The NFL Scouting Combine began this week, hosting 323 of the top draft prospects, alongside coaches, front office personnel and scouts from all 32 teams. Players will begin the athletic testing on Friday. The results could have a heavy impact on their individual draft stock and the entire draft. Here is a breakdown of the players to watch at this year's scouting combine.
SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 05: Marcus Mariota #8 of the Oregon Ducks looks downfield in the third quarter of the PAC-12 Championships against the Arizona Wildcats at Levi's Stadium on December 5, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Former Heisman trophy winners Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston have separated themselves as the top two quarterbacks in this year's draft. However, there are still question marks surrounding both quarterbacks. Off the field issues have plagued Winston throughout his college career at Florida State. The interview portion of the combine will be an important part of his evaluation by NFL teams. Winston is also the less athletic quarterback of the two, but a strong showing in the athletic testing can remind teams that he has good mobility.
Mariota, on the other hand, is expected to shine in the athletic testing. According to a report by ESPN's Chris Mortensen, Mariota will throw Saturday at the combine. This could help Mariota separate himself from Winston and quiet concerns over his accuracy. It is unclear whether Winston will throw on Saturday. After Mariota and Winston, this year's quarterback class is filled with major question marks. It will be interesting to see if any quarterback, like UCLA's Brett Hundley or Colorado State's Garrett Grayson, can solidify themselves as the number three quarterback prospect.
Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
West Virginia's Kevin White exploded onto the scene this past season, racking up 1,447 yards on 109 receptions. White was a simple piece of the Mountaineer offense in 2013, his first season in Morgantown since arriving from junior college. The following season, with greater knowledge and opportunities in the offense, White became the go-to receiver. White has great size, measuring in at six-three, 210 pounds. He is a playmaker and has some of the best hands in the draft. White, however, seems to lack breakaway speed. If White can post an impressive time in the 40-yard dash, he could be a contender to be the first receiver off the board. If he underwhelms, his stock may take a hit after he has skyrocketed up draft boards in the recent months.
Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
After Darqueze Dennard went in the first round of last year's draft, Trae Waynes became Michigan State's number one cornerback. Playing the Spartans' "boundary" corner in 2014, Waynes is good in coverage and against the run. Waynes is a physical corner with good length at six-one, and is excellent in bump and run. Michigan State cornerbacks are taught to be extremely physical and hands on. Waynes can be too physical at times but his coverage skills rank in the top of this year's class. If Waynes has a strong showing at the combine, he could solidify himself as the top corner taken.
Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
COLUMBIA, MO - SEPTEMBER 13: Defensive lineman Shane Ray #56 of the Missouri Tigers rushes as offensive linesman Torrian Wilson #72 of the UCF Knights tries to block during the game at on September 13, 2014 at Faurot Field in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Shane Ray continues a recent trend of outstanding pass rushers from Missouri. Ray was a force in the South Eastern Conference (SEC) this past season, recording 14.5 sacks for the Tigers. The NFL is now a passing league and pass rushers are pivotal for a team's success. Ray is a relentless pass-rusher with a great motor which makes up for his lack of ideal size. He will probably be a top ten pick come draft night, but Ray could solidify his status or slightly drop with his performance at the combine. The agility drills will be important for Ray. He rarely had the opportunity to drop back in coverage at Missouri. If he can show the agility to do so, Ray will be an extremely coveted prospect.
La'el Collins, OT, LSU
In early projections, La'el Collins was expected to possibly be the first offensive tackle taken in the draft. Collins has since fallen down draft boards. Several analysts fear he cannot play tackle at the next level. Collins has the size for the position but may lack the athleticism to play tackle and may have to move to guard in the NFL. Collins is currently the No. 32 overall prospect and No. 4 tackle in the draft, according to analyst Daniel Jeremiah. If Collins can prove he has the athleticism to play tackle in the NFL, he will move up draft boards around the league.