The NFL Scouting Combine is an annual invitation-only event at which 300-plus prospects are put through a grueling-job interview process that tests them both physically and mentally. The combine can basically be broken down into four separate categories: medical evaluations, interview process, agility/positional drills and verified measurements.
When high school students apply to college, they rely on their grade-point average, extracurricular activities and athletics, but that is not quite enough. Admissions departments need SAT and ACT scores, or in other words, they want to know how students test. High school transcripts and grades aren't on the same level around the country with the curriculum varying in different regions. But standardized testing (right or wrong) puts all students on a level playing field.
That is the NFL Scouting Combine.
The 330 invited prospects who will travel to Indianapolis next week represent 330 different situations and game tapes. But for one week, Tuesday through March 6, they will all be evaluated in the same environment at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Below are 15 prospects in each of the four categories with a lot on the line depending on how they test at this year's Scouting Combine.
The Combine started in the early 1980s as a way for teams to perform medical checks at a neutral site instead of forcing all the players to travel from city to city, going through the same exams. And that is one of the main reasons the Combine is in Indianapolis, because of the medical equipment available. Over 350 MRIs are conducted in only a handful of days, making it difficult on a host city to accommodate the demands.
Medical information is the most important aspect of the Combine.
The medicals are the most important aspect of the Combine. Second is the interviews. Each team can schedule up to 60 15-minute sit-down interviews with prospects, making it basically a speed-dating exercise.
The sexiest aspect of the Combine: the athletic testing. The 40-yard dash, vertical, broad jump, bench press and a few others. They allow NFL teams to match quantitative data with a player's tape. The drills help provide context with each prospect participating on the same field, in the same setting and under the same circumstances (unlike campus pro days where scouts have to adjust for tracks, grass, wind, weather and several other factors).
Some label the Combine as nothing more than the "Underwear Olympics," but longtime NFL scout C.O. Brocato, who was one of my mentors, once told me: "Those who don't value the Combine don't know how to properly use it."
The verified measurements are important, especially for the underclassmen. Scouts have official numbers for many of the seniors from all-star games and campus visits in the fall. But at the Combine, each player is measured with the same scale, and the results are much more uniform.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Dating back to high school, Cook has undergone three shoulder surgeries, and the long-term effects of those injuries are the only road block keeping him from landing in round one.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Fournette missed five games in 2016 and parts of others due to a "reoccurring" issue with ligaments in his left ankle. Teams are crossing their collective fingers that there isn't any permanent damage.
James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh
Conner was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma last offseason, but in one of the best stories in sports over the past calendar year, he was announced as being cancer-free last May. He also tore the MCL in his right knee during the 2015 season, so his check-up will be important.
John Ross, WR, Washington
A candidate to run the fastest 40-yard dash in Indy, Ross has speed to burn. However, the most important step for him at the Combine is the medicals. Since the 2014 season, he has had surgeries on both knees and plans to have another operation in March to repair a torn labrum. The medicals, not the 40-yard dash, likely will determine whether Ross lands in round one.
Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
Unfortunately, teams won't have the opportunity to see Davis run at the Combine due to recent ankle surgery. The issue has been described as minor, but the medical information still will be crucial to his evaluation.
Jake Butt, TE, Michigan
Following an ACL tear in his right knee in the bowl game, Butt won't be able to work out at Lucas Oil Stadium, but teams will have the chance to be updated on his rehab.
Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
Ramczyk is the best offensive line prospect in the 2017 NFL Draft class, but he is recovering from hip surgery. The medical reports will be crucial to him landing in the top 20.
Carl Lawson, DE/OLB, Auburn
Lawson put together a much needed healthy season in 2016, but his injury history is still a concern. He missed the 2014 season with an ACL tear in his left knee and sat out most of the 2015 season due to a cracked hip.
Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
With his violent playing demeanor, Foster is bound to have bumps and bruises lingering from the 2016 season. He has a history of shoulder stingers, he sustained a concussion last October, and he recently underwent right rotator cuff surgery.
Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida
A first-round player on tape, Davis probably won't land in round one due to his extensive injury history, including two season-ending injuries: a torn meniscus in his left knee (2014) and a badly sprained ankle (2016).
