NFL scouting combine: Kyler Murray, N'Keal Harry among 9 players with something to prove
Auditioning for all 32 NFL teams at the scouting combine requires an inherent edge.
For all 338 invitees, partaking in the annual event - already underway in Indianapolis - usually necessitates ample preparation. Through a multi-day run of weigh-ins, team interviews, media sessions, testing and drills, players are put to the test as they are compared to their peers.
But there's always more at stake for some players than others, whether that's answering for a perceived physical shortcoming, responding to pressing questions from coaches or simply getting a clean bill of health from medical staffs.
Here are nine players with something to prove at this year's combine:
Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma: No other player in Indianapolis will face heavier scrutiny than the Heisman Trophy winner — and much of it will begin before he even steps foot on the field. Murray will draw significant interest on his measurables alone, as teams will want to see if he stands at the 5-10 mark he was listed at and whether he's added any bulk to his frame. During interviews, he likely will be pressed on his commitment to football after announcing only earlier this month he was bypassing a baseball career to go all-in on becoming a pro quarterback.
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Bryce Love, RB, Stanford: A torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in the regular-season finale served as the cap to a disappointing senior campaign for the 2017 Heisman Trophy runner-up, whose yards per carry fell from 8.1 to 4.5 last year. Now limited as he works on his recovery, Love faces crucial medical checks with teams. He should be evaluated again later in the process, but an optimistic prognosis would help pull his stock up from a nose dive.
David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State: In a class of running backs that doesn't appear to have an established pecking order, Montgomery stands out as a versatile option with a well-rounded skill set. His most valuable assets, however, might not translate easily to this forum. Teams will want to see if he has the high-end acceleration and burst out of his cuts he seemed to lack in college.
N'Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State: In the Pac-12, Harry made a habit of beating defensive backs to the ball in contested catch situations. That routine might not always fly in the NFL, where he'll need to create more consistent separation to earn his quarterback's trust. Showing some explosive traits in testing and drills will be crucial for answering those concerns.
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford: The 6-3, 225-pound target is perhaps the foremost red-zone threat in this class, as he scored 14 touchdowns as a senior by routinely using his body to box out smaller defenders. At the next level, however, he'll have to prove he can shake cornerbacks who push him around at the line of scrimmage. Posting respectable times in the 40-yard dash and three-cone drill could help him solidify his case to be a second- or third-round pick.
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Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson: It's hard to imagine that the 2018 ACC defensive player of the year would have much more to prove after a decorated career in which he tallied 27 sacks and 50 1/2 tackles for loss. But NFL teams might be reticent to use a top-10 pick on a pass rusher with pedestrian burst off the edge, as Ferrell's predilection for overwhelming offensive tackles with his length might not be as fruitful at the next level. With Florida's Jachai Polite and Florida State's Brian Burns poised to stand out in the 40-yard dash, three-cone drill and broad jump, Ferrell will be under pressure to show he stacks up with other early first-round hopefuls at his position.
Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson: A positive test for a trace of ostarine, a substance banned by the NCAA as an anabolic agent, forced Lawrence to miss the College Football Playoff, and teams will undoubtedly be seeking an explanation. On the field, Lawrence's stock could be shaped in part by whether teams view him as merely a two-down run stopper or a more dynamic interior presence. While the 6-4, 350-pounder shows more than enough power for the former role and could record one of the highest number of bench press reps of any player, exhibiting explosiveness and quickness will be integral to convince teams he can also get after the quarterback.
Porter Gustin, OLB, USC: Long seen as one of college football's physical marvels, Gustin is the kind of workout warrior who should be in line to turn heads in combine measurements and workouts. His health, however, has left him as something of an unknown quantity, as he played in just 10 games in the last two years due to injuries to his toe, biceps and ankle. Clearing medical evaluations will be the most important step for Gustin in Indianapolis, though he'll also be under pressure to answer for his rigidity as a rusher.
Joejuan Williams, CB, Vanderbilt: Listed at 6-3 and 2018 pounds with an expansive reach, Williams will likely be one of the winners of weigh-ins. His victory will be short-lived, however, if he doesn't show sufficient speed and fluidity in testing and drills. The 40 will be perhaps the biggest test given concerns about his recovery ability, but his short-area quickness will also be under the microscope.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.