INDIANAPOLIS — Every year, many who come to cover the scouting combine (Feb. 23-28) insist that the drills are relatively meaningless, and that it's the game tape that really matters. And every year, there are a handful of guys whose performances -- whether terrific or terrible — vault them up or down the NFL's draft boards. Here is a group of offensive players to watch during this year's combine drills — for each of them, the drills will mean a great deal.
1. The "Best Supporting Actor" Quarterbacks — The top three quarterbacks in this draft class will most likely wait until their pro days to throw. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III don't need to because they're going in the top five on a no-matter-what basis, and Ryan Tannehill is still recovering from a foot injury. So, with the spotlights on them, a host of second-tier quarterbacks will look to impress and up their draft stock the way Christian Ponder and Jake Locker did in 2011.
For Arizona State's Brock Osweiler, the challenge will be to confirm that he can make every NFL throw — the questions about his experience and ability to run an offense will come later. Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden has all the on-field savvy in the world — and at age 28, he'll be given credit for the savvy he doesn't have — but he needs to display the consistent arm that will convince scouts that he can hit tight windows at the NFL level.
That's even more true for Boise State's Kellen Moore, who has all the intangibles and a ridiculous "winning record" (for those who take stock in such things for quarterbacks), but he's generally struggled with any throw longer than intermediate at a consistent level. His throwing session could go a long way to telling his tale. Is he Chad Pennington or Jimmy Clausen? Michigan State's Kirk Cousins got most of his work done on underneath stuff, but he has flashed a better arm. It's time to flash that arm again. Arizona's Nick Foles will have people looking to see if he relapses to some occasionally sloppy mechanics.
2. RB Chris Polk, Washington — Polk bulled through defenses during a serious rebuilding program at Montlake, and now, he needs to redefine himself to a degree. He'll already have personnel people thinking of him as an inside back in the Mikel LeShoure mold, but a little more shake-and-bake might have people wondering if he could make more of a Marshawn Lynch-type impact, especially after a less-than-spectacular Senior Bowl week. For Polk, the agility drills will be even more important than his 40-yard dash time.
3. RB Doug Martin, Boise State — Martin is also classified by many as a power back, but he's fast enough to impress as a kick returner as well, which is fairly impressive for a 5-foot-9, 220-pound bowling ball. A time in the 4.4 range could have GMs going back to Martin's college tape and wondering if he isn't a first-round sleeper, the kind of do-it-all back any team could feature.
4. RB LaMichael James, Oregon — Mike Mayock put it best during a recent media conference call: James needs to show that he's more than "just a speed guy." Mayock opined that James would shine in the 40, but like Martin and Polk, the agility drills might paint him as more than a one-trick pony.
5. RB/WR Chris Rainey, Florida — Like Percy Harvin before him, Rainey has been a very versatile player for the Gators, but he might be like the piano in the middle of the living room to many teams -- they're not sure where to put him. If he puts on a show in the 40 (expect a sub-4.4 time for sure, and possibly sub-4.3), blows people away in the agility drills, and perhaps goes out for drills as a receiver, Rainey might pump his stock up a good round or so. He needs to prove that he's more than a luxury pick. The upside is Reggie Bush or Darren Sproles. The downside is Dexter McCluster, whose speed has been wasted in an ill-fitting scheme.
6. WR Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina — Well, Jeffery may have more to prove than anyone else at this combine, after rumors that he blew up to about 250 pounds and was running 40s in the 4.9 range in pre-combine training. It would be a red flag of monumental proportions if he showed up at Lucas Oil Stadium in anything but monster shape. All that production would go to waste. On the other hand, blowing those rumors out of the water with a solid performance might move him up in a logjam of bigger receivers in this draft class.
7. WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame — As with Jeffery, Floyd needs to stand out at the combine to overcome some serious concerns. There are off-field issues that teams will want to grill him about, and his average speed (especially off the line of scrimmage) could be a liability at the next level. Beyond the need to dispel concerns about his inconsistent hands, route correctness and initial burst are the two things Floyd need to display during drills.
8. WR Rueben Randle, LSU — No concerns on or off the field here; what teams will want to see from Randle is an explosiveness that belies the limited production he saw in LSU's prehistoric offense. He's got all the skills to impress on this stage — good hands, better speed than people think, and he can high-point just about any throw. The gauntlet drill will be important for him, as Randle has been a bit of a body catcher at times.
9. OG/OT Cordy Glenn, Georgia -- The 6-foot-6, 346-pound behemoth was a versatile and valuable player for the Bulldogs; he started 28 games at left guard and 17 at left tackle. There is some question as to whether he could make it as an NFL tackle — his fundamentals get out of whack at times — and he will need work on a tendency to play too high off the snap before he can be an elite guard. People will love Glenn's raw tools; but they'll want to see more of the fine points.
10. OG Amini Silatolu, Midwestern State -- From San Joaquin Delta Junior College to Division II to the combine? It's been a whirlwind for one of this year's more intriguing small-school players. Teams with deep scouting portfolios will know all about Silatolu, the runner-up in the Gene Upshaw Division II Lineman of the Year voting, and he might echo the successes of NFL players like Jahri Evans of Bloomsburg and Jared Veldheer of Hillsdale. The challenge will be for Silatolu to prove that he's more than a very big fish in a medium-sized pond, and this is the place to do it.