Alex Anzalone, LB, Florida
Another talented but oft-injured linebacker from Florida, Anzalone just couldn't stay healthy in college, most notably due to a banged-up right shoulder that cost him most of his first three seasons in Gainesville. He also broke his left arm, which ended his 2016 season prematurely.
Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
Although he stayed healthy in 2016, Lattimore struggled to stay on the field his first two seasons in Columbus due to a history of chronic hamstring issues, dating back to his high school days. Doctors will need to sign off on his medicals before a team uses a top-10 pick on him, which is where Lattimore's talent belongs.
Malik Hooker, FS, Ohio State
Hooker isn't expected to work out prior to the draft due to recent hernia and labrum surgeries. How is his rehab? Will he be 100 percent for training camp? Two key questions that need answered before a team invests a top-10 pick on the talented Buckeyes safety.
Eddie Jackson, FS, Alabama
A broken leg in October ended Jackson's career at Alabama and has kept him sidelined to this point. Will he work out at the Combine? When will he be 100 percent?
Marcus Maye, SS, Florida
Maye, who also has a few older injuries (including a torn MCL) that need to be checked, missed the final three games of the 2016 season and the Senior Bowl due to a broken left arm he sustained last November.
I feel confident saying there will be several NFL teams who have Kizer as the No. 1 quarterback on their board. But there will be important questions for him to answer during meetings, including why the Irish managed only four wins in 2016. NFL teams have seen the tape and will have their own opinions, but they will want to hear Kizer's opinion.
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
Mahomes should test and throw well at Lucas Oil Stadium -- the tape shows that. But where is he mentally in his development? He is still very young in football years, and these meetings will be key for NFL teams in terms of projecting when Mahomes will be ready to see meaningful NFL snaps.
Jerod Evans, QB, Virginia Tech
In his one season in Blacksburg, Evans flashed intriguing ability, but consistency was an issue. Why not return to school and further his development? Why enter the NFL Draft now? His answers will be important.
Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee
Although he is well-liked within the Volunteers program, Kamara has an immature past, including two suspensions during his time at Alabama, which led to Nick Saban booting him from the program. He was also arrested after he left the Tide on suspicion of driving on a suspended license and failure to appear. It doesn't sound as if teams are too worried about his character, but that won't hold back clubs from asking the tough questions.
Joe Williams, RB, Utah
Williams has speed to burn and might run a legitimate 4.3 in the 40-yard dash. But more important, he needs to nail the interviews and provide answers that help teams feel more comfortable about his four-game "retirement" early in his senior season. Williams was also kicked off the team at Connecticut in 2013 after an arrest on suspicion of larceny and theft of a credit card. His red flags are brighter than the Utes' jerseys.
Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma
Factoring in the NFL's new Combine policies, it is a surprise Westbrook even received an invite. He has been arrested three times, including twice for domestic-violence incidents that involved the mother of his children. Westbrook also has some focus issues that have scouts concerned about his mental commitment to the game.
Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M
A quick-twitch athlete oozing with talent, Noil was never able to find consistent production with the Aggies. His questionable makeup is one of the culprits, including multiple marijuana-related suspensions and issues in the locker room that concern NFL scouts.
Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
Although the district attorney decided not to purse prosecution, Robinson still will need to answer for an incident last May in which he was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and a stolen gun.
Chad Wheeler, OT, USC
The medicals will be crucial to Wheeler's final evaluation, but so will his interviews. He was arrested in December 2015 after an allegedly belligerent encounter with police at the apartment of his girlfriend and their young child. Bean bag rounds were required to subdue him, and Wheeler was later taken to the hospital and held for psychiatric evaluation.
Al-Quadin Muhammad, DE/OLB, Miami (Fla.)
Talent isn't the question with this prospect. Muhammad was one of three defenders dismissed from the Miami program last summer following an investigation into their relationship with a luxury car rental company. Muhammad, who also missed the 2014 season due to suspension after a fight with a former student, has been training for the draft since his dismissal last August, but what kind of shape is he in? What has he been doing to train the past six months?
Tim Williams, DE/OLB, Alabama
Labeled as potentially another Randy Gregory situation, Williams needs to ace interviews and quell the notion that marijuana and other activities are more important to him than football if he wants to land in round one.
Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State
Based strictly on talent, McDowell belongs in the top five overall of the 2017 draft class. But his football makeup is a concern, and teams will want to know why he appeared to shut things down once Michigan State's season went south in 2016.
Charles Walker, DL, Oklahoma
Walker, who also has a history of concussions, left the Sooners' program midseason to start his preparation for the NFL Draft. The move wasn't well received by Oklahoma coaches and some of his former teammates. NFL teams will be eager to hear his explanation.
Jarron Jones, DL, Notre Dame
Jones flashes legitimate first-round talent, but there is no consistency to his game. Also factor in that he "wore down" the Notre Dame coaching staff, according to one source, and teams will have plenty of questions for Jones about his character.
Teez Tabor, CB, Florida
A brash player on the field, Tabor has the cocky attitude that will sometimes extend off the field as well, rubbing some the wrong way. And those immature tendencies led to multiple suspensions while he was at Florida.
Tarik Cohen, RB, North Carolina A&T
At only 5-foot-6 and 178 pounds, Cohen won't impress during the weigh-in portion, so his athletic skills will need to grab the attention of scouts. Cohen, who anchored his high school's state championship 400-meter relay team, ran away from defenders at the FCS level. NFL teams are eager to get exact numbers on this talented athlete.
Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
No one expects the talented Clemson wideout to run a 4.3 40-yard dash. But is Williams a 4.52 athlete? Or more of a 4.58 athlete? With Western Michigan's Corey Davis unable to work out due to an ankle injury, Williams has the stage to prove why he should be the first wide receiver drafted.
Chad Hansen, WR, California
Hansen, who ran track at Idaho State before transferring to Cal, should finish as one of the top performers across the board. He has the long-speed, short-area quickness and change-of-direction movements that translate to the next level.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington
Kupp will ace the interview process, and he offers the most prolific wide receiver resume the FCS has ever produced. He has vacuum hands and makes himself available in his routes, but running a solid 4.5 time in the 40-yard dash would help teams feel better about his evaluation.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
There is plenty to like about what Smith-Schuster offers a NFL team. But on tape, he doesn't have the dynamic speed to consistently separate. His numbers in the 40-yard dash and short-area quickness drills will be important.
David Njoku, TE, Miami (Fla.)
A national champion high jumper in high school, Njoku has freakish athleticism and could leave Indianapolis as one of the big winners. He shows impressive speed, agility and burst on film, but producing the numbers to match could give him the edge over O.J. Howard as the draft's top tight end for some teams.
Adam Shaheen, TE, Ashland
A prospect with "wow" tape, Shaheen dominated Division II competition, running by and over defenders with ease. He looks like a 4.7 athlete on film, which would be truly impressive for a 275-pounder, but facing players from programs like Lake Erie and Michigan Tech can make it tough to truly gauge his athletic skill set. I expect Shaheen to create a lot of buzz in Indianapolis.
Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Barnett has excellent tape and overall production, moving well with natural bend. But he isn't a twitched-up athlete who explodes by blockers with speed and burst alone, and his workout numbers likely will back that up.
Takkarist McKinley, DE/OLB, UCLA
With McKinley's current shoulder issue, medicals will be crucial to his draft grade. But his workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium will take the focus off his injury and allow everyone to appreciate his impressive athleticism. McKinley, who ran a 10.71 in the 100 meters as a 235-pounder in high school, might break the 4.5 mark in the 40-yard dash at 250 pounds.
Tyus Bowser, DE/OLB, Houston
Bowser, who also played two seasons on the Houston basketball team, looks like a bodybuilder and is a silky smooth mover at 244 pounds. He is already considered a day-two prospect by many around the league, and his numbers in Indianapolis should confirm that.
Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford
A projected top-10 pick, Thomas is going to "drop jaws" with his workouts, according to a Stanford assistant coach. At 6-foot-2 and 270 pounds, he has some tweener traits, but with his blend of speed, burst and power, coaches and scouts will bang the table to add him to the defensive line rotation.
DeMarcus Walker, DL, Florida State
With 45 tackles for loss over his career, Walker has first-round production. But his tape tells a different story, and his athletic testing should confirm that with average-at-best times in the 40-yard dash, short shuttle and three-cone drill.
