The NFL Scouting Combine means more to some than others.
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and USC offensive tackle Ryan Kalil won’t have much to prove at the combine, which kicks off on Wednesday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Luck and Kalil should be among the top four picks in the draft.
What about South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery? Or Oregon running back LaMichael James? Or cornerback Leonard Johnson from Iowa State?
All three are among prospects that NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock says need to have strong combines to improve their draft standing.
Wide receiver, running back and defensive back are positions where speed is essential, obviously. That means those prospects will be watched closely when they run the 40 this week.
The 40 time can be misleading because it may not demonstrate true game speed. Some prospects spend weeks preparing for the 40 by working out aggressively.
The 40 does show the potential of each athlete, though.
Several wide receivers, including Notre Dame's Michael Floyd and LSU's Reuben Randle, need strong 40 times at the combine, Mayock said. Wide receiver is regarded as a position of need for the Redskins.
Floyd and Reuben are projected as first-round picks, but they could vault into the top 10 – maybe even to No. 6 where the Redskins pick – with strong 40 times.
“I hope Floyd doesn’t put everything on his Pro Day at Notre Dame,” Mayock said.
Big-bodied wide receivers – such as Jeffery, Rutgers’ Mohamed Sanu and Texas A&M’s Jeff Fuller – who struggle to separate from defensive backs must impress in the 40.
Jeffery, in particular, was thought to be a first-round prospect heading into the 2011 college football season. The 6-4, 229-pounder was limited to just 49 catches last year after posting 88 as a sophomore.
If Jeffery can showcase elite speed in the 40, then he could be back in the conversation as one of the top wide receivers.
“He needs to run somewhere in the mid-4.5 range, worst case scenario,” Mayock said. “Big and fast is good, big and slow is bad.”
After Alabama’s Trent Richardson, there’s a scramble among running backs to emerge as the second-best prospect at the position.
Mayock pointed to Oregon’s James as a prospect who could emerge with a strong combine.
James was productive the last three years at Oregon, posting 1,500 yards each season and totaling 53 rushing touchdowns. Given his 5-9, 190-pound frame, he could improve his previous 40 time of 4.45.
On defense, inside linebacker Luke Kuechly from Boston College is a player to watch in the 40.
“If he runs a 4.7, he is a top 15 pick,” Mayock said. “If he runs 4.8 or worse, there’ll be a problem. It’s important for him.”
Mayock pointed to several defensive backs that need to showcase their speed at the combine. Cornerback and safety are regarded as needs for the Redskins.
Iowa State’s Leonard Johnson, who totaled 241 tackles, three interceptions and 26 pass break-ups the last four years, is the type of cornerback who “plays better than he will time,” Mayock said.
“If he times poorly, he could be a fourth-round pick instead of a second-round pick,” he added.
For Montana’s Trumaine Johnson, the 40 time could dictate what position he plays in the pros – cornerback or safety.
The 6-3, 197-pounder played cornerback at Montana, recording 173 tackles, 15 interceptions and 35 pass break-ups.
“He’s a long, physical corner,” Mayock said.
Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith could “surprise people” at the combine, Mayock said.
“He’s a really good football player and I have a second-round grade on him,” he said.
A strong 40 time could vault Harrison into the latter part of the first round. He logged 309 tackles, seven interceptions and 28 pass break-ups for the Irish the last four years.