Editor's Note: John Harris will be doing a series of posts for each group/position leading up to the combine. We start with the QBs.
The NFL Combine starts on Wednesday in Indianapolis, which amounts to the most important job interview future NFL stars will have. It's a different interview than most people typically have, and I'd imagine that there aren't many, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" type-of-questions. That all being said, a handful of players have key interview questions to answer this week. Over the next couple of days, we'll examine those players and the issues that must be addressed. We start with the quarterbacks.
It's possible that no group/position has as much to lose at the combine as the quarterbacks, given the major question marks most NFL teams have at this particular position. Suffice it to say, this group is definitely a group of players loaded with an upside—as well as baggage.
Pat Devlin, Delaware
The former Penn State transfer will have to win over the interview aspect of the combine, especially answering the question of why he decided to transfer to Delaware. Furthermore, Devlin must throw well and show that the lingering effects of a poor Senior Bowl are behind him.
Nathan Enderle, Idaho
If the Idaho star measures in the 6'4" range as expected, and he can show that he's got a quick release in throwing drills, he's a guy who could really improve his stock in this years draft.
Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
I dont expect Gabbert will throw at the combine, but there have been some concerns about what kind of leader he is, that he doesn't have the highest football IQ. The "poor leader" label was attached to Sam Bradford last year, which he fortunately shed (and then some) in 2010. But, those behind the scenes never questioned Bradford. Allegedly, Gabbert has his detractors on both accounts.
Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M
The former Aggie starter could actually win back some personnel people by showing that his arm is healthy and as close as 100% which it wasn't during the 2010 season. Not many seniors would've been able to handle his situation with as much class as he did last season. As such, if he can just prove his arm is ready to go, he may find a few more friends in Indy.
Colin Kaepernick, Nevada
Kap turned a ton of heads at the Senior Bowl throwing the football, but it has to continue at the Combine. His release is a little funky, but the ball gets out hot and on time. Plain and simple: It just looks weird. He has to solidify his draft standing with a great week throwing. (He's going to run a WR/DB time in the 40 which is just icing on the cake.)
Jake Locker, Washington
Locker needs to take every opportunity to throw in front of NFL personnel. He may choose not to, but even vs. air, he's got to show he can be accurate—something he wasn't for his four years at Washington. He must win over teams in the interview portion of the combine to prove he has the football know-how that teams desire. If I were Locker, I wouldn't lift or run. All that'll do is prove that he's still more athlete than quarterback, step away from those stereotypes in some sense. He should just throw—as much as possible.
Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
Oh boy, if anyone must have a more important weekend at the combine, I'm not sure who it is. Questions—serious questions—have arisen as to Mallett's alleged drug use off the field, as well as his smarts on the field. I've seen how he's handled Bobby Petrino's playbook on the field, but he must show NFL people how he mastered it. The drug issue is dicey. The key to all of this is that it's all rumor and innuendo—nothing concrete—but said rumors are growing louder by the day. Mallett is going to have to answer those questions whether he wants to or not. Keep in mind, former Florida TE Aaron Hernandez fell to the fourth round last year in large part due to his constant drug use at the University of Florida. Like Mallett, he had First Round ability but couldn't escape those questions in the combine. At least Hernandez answered honestly and forthright at the combine and in later interviews with teams. If there are no issues, then Mallett can answer and dispel those rumors in those team meeting sessions.
Cam Newton, Auburn
If you don't know already, then you're not reading this website. Let's just say he needs to answer to the following:
Cheating scandal at Florida
Buying a stolen computer at Florida
Allegations of impropriety with Mississippi State and/or Auburn
Are you coachable and what happens when things go bad for you, how will you react?
Newton's handled on- and off-the-field adversity as well as any player we've seen in recent memory, but there wasnt much on-the-field adversity throughout the season—even in the SEC. As such, I'd really put some pressure on him—I'd find tape of his games where he threw an interception and the TV cameras showed him pouting on the sideline, not listening to teammates or coaches. Show him that and get his reaction. As a personnel guy, I'd almost stay away from watching him doing anything athletic, live or on tape, because I've seen enough. Every time I'd flip on the tape, I'd attempt to convince myself that the off-the-field issues really don't matter. But this week at the Combine, those issues DO matter and Newton has to answer to his past, whether he wants to or not.
Christian Ponder, Florida State
Ponder is the exact opposite of Newton; he just has to prove his arm/elbow is sound. He doesn't carry one small change purse of baggage, and he has solid Second Round ability... IF IF IF his arm/elbow is healthy. Medical/Physicals will be a big part of his weekend. If he passes the medical tests with flying colors and he can prove it by throwing the ball at the Combine, teams will love the entire Ponder package.
Photo: Path to the Draft