Stock at the scouting combine is a difficult thing to quantify. Whether a player rises or falls in the eyes of the scouting proletariat is dependent on a seeming infinite number of things, and anything -- mental or physical, emotional or spiritual -- can trip them up along the way. No matter how well anyone does here, the NFL's personnel minds will always head back to their facilities from Indianapolis and turn on the game tape right away.
That's where most of the questions are actually answered, though the usefulness of combine drills varies per position and per player. Here are 11 players who, for whatever reason, got back on the planes to their hometowns with a rise in several draft boards.
Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State -- He was as accurate and dynamic a thrower as anyone in the quarterback drills -- and for a second straight major scouting-related event, he checked out just fine on the medical evaluation after undergoing shoulder and elbow surgeries in the last two seasons. Ponder projects better than any other quarterback in this class in a West Coast offense, and with the need for those types of throwers exceeding the availability, Ponder may have set himself up a full round higher than he was just a month ago.
Jake Locker, QB, Washington -- When looking at combine stars, it's important to take players who do well in areas outside their comfort zones. We knew that Locker would test well in the 40-yard dash and all the agility drills, and he did so, but the question has always been about his ability to stand in the pocket and make accurate and comfortable throws from a dropback. Locker wasn't accurate all the time, but he showed that the work he's been doing with former New York Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien has paid off.
Roy Helu, Jr., RB, Nebraska -- Helu, who was in the seat next to me on my flight out of Indy, much to my surprise -- looked great at the Senior Bowl, and took that momentum through the combine. In Mobile, and running in pads, he looked a lot faster and more elusive than you'd expect at 6-foot and 220 pounds. You want fast? How about a 4.42 40 at that size, add in a 6.67 three-cone drill (the second-best among running backs), and a 4.01-second shuttle (the best time at his position), and you're looking at a guy who was estimated to be a low mid-round pick and probably should be pushed up into the higher middle rounds.
Julio Jones, WR, Alabama -- Ladies and gentlemen, your 2011 combine Super-Stud. Not only did Jones hit a 4.39 official 40 (hopefully erasing every concern about his overall speed) and hit a 38½-inch vertical jump, he absolutely crushed in the pitch-and-catch drills. I was assigned the pool report for Jones inside Lucas Oil Stadium, and I couldn't stop gushing about his quickness and vision. Finding out later that he did what he did with a fractured foot put Jones' workout in the Pantheon, and probably shot Jones into the top 10.
Virgil Green, TE, Nevada -- Green tore it up in the drills, establishing himself as the kind of speed tight end more and more teams are looking for these days. A 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Green ran a 4.64 40 and hit a ridiculous 42.5-inch vertical jump. But aside from the numbers, Green also got his arms high and his hands tight in his catch drills, making himself look like a very difficult person to defend.
Nate Solder, OT, Colorado -- Solder has flaws all over his game tape, but he looked spectacular in the side-to-side and backpedal drills. He got up in his stance in a big hurry, looked very smooth in transition -- he looked very much like the tight end he used to be in short spaces -- and displayed a better kick-step than I've seen on tape from him. The perception of Solder is that he's a two-year project, but he showed that he's worth the wait from an athletic perspective.
Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama -- Dareus was a top-five pick anyway, but he really showed out in the drills that saw a great many defensive linemen succeeding. But when Dareus' 1.66 10-yard split was announced, a lot of heads turned. When you can add that kind of short-area speed to a 6-foot-3, 320-pound frame, you have the kind of player that could dominate inside as a three-tech disruptor or outside as a five-tech run-stopper.
Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina -- Quinn lost his 2010 season in the UNC agent scandal, making his performance here of enormous importance. He didn't disappoint, looking smooth and aggressive in the pass-rush drills and running a 4.6 40 at 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds. Seeing the 2011 version of Quinn match up to the 2009 game tape -- which is a pretty scary thing -- should put concerns to rest about Quinn's readiness for the NFL.
Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State -- Paea set the record for the 225-pound bench press with 49 reps at the combine, but we've seen workout warriors before who couldn't bring that power to the field. The difference with Paea is that off the snap, he's ridiculously aggressive and disruptive, because he can get his 6-foot-1, 300-pound frame under the pads of any blocker and start messing people up. It generally takes a bit longer for some to catch up with the skills of Pac-12 players, but Paea will stand out when everyone figures it out.
Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska -- I've never understood the idea that Amukamara should be moved to safety; a quick look at his tape shows a potentially elite cornerback under the right circumstances. When he finished near the top of every drill and looked very fluid in the dropback and transition drills, he verified everything I have seen when I watch him cover the NCAA's best receivers -- a guy with most of the skill set needed and just a few finishing points.