Keenan Allen should be a star in the NFL, but he may not look the part at the Combine. (Tommy LaPorte/Icon SMI)
The 2013 NFL scouting combine kicks off this week in Indianapolis, with 333 players set to attend the event.
Part I of our two-part combine primer takes a glance at some offensive prospects who could help or hurt their cases in the coming days ...
BURKE: NFL Draft Big Board
Who will shine
• Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee: Could Patterson be the first wide receiver off the board in April? It's looking more and more possible as scouts familiarize themselves with the ex-Tennessee Vol, who played just one season of FBS college ball.
The combination of that limited tape and Patterson's natural athletic ability makes him a likely combine star -- he should put up solid marks in running and jumping drills, which will just further the perception that he could be a big-play NFL receiver.
• Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina: Alabama guard Chance Warmack (deservedly) has garnered a ton of attention at the position, but Cooper is not all that far behind. The gap could close even further at the combine, too, if Cooper performs as expected. He moves extremely well for an interior offensive lineman, meaning that something like his 40 time could open some eyes, even if that mark usually matters little to a player of his position.
• E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State:Geno Smith will be on several teams' combine watchlist -- the West Virginia QB is generally considered the top prospect at that position in this draft, and he did not accept an invite to the Senior Bowl.
However, Manuel might have the highest QB ceiling right now, in terms of how much he could climb the draft charts. It's safe to assume that the athletic, 6-foot-4 former Seminole will show well in most of the combine's drills. If he backs that by throwing the ball effectively, he could rise into a Round 2 prospect.
Who will struggle
• Most of the rest of the quarterbacks (probably): This is somewhat unfair to Smith, but there is little to no chance that he does anything at the combine to prove himself as a potential No. 1 pick -- it's the proverbial lipstick-on-a-pig problem, in that Smith would be a reach in the top 10, let alone as the first player chosen.
The combine will provide another chance for guys like Mike Glennon, Ryan Nassib, Landry Jones, Tyler Bray and Tyler Wilson to impress NFL teams. Showing off a big arm won't be a problem for most of those QBs, but the combine is a tough draw. Even without defenses on the field, quarterbacks often struggle there having to throw to unfamiliar receivers in a very nerve-wracking setting.
There's the chance for a couple quarterbacks to separate themselves a bit ... or for everyone to muddle together even more.
• Keenan Allen, WR, Cal: I have Allen as a top-15 prospect and the highest-ranked receiver on my latest Big Board, but the combine may not be his friend. (Update: Allen will not work out because of a minor knee injury.)
Why? Allen's best characteristics include that he catches the ball well with his hands, runs smart routes and has experience playing all over the field. He should do well in pass-catching drills, but odds are that his 40 time will be down the list -- he's not a breakaway receiver. Allen is better on film than he will be in the combine setting. (Update: Allen will not work out because of a minor knee injury.)
• Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State: Bell tweeted a couple weeks ago that he's trying to slim down to 228 pounds. That's all well and good, but even at that weight, it will be hard for Bell to convince scouts he can be a No. 1 back. He's strong, so the weightlifting portion of the combine will be no trouble, but a 230-pound back with so-so speed is more of a goal-line threat in NFL minds than a three-down prospect.
• Justin Pugh, G/T, Syracuse: Pugh is an intriguing talent. His problem, however, is that he projects to a guard spot in the NFL after playing tackle at Syracuse. Already, he measured in with arms shorter than NFL teams like from interior linemen. And he likely won't put up bench numbers like Warmack or Cooper, which will only serve to highlight the gap between Pugh and those upper-echelon guards.
• Matt Barkley, QB, USC: Barkley reportedly will not throw at the combine, his injured right shoulder still not back to 100 percent. That's a disappointing development, since Barkley had to sit out the Senior Bowl and most of his QB counterparts will air it out in Indianapolis.
Barkley will have a chance to throw for scouts during USC's Pro Day on March 27 -- expect him to perform well there, on his home turf and with his own receivers. Will he be too far behind the curve by then?
• Zac Dysert, QB, Miami (Ohio): Dysert will interview at the combine, but that's it after he reportedly suffered a slight hamstring tear last week. That's a tough blow for Dysert, who, despite being far from the draft's most polished QB, would have shown well in running drills.
• Chris Faulk, OT, LSU: Faulk turned pro despite suffering a season-ending knee injury last September. First and foremost, he has to prove to NFL teams that he's close to all the way back from that injury.
• Barrett Jones, C, Alabama: The versatile Jones will sit out most of the combine as he heals from the Lisfranc injury he somehow played through in 2012. He's more of an effort guy than a top-notch athlete anyway, so the combine may not have helped him.
• Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon: Jordan has put off needed shoulder surgery until after the combine, so that he can work out there. However, it remains to be seen exactly how much he'll be able to do ... and how that pending surgery will impact his stock.
• Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama: According to a report from Adam Schefter on Monday, Lacy will not be able to run through drills at the combine after suffering a small tear in his hamstring during training. Alabama's Pro Day is in mid-March -- hopefully, for Lacy's sake, he can go all-out then.
• Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: Get ready to hear a lot about Lattimore, if the talented running back is as far along in his recovery from a devastating knee injury as it sounds. Lattimore could crank up the chatter surrounding him significantly if he proves he'll be ready to go soon.
• Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan: Medical evaluations will be critical for Robinson going forward -- he injured his right elbow during the 2012 season and still was not a full-go during the Senior Bowl. With Robinson facing the major adjustment of learning a new position (be it WR, RB or CB), adding in suspect medicals might scare away some teams.
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