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.
The annual prospect staging grounds are open Thursday, when 333 invited prospects begin to converge on Indianapolis to put their skills on display for representatives from all 32 NFL teams. The combine ends Tuesday, when defensive backs are the last position group to take the field.
Prospects will be poked, prodded and put through a various array of drills, both physical and mental. They will also undergo an extensive medical and interview process throughout the week as teams dig to find out as much as possible about this year’s draft class.
The combine will be crucial for dozens of prospects, but more important for some. Here are 10 prospects to watch:
1. ILB Manti Te’o, Notre Dame
It has been a roller coaster last two months for Te’o. After a lackluster national title performance and the hoax controversy that became national news, Te’o is still very much in the first-round discussion, but the interview process will be crucial to his draft standing. Teams want to know if he has the mental and emotional toughness and confidence to deal with what the next level will bring.
2. QB Tyler Bray, Tennessee
There might not be a more talented quarterback in this class than Bray, who is the only underclassman at the position invited to Indianapolis this year. He has the height, feet and the arm talent to easily make every NFL throw, but he has struggled with consistency issues. Bray will have to answer concerns about his maturity and prove to teams that he’s worth the risk.
3. DB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
Without the off-field concerns, Mathieu has the playmaking skills to be a first-round pick. However, after his dismissal from LSU and a laundry list of off-field issues, his draft stock is a mystery and scouts are going to put him under a microscope this week. Mathieu also hasn’t played organized football in more than a year, so his physical condition will be scrutinized as well.
4. WR Marquise Goodwin, Texas
A world-class athlete, Goodwin participated in the London Olympics last summer (placed 10th in the long jump) and is one of the best athletes in this year’s draft class. He had a career-low 26 catches as a senior in Austin, but he was often misused in the Longhorns’ offense and missed almost all of their summer practices. Goodwin is still rough around the edges, but he will test off-the-charts.
5. OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
A productive SEC pass rusher, Jones will probably test well in the drills, but his combine performance will be judged based on his medical evaluation. His “spinal stenosis” issue is something that should allow him to have an NFL career, but for how long? The long-term diagnosis is tough to predict, but the evaluation from the training staff in Indianapolis will carry a lot of weight.
6. OT Menelik Watson, Florida State
Although he’s not a household name just yet, Watson is an interesting prospect for several reasons. A native of Manchester, England, he starred at the JUCO ranks before transferring and spending one season with the Seminoles. Watson still has a lot of work to do in terms of his development, but he is a freakishly athletic big man who will impress in Indy.
7. QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
In a quarterback class that doesn’t have a certain top-20 prospect, Smith has an opportunity at Lucas Oil Stadium to shine with all 32 teams studying him. He needs to stand out not only on the field during passing drills, but also throughout the interview process as scouts grill him on his football knowledge and passion, especially after West Virginia’s late-season collapse and his decision to skip the Senior Bowl.
8. DE Ezekiel Ansah, BYU
Although he didn’t start playing football until 2010 and wasn’t named a starter until this past season, Ansah is a talent who will create a lot of discussion in war rooms across the league. The Africa-native is still very inexperienced, and his role at the next level is undefined, but he should test well athletically in drills. During interviews, scouts will also be curious to determine Ansah’s love for football.
9. DE Barkevious Mingo, LSU
A candidate to be a “workout warrior” this week, Mingo had only four sacks as a junior, but he could be one of the top pass rushers drafted in April based on athletic upside. He still needs to develop in several areas and continue to fill out his frame, but if he shines during the agility and positional drills as expected, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a team take a chance on him in the top 10.
10. WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
While there isn’t an A.J. Green or Calvin Johnson-type of prospect in this class, the 2013 NFL Draft still has several first-round caliber receivers, including Patterson. He has just one year of experience at the FBS level and is raw in several areas, but his natural athleticism is exciting. For him to potentially be drafted in the top-10, he must showcase that athleticism in Indy.