QB Josh Johnson, San Diego
Johnson's Offensive MVP
performance at the Shrine Game was a continuation of his amazing 2007 season.
Johnson threw for almost 3,000 yards in only 10 games, but the real standout
stat was his 43-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. That's 43 touchdowns. In
one season. Those who have seen Johnson admire his poise in the pocket
-- unlike most young, mobile quarterbacks, he's not automatically prone to
balking and bringing he ball down at the first sign of pressure. His work
with Jim Harbaugh has been an advantage. The real
question is how the NCAA's all-time passing efficiency rating leader will
match up against competition stronger than Valparaiso,
Morehead State and Cal-Davis. The Shrine Game was a definitive answer, but if
Johnson can show the same kinds of mechanics as other quarterbacks of interest
at the Combine, he could watch his stock split for the second time.
What Will Impress: Reads through progressions very well,
great long-distance arm, excellent burst and elusiveness as a runner.
What He Needs to Prove: Versatility in his repertoire, especially
short throws. Occasionally iffy form (setting his feet and ball release) during
Shrine Game practices will be a red flag here.
RB Jonathan Stewart, Oregon
Everyone's favorite Seahawks
first-round prospect comes into the Combine as quite possibly the most complete
back in the nation. As NFLDraftScout.com puts it, Stewart "has the size
of a fullback, the strength of an offensive lineman and the quickness of a
sprinter." What he also has is the slightly under the radar designation
that he shares with most West Coast players. In truth, the only thing that
keeps Stewart from being rated as the best player (read: player, not athlete)
at his position is a slightly scary injury history. Stewart can play through
pain, but he's had to do a lot of that for a junior. His ankle problems go
back to 2002. However, the LaDanian Tomlinson/Adrian Peterson comparisons
are legitimate. Stewart rushed for 1,722 yards, and amassed 2,481 all-purpose
yards, in 2007.
What Will Impress: Will most likely show great timed
speed, especially for his size (5-11, 235 pounds).
What He Needs to Prove: The medical tests will be the big obstacle,
as will overcoming perceptions if he has to skip any drills. Clearing those
hurdles could shoot him a long way up the boards.
RB Matt Forte, Tulane
One of the most impressive
prospects at the Senior Bowl in Mobile last month, Forte is one of the players, along with USC DT Sedrick
Ellis, who made a lot of money that week. He’s got the size to be an every-down
back in the NFL while also possessing the athleticism to be explosive when
he gets into the open field. Forte runs hard inside and, more importantly
he finishes his runs, powering through arm tackles and making defenders pay
when they come in for contact. Playing for a team like Tulane, a player can
get lost in the shuffle, but Forte is likely to be the top senior back taken
in the draft this year after totaling 2,127 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior
What Will Impress: Unfortunately, what Forte does best (gaining tough yardage inside the tackles) won’t
be on display while he's in Indy. However, he can show off his soft hands
and put his excellent athleticism on display.
What He Needs to Prove: That his speed is good enough past
the first level of NFL defenses. If Forte can run in the 4.5 range, he’s probably
going to be a second-rounder.
WR Jordy Nelson, Kansas State
A big, tall target (6-3,
215) with impressive speed, Nelson set school records for catches and receiving
yards in 2007 with 122 and 1,606. He's fast in traffic with good hands. The
Kansas State offense is known as a passing
offense, but Nelson's not just a "system player". He impressed at
the Shrine Game, and though he's currently projected as an early second-day
pick, certain Combine numbers could change that.
What Will Impress: Acceleration, ability to catch the
ball, short-area quickness.
What He Needs to Prove: "Better in pads than in shorts"
is all well and good, but not necessarily in this case. If Nelson can bring
his athleticism to the RCA Dome in the sheer speed tests, he'll become a lot
more intriguing to a lot more people. Breaking the possession receiver stereotype
by showing deep speed is the first step.
OG Branden Albert, Virginia
The Virginia underclassman picked the right year to
declare -- he immediately became the top prospect in a weak guard class. The
6-7, 315-pound Albert possesses a compelling mix of athleticism and sheer
size. His quickness and pulling ability have some experts wondering if he
might not wind up switching to tackle at the next level. He received head
coach Al Groh's blessing to forego his senior season. A team co-captain as
a junior. Albert shouldn't have any trouble with those personnel execs that
place character in a high position when evaluating prospects.
What Will Impress: Unusual speed and quickness; great
ability to pull and block at the second level. Could be a dominant guard in
a zone blocking scheme, but the future is wide open from a positional standpoint.
You might see him anywhere but center in the NFL.
What He Needs to Prove: The drills will be interesting for
Albert. If he can show power and drive-blocking ability to go with that speed,
the rush to this player's bandwagon could become claustrophobic. Already a Mike Mayock favorite.
OT Sam Baker, USC
Heading into the 2007 season,
Baker, along with Michigan’s Jake Long, was thought to be one of the top tackle prospects in the country. However,
the football gods didn’t shine down on the Trojans’ top returning lineman
as he struggled with injuries all season while looking average at times versus
some of the better defensive ends in the country. Baker’s size and his ability
to be solid as both a run and pass-blocker make him an intriguing prospects
even with his limited athletic ability. When you come from a school like USC,
you come out with the rep of being one of the best players at your position,
and Baker has worked hard to live up to that moniker.
What Will Impress: His size (6-5.5, 310) and his long
wingspan are prototypical for an NFL right tackle.
Aqib Talib #3 of the Kansas Jayhawks makes a catch against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the FedEx Orange Bowl at Dolphin Stadium on January
3, 2008 in Miami, Florida. Kansas defeated Virginia Tech 24-21. (Photo
by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
What He Needs to Prove: That the injury bug was a fluke this
past season and that he has the necessary footwork and athleticism to slide
out on the speed rushers he’ll face every week in the NFL.
CB Aqib Talib, Kansas
When you talk about the
most impressive athletes in the draft this year, Talib’s name is at or near the top of the list. He’s an intense
football player and he’s very tough, both mentally and physically. Talib definitely has the necessary balance of confidence and
ability to be an outstanding cover-corner in the NFL. He’s also an outstanding
return man who can take it the distance anytime he gets his hands on the ball.
Talib is a player who will give his all on every
play and will never back down from a challenge. NFL teams struggle to find
players like that every year.
What Will Impress: Talib’s
size (6-2, 200) and athleticism are rare for a cornerback and NFL teams will
drool over his abilities.
What He Needs to Prove: That he has the speed to catch up
when he makes a mistake in coverage. If he can run a sub-4.5 in the forty,
he’ll be assured a top 15 selection in April.
S Jamie Silva, Boston College
An underrated, ruthless,
and intelligent defender and special teams player.
Silva's is a name you should know. In his senior season, Silva led his team
in tackles (115) and interceptions (six). In addition, he allowed the fewest
yards-per-reception average (2.26) in Division I football. His dominant Shrine
Game performance -- he recovered a Dwight Lowery fumble on special teams and
pretty much single-handedly stopped the West's first offensive drive in the
second half -- let the nation in on the secret to a point.
What Will Impress: Instincts, aggressiveness, intelligence.
The question is whether Silva's talents, both tangible and intangible, will
show up in the tests.
What He Needs to Prove: That he has enough speed, recovery
ability and hip turn to impress the scouts who didn't see enough of his game
tape to know what they'd be getting. Most likely, someone's going to get a
second-day steal that can start and make a difference on special teams right
away and work his way into becoming a leader in an NFL secondary.