Written by: Adam Poedubicky

With the NFL Draft slowly but surely approaching, one of the key steps to the process is finally here: the NFL Combine. In short, the NFL Combine is where teams send representatives (coaches, general managers, owners, etc.) who look at the talent on display for April’s draft. Imagine how terrified you were when you had an interview for your job; this is worse. The results are posted on the Internet, criticized by TV pundits, and can ultimately cost a player millions.

Although the Combine can make or break the beginning of a career, there is no direct correlation between Combine and NFL performance. In 2008, little known running back Chris Johnson out of East Carolina was projected as a middle round draft pick until he posted a 4.24 40-time at the Combine. All that led to was Johnson being selected 24th overall, and two years later becoming the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year.

However, on the other end of the spectrum was the original Combine all-star, pro failure in Boston College DE Mike Mamula. Mamula measured out to 6’4, 250 pounds, ran a 4.6 40-yard dash, and bench pressed 225 pounds 26 times. He also scored a 49 on the Wonderlic test, which is about the equivalent to scoring a 1590 on the SATs. Seeing these great numbers, the Philadelphia Eagles drafted Mamula 7th overall in 1995, picking him over Warren Sapp, Ty Law, Derrick Brooks, and Terrell Davis. There were a few details that these numbers don’t clearly state: 1. Mike Mamula was riddled with injury issues at BC and 2. He truly was never that good of a football player. He was out of the league in 5 years, registering only 31.5 sacks.

Although the effectiveness of the Combine can be debated, it is a fact that a good performance at the Combine will increase a player’s chances of getting drafted higher. Keeping this in mind, let’s see which players need to have a good Combine to keep themselves in the first few rounds.

Key Prospects

QB: Colt McCoy, Texas. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma. McCoy and Bradford both injured their throwing shoulders in their senior seasons, so the better they throw, the higher they’ll go. Expect Bradford to have a better Combine, being as how he had almost all of the regular season to recover and McCoy’s injury happened in the national championship game.

RB: Jahvid Best, Cal. Best suffered two horrifying concussions in two consecutive weeks to end his 2009 campaign early. At the time, he was not only a Heisman candidate, but also probably the front-runner. A sub 4.5 40-time and a decent number of reps on the bench press could make GMs forget about that.

WR: Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State. Bryant missed most of last year as result of an NCAA suspension. Regardless of this, he still looks like a top-15 pick. He’s expected to turn in one of the fasted 40 times for WRs, and if he does, expect him to go top 10 come April.

TE: Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma. Gresham would have easily been a first rounder and the first tight end picked in last year’s draft. However, he came back to OU and tore his ACL. He has torn ligaments in both of his knees throughout his career, so not only will his 40-time be important, but also how well he gets in and out of cuts running passing routes.

DE: Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida. Although I personally have never seen Jason play and I don’t want to rush to judgment, it seems like he might be the most over-hyped player coming into this year’s draft based on numbers. Here comes a guy most people never have heard of, but he’s 6’6, 260, and can run a 4.6. If these prove to be true at the Combine, he will certainly go in the top 10. From what I’ve heard/read about him so far, he eerily reminds me of a certain defensive end out of Boston College.

DT: Terrence Cody, Alabama. With Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy cemented as top 3 picks, it’s a mad dash to see what other defensive tackles will get drafted in the first round. Terrence Cody has shown that he is a playmaker on the defensive line, and is the mass of a body that a team with a 3-4 defense is looking for in the middle. However, there has been speculation that the mass has been too high, ballooning to close to 370 at the Senior Bowl. He needs to show that he’s serious about working out, or he will fall to the second or third round.

S: Taylor Mays, Southern Cal. Mays would have been a top 10 pick had he entered the draft a year ago. Now, he has slipped as he has visible weaknesses in pass coverage. Also, it isn’t known whether or not he can run the 40 in under 4.4 as advertised. Also, the emergence of Eric Berry (Tennessee) and Earl Thomas (Texas) illuminate that there are other options available to teams needing help in the defensive backfield. If Mays is unable to field a great 40-time, expect that he may have to attempt the switch from safety to OLB.

Obviously, every player needs a great combine, but these are the ones with the most to gain or lose. Expect a recap from the Combine to discuss the winners and losers as it commences next week.

Photo Credit: 49ers.com