These players have a lot riding on their performances in Indianapolis
Game film and stats rarely lie. That said, when you are talking about college film and stats translating to NFL production, it's not exactly science. Speed, size, experience and maturity all come into play when it comes to elite college football players making the transition to the next level.
There are certain collegiate stars that enter the NFL draft with high hopes of being taken early, resulting in bigger pay days thanks to the league's rookie pay scale.
The first step in the transition from college to the NFL and toward that aforementioned pay day is the Scouting Combine. As a result, it is often the case that a bad Combine performance can cost a player millions of dollars. Additionally, some players rely on a solid showing at the Combine to boost their stock while also answering a few of the many questions analysts and scouts have about them.
Here are five players who must put up solid, if not impressive performances at the NFL Scouting Combine in both the drills and in their interviews.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Jackson has been one of the most electrifying players in college football over the last two seasons. In less than three full seasons as a starting quarterback at the collegiate level, Jackson threw for 9,043 yards and 69 touchdowns with only 27 interceptions. He also ran for 4,132 yards and 50 touchdowns. Be that as it may, some of the most prominent talking heads are questioning whether or not Jackson has what it take to be an NFL quarterback. The Combine is the perfect place for him to silence his doubters, but he'll need to participate in the throwing drills to do that.
Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon
Freeman has all the size and speed you could ever want in an NFL running back. What he seems to lack is elite agility and vision — both things the modern NFL back must possess to be successful. Perhaps he wasn't given the chance to display those traits at Oregon. The Combine would be a great place to showcase both, especially given the crowded and extremely talented running back class that will be there with him.
Arden Key, DE, LSU
At the end of the 2016 season, Key (above, right) was considered to be the front-runner to be the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. A shoulder surgery, some weight gain and a mediocre 2017 campaign dropped his stock considerably. He is now projected by most outlets and publications as a second-rounder. That doesn't seem too bad — until you start thinking about the money he'd be losing. Key needs to show up to the Combine, dominate and solidify himself as the first-round pick he was once projected as.
Joshua Kalu, DB, Nebraska
Kalu has had a bit of a roller-coaster career at Nebraska, bouncing around to different spots in the secondary as a result of scheme changes and injuries. He still managed to be productive wherever he played, and that versatility should be considered an asset. Regardless, he's still on the bubble in terms of whether or not he'll be drafted. He needs to go to the Combine with the mindset of asserting himself as a value pick in what looks like a top-heavy defensive back class.
Kahlil McKenzie, DT, Tennessee
McKenzie surprised a few people by declaring for the draft early. He's got all the size (6-5, 320) and athleticism you want at the position, but he still needs some polish and could have used another year at Tennessee. It seems some of the top draft analysts concur with that sentiment, as McKenzie is projected to be drafted deep in the later rounds if at all. He is the son of Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, but that family connection is not going to help him as much as a couple of eye-popping workouts at the Combine will.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation and Bleacher Report. He has covered the Big Ten Conference extensively throughout his career. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.