Without question the NFL Combine has its detractors. Most coaches and scouts consider the drills far from ideal in determining the true measure of a prospect's playing ability when it comes to football. Some call it a track meet, others go so far as to call it a circus. Even prospects roll their eyes at some of what's required, but there's no denying the draft stock of some players will benefit and suffer based on their performance in Indianapolis this week.
ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper says whatever a player thinks about the combine, they better be ready to perform.
"Embrace the process don't fight it," advised Kiper. "You're going through it one time in your life. Don't say it's not football or this or that. It is what it is. If you screw it up you're going to find out on draft day you're a second round pick instead of a first round pick because you didn't prepare or go in with the right frame of mind in those workouts. They are what they are, they're not changing you've got to deal with it and go in with a positive attitude."
Most players that grab headlines are the fast, the quick and the explosive with 40-times, agility drills and vertical leaps all eye-catching tests. Kiper has a handful of prospects he feels need to help their cause at the Combine while others need to utilize the opportunity in Indy to put the icing on the NFL resume.
At the top of his list are a few Ohio State Buckeyes, who returned to school this past fall only to see their draft stock suffer.
"Malcolm Jenkins if he's runs a great 40-time could be a top 10 pick," said Kiper. "If not he could be viewed as a safety. I think this combine is as important for him as anybody in this draft. James Laurinaitis' stock has dropped from the beginning of the year. Marcus Freeman's stock has dropped. They need to have good workouts."
Quarterbacks that come out early often have the most to prove, and while what they can show at the combine may be limited on the field, their physical performance has to be solid.
"Josh Freeman the quarterback from Kansas State who's coming out early," mentioned Kiper. "Nobody has heard much about him and couldn't play in any all-star games because he's a junior. He didn't play in a bowl game because he was on a bad team at Kansas State."
Even Georgia junior quarterback Matt Stafford, who is widely considered to be a strong possibility for the top pick in the draft has to put certain skills on display.
"Stafford has to show a little touch and take something off the 98 mile per hour fastball," Kiper said.
Two of the top tailbacks in the draft might be locks to go in the first round, but a strong combine performance can really set them apart. Kiper feels running good 40-times for Georgia's Knowshown Moreno and Ohio State's Beanie Wells will be essential.
"Wells could run in the 4.4 range, if he does he's going to go high," said Kiper. "Moreno has to show he has game-breaking speed, which people question right now."
The case isn't much different at wide receiver. The reason Missouri wideout Jeremy Maclin and Florida's Percy Harvin are considered first round picks by most draft "experts" is because of their top end speed. They have to show it's still there this week in Indy.
"Those two guys need to blaze big 40's," said Kiper of Maclin and Harvin. "That's their forte and they better show it. (North Carolina's) Hakeem Nicks needs to have a bit better 40 time than people think he has if he's going to get in the first round. The tight end from Rice James Casey, if he wows some people he could go very high. He's a kid that will be watched very closely."
For a top collegiate playmaker like Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree, who is forecast to be a top five pick, the 40 isn't as critical. According to Kiper he just has to meet expectations.
"His 40 time has to be in the range you need for the NFL level," said Kiper.
On the defensive side of the ball players with less of a college resume or coming off a poor senior season can benefit from displaying a lot of athleticism and power. Kiper offered one example in particular.
"Aaron Maybin from Penn State," said Kiper. "He was a one-year wonder as a defensive end. If he shows he has that combination skill and that phenomenal athleticism he's going to go very high. William Moore from Missouri. He didn't have the big year as a senior after a big season as a junior. He's battling to be a first round pick and I have him as a second round pick. So William Moore needs a big workout."
Defensive players that Kiper expects to perform well to help their cause are Illinois' CB Vontae Davis, who did not have a great senior campaign. Florida State DE Everette Brown had a great senior season and is also expected to perform well in the workout.
"It could vault him into the early to mid first round," said Kiper.
At defensive tackle Kiper singled out Ole Miss' Peria Jerry, who had a strong Senior Bowl and is on the rise. A good workout could move him from the bottom of the first round to near the middle.
Ultimately, how much a player can improve his stock is limited as Kiper sees it because the combine isn't football. It's a measure of certain aspects of a player's overall athletic ability. That's why he rarely moves a prospect much more than a half a round at the most.
"I rate players from their junior year through their senior year," he said. "You're rating them based on two years at least so you don't go too crazy in changing the ratings. (Tennessee running back) Chris Johnson had a good rating going into the combine last year and ran a great time and got taken in the first round. But he wasn't a fourth-round pick before that. Before the combine he was an early to mid-two and became a late one. You'll move kids up some or drop them some, but it won't be significant because the ratings are based on how they played."