Haason Reddick, LB, Temple
After his Senior Bowl performance, the secret of Haason Reddick is already out. But that doesn't mean he can't help himself even more with his athletic testing. A former defensive back, Reddick is an explosive mover with the fluidity that will impress in Indianapolis.
Kevin King, CB, Washington
King, who opted not to participate at the Senior Bowl, will impress with his height and length, but his jumps during athletic testing will also create buzz. King is a strong candidate to reach 40 inches in the vertical and 11 feet in the broad jump, which both would be outstanding numbers.
Adoree Jackson, CB, USC
While there are some question marks about his best fit in the NFL, Jackson has special athleticism, and no one debates that. He won the Pac-12 outdoor long jump title in 2015 and 2016 and placed 10th at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials. Jackson is a strong candidate to run the fastest 40-yard dash in this class.
Josh Jones, DS, North Carolina State
Somewhat of an under-the-radar prospect, Jones is a junior who came out early and should be much more well-known after the Combine. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Jones plays with outstanding range and explosive hitting ability, which should show in his testing times.
Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
Listed at 6-foot-3, Trubisky might not reach that mark during official measurements, but as long as he comes in over 6-foot-2, NFL teams will be satisfied.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
A lean-muscled athlete, Watson doesn't have ideal body armor for the position, and scouts are interested to see if he comes in over or under 215 pounds. And if under -- how much bulk can he add? Is his body maxed out?
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
Regardless of his playing weight, McCaffrey will be more of a versatile weapon than true workhorse at the NFL level. But is he closer to 215 pounds or 200 pounds? A physical build would help teams feel confident in his durability.
Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State
Coming in at 169 pounds in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, Pumphrey has had a month to add good weight to his frame. He should perform well during the agility workouts, and scouts are hoping those numbers come with him at 175 pounds or more.
D'Onta Foreman, RB, Texas
The nation's leading rusher in 2016, Foreman looks like a tank, but how much weight is he carrying? And is it all good weight?
Gerald Everett, TE, South Alabama
After tipping the scales in the 240-pound range during the fall, Everett was only 227 pounds at the Senior Bowl. He should test well in Indianapolis, but it will mean much more if he runs a 4.65 40-yard dash at 240-plus pounds and not sub-230.
Garett Bolles, OT, Utah
While he should perform well during the athletic testing, Bolles has core strength issues that give scouts pause. The soon-to-be 25-year-old's official measurements and build will be important to projecting him forward in an NFL strength and conditioning program.
Damien Mama, OG, USC
Although he has worked hard to shed bad weight, Mama ballooned to near 400 pounds as a freshman two years ago. Scouts are eager to see his current weight and body.
Pat Elflein, OC, Ohio State
Elflein, who has been training with former Ohio State and NFL center LeCharles Bentley, is working to trim up his frame. Since he wasn't at the Senior Bowl, his current measureables compared to what scouts have on record from the fall should be interesting.
Myles Garrett, DE/OLB, Texas A&M
The presumptive No. 1 overall pick, Garrett is a fantastic athlete with an NFL frame, but how much weight is he carrying? And how long are his arms?
T.J. Watt, DE/OLB, Wisconsin
With tweener traits, Watt isn't the easiest evaluation. When I recently asked a pro scout who he most wanted to see during Combine weigh-ins, the Wisconsin linebacker was the first player he mentioned.
Elijah Qualls, DT, Washington
Since he enrolled at Washington, Qualls has seen his weight fluctuate between 280 and 330 pounds. He was carrying some bad weight in his midsection last year, and scouts want to see him hold steady in the 310-315 range.
Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
A physically impressive corner, Humphrey could be a big winner if he comes in at over 6-foot-1, 200 pounds and 33-inch arms.
Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
A lean-framed corner, Jones was pushed around by physical receivers on tape, especially in press. He arrived at Washington under 170 pounds and played this season around 180 pounds. Scouts are hoping to see him reach 190 pounds at the Combine.
Budda Baker, FS, Washington
History tells us that most sub-200 pound safeties don't last long-term in the NFL due to the physicality of the position. And while most NFL scouts I've spoken with love his game, Baker might not hit certain size thresholds that several teams use for the first round.
--Dane Brugler is senior analyst of NFLDraftScout.com, published and operated by The Sports Xchange, in cooperation with CBSSports.com.