Now that we've gone through the names of the 40 draft prospects who will most likely generate the most buzz through the scouting combine and into the rest of the pre-draft process, it's time to turn that concept on its head and talk about the players whose combines could be even more important. These 10 players are, for whatever reason, living under the radar and hoping that a great week in Indianapolis will change that.
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Virginia Tech -- A late-round projection, the 6-foot-1, 216-pound Taylor has been downgraded despite his production -- he was named the ACC Player of the Year after throwing for 2,521 yards, 23 touchdowns, and just four picks in his 2010 season. He also ran for 823 yards on just 130 carries, and this is where he's going to show out at the combine -- in the speed and agility drills. Taylor is a tremendously elusive runner who is marked as a gadget quarterback because of his odd throwing motion. If he can clear that up in the quarterback drills, he may turn some heads.
Josh Portis, QB, California (Pa.) -- Portis lives just below the Andy Dalton/Ricky Stanzi/Greg McElroy line of second-tier quarterbacks in this draft class, but that doesn't mean he can't impress in Indy. Portis was the "other guy" who transferred out of Florida to get more playing time out of the Tebow shadow; Cam Newton's just the more famous one. Portis struggled at Maryland and eventually found his place at a smaller school. One of the advantages of the combine for smaller-school players is that they can put their skills up against the big guys, and Portis has the mobility and big arm to impress.
Derrick Locke, RB, Kentucky -- The Senior Bowl standout has been refuting doubters and answering questions about his ability to maintain a serious workload at his size (5-foot-8, 186 pounds), but he already showed that he could blast through gaps against elite defensive talent in Mobile, and the combine will be his shot to show how quick and agile he is. Like Chris Johnson and Jamaal Charles(notes), Locke is also a threat to run a sub-4.3 40-yard dash. It will be interesting to see if he takes part in the receiver drills as Dexter McCluster(notes) did -- Locke could have a similar impact in the right offense.
Cecil Shorts III, WR, Mount Union -- Another (very) small-school prospect. The Division III star can use the combine to show that he's in line to succeed at the next level, as the Colts' Pierre Garcon(notes) (another Mount Union alum) did. Shorts has been tremendously productive throughout his collegiate career, putting up three straight 1,000-yard seasons, and there's enough of a buzz around him to put him in the mid rounds as a prospect with a strong combine. A versatile player, Shorts can also run out of the backfield and play a little option quarterback.
James Carpenter, OT, Alabama -- Carpenter didn't get the same talk that the other Senior Bowl tackles did, but his performance wasn't any less impressive than Anthony Castonzo's or Gabe Carimi's. The difference for Carpenter, especially in the game, was that he manned the less glamorous right tackle position and did very well -- especially in contrast to Arkansas' DeMarcus Love. Teams looking for a bigger (6-foot-5, 313 pounds) and more physical right tackle type will be watching Carpenter in Lucas Oil Stadium just as they did at Ladd-Peebles.
Benjamin Ijalana, OG, Villanova -- This is another one of the small-school guys you've been hearing about -- Ijalana is a Mike Mayock favorite, and the 6-foot-4, 320-pound giant showed a lot of power at the college level. The question is how well he'll be able to get agile and use his kick-slide in drills. Ijalana needs to avoid the perception that he's just a straight-line mauler. He missed out on the all-star opportunities because of a sports hernia, and he'll have a lot to prove under the Lucas Oil lights.
Brandon Fusco, C, Slippery Rock -- The first player in school history to be invited to the combine, the 44-game starter and winner of every possible offensive line award at the Division II level is a developmental prospect for an NFL team, but could get a mid-round pick if he shows his quickness and agility here.
Sam Acho, DE, Texas -- Acho got a bit lost in what may be the best class of bigger defensive ends we've ever seen, but the slightly undersized (6-foot-2, 257-pounds) pass rusher took over for Brian Orakpo(notes) on the Longhorns and kept up the pressure with 17 quarterback sacks and 16 quarterback hurries on the last two seasons. Teams will want to see how he does in the bag drills -- how low he can get around the turn, how his hand moves are, and how explosive his first step is. Acho can play the run well and disrupt quarterbacks from inside on the line.
Sione Fua, DT, Stanford -- Fua is more a hole-plugger up the middle than a pass-rushing threat, but with more and more 3-4 defenses in the NFL, there's got to be a spot for a 6-foot-2, 307-pound tackle who has run a 5.02-second 40. It's a light draft class for true nose tackles, so Fua could really start to rise up the boards with a strong combine performance.
Kendrick Burney, CB, North Carolina -- Can the Senior Bowl star repeat his all-star performance from January and continue to surprise teams with his ball skills and ability to be in the right place at the right time. A lot of teams tend to put more stock in the defensive back drills than some others, so this is the time for Burney to show that despite his size (5-foot-9, 181 pounds), he can be a spot starter and excellent nickel cornerback in the NFL.
- Tyrod Taylor