Positive Combine workouts can help wide receivers climb team draft boards more than players at any other position.
NFL teams covet speed and players who can stretch the field and take the top off the defense, spread out defenders and open passing lanes have arguably never been more valuable.
Based on game film alone, it's fairly evident who is fast enough to use their speed to separate and create. But timed speed helps confirm what scouts see from prospects they've studied since last spring.
An average of 12-15 receivers are drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL draft and while this draft class doesn't have a clear-cut No. 1 prospect, the early-round depth at the position is very strong.
Medicals and on-field drills are important, but one could argue the interview process is most vital. Face-to-face interviews not only give teams a better idea of a player's football IQ, but also his personality and how he carries himself.
As one scout once said "I need to feel good about the human being before I can feel good about the football player."
Most to gain in Indianapolis
While there isn't a Calvin Johnson or AJ Green type of prospect in this draft class, there are still several first-round talents. But a player who could emerge as a top-10 pick and clear-cut top wideout in this class with an impressive showing in Indy is Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson.
A top JUCO recruit a year ago, Patterson is still unpolished in a lot of areas, but there is no question about his superb athleticism and explosive playmaking ability. He set a new school record with 1,858 all-purpose yards in 2012 and was the first NCAA player to score a touchdown four ways in a season since 2008 (receiving, rushing, kick return, punt return). Time will tell if he is able to develop into more of a consistent threat, but players his size aren't supposed to move and accelerate the way he does.
Another player who could help his draft stock with a positive performance at Lucas Oil is Kansas State's Chris Harper, who led the Wildcats in receiving the past two seasons. He has drawn comparisons to Anquan Boldin due to his size (6-1, 228) and physical nature, but good workout numbers could cement Harper's draft grade in the top-75 picks.
Players have the option of passing on workouts at the Combine, but every one of the 333 players invited will be subjected to a battery of medical evaluations that range from blood tests to X-rays to psychological testing. Some players have bumps and bruises that plagued them throughout the season while others are more serious.
A candidate to be the first wide receiver drafted, California's Keenan Allen hasn't played football since October, suffering a left knee injury against Utah and missing the final three games of 2012. The injury was considered a sprain of the posterior cruciate ligament and didn't require surgery. While it isn't a large concern, teams considering Allen in the first round will rest easy if the knee checks out OK.
Another junior Pac-12 wideout with top-40 potential is USC's Robert Woods, but like Allen, he has some lingering injury concerns that will help decide his draft stock. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right ankle in December 2011 and was bothered by the injury much of the spring and summer. Woods looked mostly healthy throughout the 2012 season, but his long-term stability will still be under scrutiny if there is any issue with his ankles.
Tale of the tape
One of the wideouts competing for a spot in the first round is Clemson's DeAndre Hopkinsand scouts are anxious to get the correct measurements on him.
Listed at 6-1, 205, on the Clemson roster, Hopkins' game is predicated on his quickness, route running and ability to attack the ball in the air. While scouts know he isn't the biggest or fastest, evaluators feel better about their evaluations if he measures close to his listed height and weight.
While Tennessee boasts two of the top wide receivers in this draft class with Patterson and Justin Hunter, it could have been three. Da'Rick Rogers was part of the Volunteers' football program until his dismissal this past August due to numerous off-field incidents and run-ins with the coaching staff. He transferred to Tennessee Tech and kept his nose clean this past season, but he'll need to prove to teams that he won't be a headache at the next level.
Another talented, but somewhat troubled receiver is Washington State's Marquess Wilson. He had some effort concerns entering this season, but he took those concerns to the next level this past November when he quit the team and wrote a letter accusing the coaching staff of abuse. Wilson later recanted and issued an apology, but the damage was already done in the minds of many NFL scouts.
West Virginia's Tavon Austin should perform very well in the speed and agility drills.
His short-area explosion and acceleration should help him shine in the 3-cone drill, short shuttle and others, including the 40-yard dash. Although he's viewed as more of a "luxury" as a matchup-dictating slot receiver and returner, Austin's athleticism might be too great to pass up in the first round.
A talented, but frustrating prospect on tape is Virginia Tech's Marcus Davis, who is expected to test very well in Indianapolis. Effort and consistency are large issues that will be tough to overlook, but with impressive numbers in the 40-yard dash and vertical jump, Davis could prove to be worth the risk based on his athletic potential.
Although he had a career-low 26 catches as a senior, Texas wide receiver Marquis Goodwin flashed elite-level speed and athleticism over his career, including last month in Mobile at the Senior Bowl. He participated in the London Olympics last summer and it would be a disappointment if he doesn't test off-the-charts in Indianapolis.