During the month of February, STACK traveled to four of the nation's elite Combine training facilities, visiting with more than 30 top NFL prospects—and observing countless others—to experience what premier players are doing to elevate their game to the next level. Thanks to our exclusive access, we are in a position to identify breakout prospects who seem destined for Combine—and later, NFL—greatness.
So, who will blow up at the 2012 NFL Combine? We're highlighting three prospects we believe will improve their already-soaring draft stock with monster performances at the Combine.
In this third and final article, we feature former South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram.
This time last year, we observed a group of NFL prospects completing their final week of training for the NFL Combine, which several athletes at Velocity Sports Performance in Irvine, Calif., likened more to a track meet than a football workout.
The Velocity group was fine-tuned and ready to go, but the explosiveness and suddenness displayed by one particular linebacker during test prep and position drills placed him head and shoulders above the other athletes we covered in the 2011 Draft Class.
The topic of mock drafts came up during an interview with this linebacker prospect, who, more than two months before the NFL Draft, was projected by experts as a mid-first round pick, possibly breaking into the top 10. His response? "All the mock drafts, that's for my mom and little brother to look at."
That linebacker was Von Miller, whose electrifying performance at the NFL Combine elevated his standing from mid-first rounder to the number-two overall selection of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Our candidate in 2012 with the potential for his draft stock to skyrocket chose the very same Velocity facility for his Combine prep. And like Miller, this prospect is a pass-rushing specialist with first-step quickness and explosiveness that are off the charts.
Whether he sticks at defensive end or is switched to outside linebacker in a 3-4 system, Melvin Ingram is about as NFL-ready as anyone we've seen—and met—during our Combine training tour.
Beyond his extraordinary athleticism, Ingram demonstrates a passion for and dedication to the game that NFL scouts are bound to appreciate. "I play football from the heart," he says. "This is what I love to do, this all I know how to do, and this is what I was made to do, so I want to show these teams and coaches that I give 110 percent to everything I do as a football player."
Entering the NFL Combine, Ingram, like Miller before him, is widely considered an early-to-mid first rounder, sitting on the bubble of a top-10 selection. But if the former Gamecock sack specialist runs the 40 in under 4.7 seconds and jumps through the roof in his Vertical Jump Test, like we saw him do at Velocity, it's a safe bet he will be fast-tracked for a high top-10 selection.
Confident in the work he's put in leading up to the Combine, Ingram is keeping his expectations relatively modest. He says, "My only specific goal is to do my best, and the time will take care of itself."
What NFL Draft experts are saying about Ingram: "Few defensive prospects raised their game and draft stock as Ingram did last season. He's a playmaker who stands out in almost every aspect of the defense, with his ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage or out to the flanks." —Tony Pauline, SI.com
Combine Test Date for Ingram (and the defensive line group): Monday, Feb. 27
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock