Posted: Wednesday February 22, 2012 12:22PM ; Updated: Wednesday February 22, 2012 8:36PM
Tony Pauline
Tony Pauline>INSIDE THE NFL

2012 Scouting Combine preview

Story Highlights

Pass-rushers Courtney Upshaw and Vinny Curry will have to post fast 40 times

Expect Melvin Ingram, Fletcher Cox to boast surprisingly strong workout numbers

Another weak workout might move CB Alfonzo Dennard to safety in the NFL

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Fletcher Cox
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is expected to boast a strong Combine workout, which could send his already-high stock skyrocketing.
Shelby Daniel/Icon SMI

The NFL descends upon Indianapolis for the second time in February, though for very different reasons this time around. More than 325 NFL hopefuls will arrive at the NFL Scouting Combine to be tested physically, mentally and medically by prospective future employers. The Combine offers prospects another opportunity to impress NFL decision-makers. Here's some insight on who to keep an eye on.

Who has the most to gain?

Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor -- Several draft boards around the league list Wright as the top receiver prospect. Game film shows Wright is football fast, but is he stopwatch fast? Running under 4.4 in the 40 would help secure Wright as a top-15 choice.

David DeCastro, OL, Stanford -- DeCastro closely resembles Steve Hutchinson on the field with his aggressive nature and dominant strength. Scouts wonder if DeCastro can make the move from guard to right tackle in the NFL. He's listed at 6-foot-5 on the Stanford website, the perfect height for a right tackle prospect. If his Combine measurement is close to that number and DeCastro turns in a good workout, franchises around the league could place him on their draft board at the right tackle position. His draft stock would then soar.

Courtney Upshaw, DE-OLB, Alabama -- Upshaw has a lot riding on his 40 time. A performance in the low 4.7s will ease the minds of 3-4 teams around the league who project Upshaw to outside linebacker.

Vinny Curry, DE-OLB, Marshall -- The situation is much the same for Curry, one of the best pass rushers in college football the past two seasons. He possesses the quickness and movement skills to line up at outside linebacker, but many wonder if he has the speed necessary to run with tight ends in coverage. Forty times in the low 4.7s could push Curry into the late part of the first round.

Shea McClellin, LB, Boise State -- McClellin has made a steady climb up draft boards. He was a devastating pass rusher at defensive end for Boise State, then made the seamless transition to linebacker at the Senior Bowl. He's another hybrid prospect who will jump up draft boards with good postings in the 40. A time no worse than 4.72 seconds could move him into the late part of the second round.

George Iloka, S, Boise State -- In a position group lacking talent, Iloka impressed teams during the Senior Bowl. He's currently the top free safety on draft boards around the league. If Iloka performs as expected (4.50 seconds and 25 reps on the bench at 225 pounds) he'll likely secure a spot in the early part of the second round.

Marvin Jones, WR, California -- Jones was cast as a possession wideout with minimal upside entering the 2011 campaign. He topped off a tremendous season by impressing NFL decision-makers at the Senior Bowl. The question remains: How fast is Jones? If he matches his 40 times in recent workouts (low 4.4s), Jones will be viewed in a whole new light and could jump into the second round.

Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt -- Hayward is one of the most polished cornerbacks in the draft. He offers next-level ball skills, size and top-notch instincts. But his lack of foot speed concerns scouts. The cornerback position has four top prospects, then its anyone's guess. Hayward could slide into the middle of the second round if he runs in the very low 4.5 area.

Philip Thomas, S, Syracuse -- Thomas is building a buzz in scouting circles. He was a ballhawk at Syracuse, with a relatively complete game. But he was also dismissed from the program during the 2011 season for violation of team rules. Workouts and interviews are critical for Thomas.

Ladarius Green, TE, Louisiana Lafayette -- The NFL is a copycat league, and now every offensive coordinator is looking for the large tight end who can get downfield and create mismatches in the secondary. Green has the size (6-5, 240), but scouts want to see if he can run fast.

Who needs a good workout?

Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama -- The Alabama junior is universally graded as the second-best cornerback in this draft. Where he lands in the first round depends on his 40 time (Kirkpatrick was beaten deep on a number of occasions) and how he answers questions about character and work ethic.

Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College -- Kuechly was a tackling machine for the Eagles and may have the best instincts of any defensive prospect in this draft. His size and speed are a concern, though, and many wonder if Kuechly is nothing more than a two-down run-stopper in the NFL. He could quell those concerns with solid performances on the bench press and in the 40.

Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina -- Jeffery is known for his highlight-reel receptions and the ability to beat defenders to come away with the ball. But questions about his speed, quickness and conditioning linger. Jeffery needs to arrive at the Combine in shape and ready to work out.

Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska -- Dennard was a solid cornerback the past two seasons at Nebraska, but a poor week at the Senior Bowl has raised concern. If he doesn't run fast times in the 40 (at least mid-4.4 range), teams will take him off their cornerback list and move him to safety.

Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State -- There's not much that can be written about Burfict that hasn't been already said. He needs to show he's the complete package both on the field during workouts as well as in the interview room for any chance of restoring his draft stock.

Who will surprise?

Melvin Ingram, DE-OLB, South Carolina -- Ingram has been lightning fast in recent workouts leading up to the Combine. At 275 pounds, he's expected to run under 4.7 seconds in the 40. If he does, Ingram will move into the draft's first dozen choices.

Fletcher Cox, DL, Mississippi State -- Cox is another big man who will boast surprisingly strong workout numbers. He's expected to run slightly under 4.8 in the 40 after tipping the scale at 300 pounds. Cox will also excel in many of the other Combine tests. Insiders have said he could make a Tyson Jackson-like sprint up draft boards after his workout.

Lamar Miller, RB, Miami -- Miller has not let postseason shoulder surgery slow him down. The speedy back recently returned to training after rehabbing his shoulder and has been posting times in the mid-4.3s.

Oliver Vernon, DE-OLB, Miami -- Vernon sat on the sidelines for half of last season, serving an NCAA suspension. His stats, including 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, are nothing to get excited about. But on film Vernon looks fast and athletic. He could be the talk of the Combine; at more than 260 pounds, he has been regularly posting times in the low-4.6-second range

 
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