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Who are the most interesting players to watch in Indianapolis?
Millions of dollars are made and lost at the NFL Combine and 2013 won’t be any different. Player interviews, mental acumen, agility, strength and speed tests all help NFL scouts, executives and coaches attempt to quantify over 300 different prospects over one weekend in Indianapolis.
Each year features freakish performances that makes eyes pop and mouths drool. Each season, workout warriors vault themselves into the first round. And each year, there are intriguing storylines to follow for more than a few important players.
Here are the 10 most intriguing players to watch at this year’s combine:
1. Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame
His is obviously the most anticipated combine performance in years. He has two glaring issues to overcome: His fake girlfriend scandal and extremely poor performance against Alabama in the national title game. He will need to address immaturity issues while explaining his lack of toughness and productivity in the biggest, and final, game of his college career. Can he shift scouts' focus back to his leadership and remarkable play in carrying Notre Dame back to national prominence?
2. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
He would have easily been the top-rated running back in this draft had he not horrifically injured his knee halfway through his junior season. He is focused, driven and ready to prove himself already just months following the terrible injury. In a draft class where no one stands out as a first-round pick, Lattimore’s work ethic, overall talent and genuine personality might make him this year’s Willis McGahee.
3. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
In a similar boat as Lattimore, Barkley needs to prove he made the right decision to return to USC for his senior year. He was lauded for his maturity and leadership when he initially returned, but many have doubts about his overall physical size and potential health. He must convince teams that his injured shoulder will be healthy and that he is the guy who broke records as a junior and not the guy who lost six games as a senior.
4. Tyrann Mathieu, CB, ex-LSU
Where to begin? Mathieu has been his own worst enemy ever since breaking onto the scene as a sophomore. What's more, there has been one awful BCS National Championship game performance, multiple arrests and it's been nearly two calendar years since anyone saw the Honey Badger make a play of any consequence. He is undersized and his cover skills were always a question, but now his dedication to football and maturity are major issues. The former LSU defensive back has much to prove to even get drafted late as a special teamer.
5. Wide Receivers, Tennessee
Justin Hunter had to overcome a torn ACL and wasn’t the same following the injury. He needs to prove his toughness, focus and overall explosiveness. Cordarrelle Patterson is an elite athlete who needs to prove he isn’t a long-term project as a wide receiver. And Da’Rick Rogers, from all accounts, needs to prove he cares about the team more than himself. He held the Volunteers hostage before getting kicked off of the team and has to show he has the mental makeup to match his exquisite athletic ability.
6. Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU
Mingo doesn’t show up on game tape as often as his lesser talented teammate Sam Montgomery does. However, Mingo still is a tremendous athlete who has elite upside that just needs to show he can be a productive football player. Should he develop a better understanding of the game and prove he can be consistent, he could be a big winner in Indianapolis.
7. Offensive Linemen, Alabama
Chance Warmack needs to prove that war-daddy offensive guards are worth taking in the top ten (hint: they should be). He is arguably the safest, most dependable player in the entire draft but could slip due to his position. Barrett Jones is a three-time national champ and Outland Trophy winner who excelled at three positions. Proving he is at least a second-round talent at guard or center will be key. And D.J. Fluker, who will wow scouts with elite size and strength, needs to prove he can be a left tackle and not just a right-side guy.
8. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
Ansah is the opposite of the workout warrior. He won’t wow scouts with elite size, range or length. He won’t run an elite 40-yard dash or impress in the shuttle drill. But he is an excellent football player and needs to somehow prove that to scouts without wearing any pads. His terrible week of practice in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl was capped by a great performance in the game itself. Scouts want to know which player is he?
9. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
He has excellent measurables and is watching his stock skyrocket due to great size and athleticism. However, he played on defenses that consistently underachieved and was constantly exposed in man-to-man situations by smaller, speedy players like Tavon Austin. He needs to prove he is agile enough to play in pass coverages if he expects to garner Mark Barron comparisons, which, right now, are absurd.
10. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
This is someone to root for at the combine. He is a tremendous playmaker with elite production and speed to match. He will excel on special teams, can run the ball out of the backfield and will be an outstanding slot receiver. Percy Harvin is an apt comparison and he needs to prove his speed is more important than his diminutive frame.