At the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, more than 300 prospects will be put through a battery of tests that teams use to gauge their potential as professional football players. While draft analysts point out that the 2013 class lacks the surefire superstars of past seasons, like Andrew Luck or Cam Newton, there are several players who we think are poised for a big breakthrough. After the whistle blows on the last drill in Indy, here are five names we think you'll be hearing a lot more often.
Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
In 2011, we were blown away by the explosiveness displayed by Von Miller as he prepared for the NFL Combine at Velocity Sports Performance in Irvine, Calif. In the drills we watched this year, Vaccaro—the consensus top-rated safety in the 2013 NFL Draft—was every bit as impressive as Miller, who was selected second overall by the Denver Broncos in 2011.
Vaccaro showed good balance and body control when transitioning out of his breaks during position-specific work, and flashed his ball skills as he got his hands on nearly every pass thrown in his direction during DB drills.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Who? You ask. Patterson is somewhat of an unknown commodity, having played just one season at Tennessee after transferring from junior college. Scouts/ESPN Insider doesn't even have a scouting report on the guy.
Yet Patterson is regarded by many as the top wide receiver in the class, and he should dazzle scouts with his superb blend of speed, size and athleticism. Ken Vick, high performance director of the Combine training program at Velocity, likened Patterson's ability to transition to top-end speed to that of DeSean Jackson, who ran a 4.35 40-Yard Dash in 2007.
Measuring around 6'3", Patterson could draw comparisons to 2011 first-rounder Julio Jones, who blew the roof off the dome at Lucas Oil Field with his sensational Combine showing. If Patterson checks in with a performance like Jones's, he could solidify himself as a top-15 pick.
Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Smith caught some flack for declining an invite to compete in the Senior Bowl, but he aims to redeem himself by participating in all Combine activities. The senior QB from West Virginia was all business during our recent visit to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
By all accounts, Smith is the most polished QB prospect in this year's draft. He appeared confident working from under center and looked solid when throwing from the pocket. He displayed good footwork in his drops and escapes from the pocket and was decisive with his reads.
There are several QB-needy teams at the top of the draft, desperate for a true No. 1 QB to emerge. Smith appears to have a slight edge entering the Combine, and a strong showing during QB drills could put him high up on the draft board as a potential No. 1 pick.
Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Nick Winkelman, director of training systems for Athletes' Performance, says Trufant possesses elite speed and quickness and is the fastest athlete he's trained for the NFL Combine since CB Leon Hall, a first-round pick in 2007.
Hall owns the second-fastest time in the Three-Cone Drill (6.5 seconds) among defensive backs since 2006, and his time in the 20-Yard Shuttle (4.07 seconds) was second among all participants in 2007. Look for Trufant, the younger brother of Seattle Seahawks CB and 2003 first-round selection Marcus Trufant, to challenge for the top agility times among all position groups in Indy.
Margus Hunt, DE, Southern Methodist
With all of its sprints and jumps, the NFL Combine looks more like a track meet than a football game. So who's better positioned to deliver a dominating performance than a former shot put and discus champion? Hunt won gold medals in both events at the 2006 World Junior Championships in Beijing before pursuing a football career in the United States. He's still raw in terms of his skill set, but his athleticism is off the charts. So, too, is his size: The bio for Hunt on the SMU athletics site lists him at 6'8", 280 pounds.
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