Nickel Package: Most to gain, prove

This is it. This is the time for 333 players in Indianapolis to make a positive impression at the NFL scouting combine.

Every year, players come to Indy prepped and ready to perform. By doing so, they impress NFL front offices, scouts and personnel. But there are others who are also hoping to prove (or disprove) the reputations that precede them.

From a former No. 1 in our preseason rankings to a Heisman Trophy runner-up who's trying to rebuild his reputation, here are five guys with the most to gain and five guys with the most to prove at the '13 combine

Most to gain

USC QB Matt Barkley (Scouts Inc. grade: 85)

He won't throw at the combine, and that's not a big deal. It's rare for a QB to improve his stock by throwing the ball at the combine. Barkley doesn't have elite physical tools. The reason he's considered a late-first-round, early-second-round pick is because of what he brings to the table. The area where he excels is his knowledge and understanding of the game.

I expect that when he interviews with teams, he's going to kill it in those meetings. From the football intelligence to the reading of coverages to knowing everyone's assignment and responsibility to being able to relate to coaches and talk to them in the language they understand, Barkley should do well.

He doesn't have an exceptional presence, but guys flock to him to a certain degree and he'll carry himself well in Indianapolis throughout the week.

Tennessee WR Cordarrelle Patterson (92)

He still has a lot to learn about the game. He's still developing. There will be a learning curve for him when it comes to NFL routes and reading coverages.

On tape, he has burst you don't see very often. His burst, his explosiveness, his athleticism and his ability to get vertical in a hurry show his natural skills. And with him at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, everyone in attendance is going to have a lot of fun watching this guy go through his workout.

He was a two-time All-American at Hutchinson Community College, and, in his first year at Tennessee, he set the school record with 1,858 all-purpose yards. We can pick apart his routes and he won't be the smoothest interview, and there will be some questions when he leaves those interviews about his understanding of the pro game, but it won't matter. He's going to lock down a spot in the first round after confirming at the combine that he has the athleticism you see on tape.

BYU DE Ezekiel Ansah (91)

His story is pretty well-known by now. He came to America from Ghana and went to BYU to study math. He tried out for the track team, the basketball team and finally the football team. He did very little early in his career, but then started to contribute on special teams. Ansah didn't enter this season as a full-time starter, then he was in the lineup because of an injury and all of a sudden we're talking about him as a first-round pick.

The reason for that is his potential, and in Indianapolis they're going to be able to see it firsthand. He's 6-6 and reportedly will run the 40-yard dash in the low 4.7s. I've heard he has somewhere between a 37- and 39-inch vertical jump. He has also run the 200 meters in 21.89 seconds. Texas' Marquis Goodwin, who's also at the combine, was an All-American in track, and that's close to what he ran the 200 in, and that's a guy who is 175 pounds.

There's a misconception that Ansah is an outside linebacker, but I think he's a perfect fit as a five-technique defensive end. He can stand up and do different things such as dropping into coverage and rushing the quarterback. He has rare versatility and will fit well as a defensive end in a 3-4 front. A team that runs multiple fronts and is creative with its schemes will get the most out of him.

Florida TE Jordan Reed (84)

He came in as a quarterback and bounced around. He played some Wildcat, then settled in at tight end. He has worked his tail off as a blocker and a route-runner, and his best football is in front of him. Offensive coaches in the NFL are starving for guys who can create mismatches. He fits the bill.

He's not the football player Aaron Hernandez was coming out of Florida, but he's not far off in terms of his natural ability. We should see a good all-around workout from Reed from a speed and agility standpoint. The more tape I study, the deeper this tight end group gets. Everyone knows Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz, but we're going see more from this position.

Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson (93)

He went the juco route out of high school. He has played quarterback, tight end, defensive end and offensive tackle. He's a versatile athlete who's been a starter for only a couple of years -- in 2011 at right tackle and in 2012 at left. The bottom line is he's a phenomenal athlete. He reportedly has been running in the 4.7s at more than 300 pounds. That could crush a lot of 260-pound tight ends. If he has the workout we're expecting to see, he can lock up a spot in the top 20 as the third OT off the board behind Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel and CMU's Eric Fisher.

Other prospects

Texas' Marquise Goodwin probably will run the fastest 40 in Indy. He's a two-time NCAA champion in the long jump. He's a four-time All-American in track and field. He made the 2012 U.S. Olympic team with a career best of 27 feet, 4.25 inches at the Olympic trials, and that jump would have been good enough to win gold in London. At the Olympics, he qualified for the finals with his first jump, but eventually finished in 10th place.

He has run the 60 meters in 6.69 and the 100 in 10.24. It's hard to find a guy who has a better résumé to run the 40-yard dash of the 333 players in Indy. He has a good chance to turn some heads.

South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore won't do anything physically, but there's a lot of buzz right now coming from his camp about his being ahead of schedule. He was at the Senior Bowl talking to people. We're going to see whether it's true from the medical results on how he's progressing. We'll see whether he's having an Adrian Peterson-like progression. If he's making strides and blowing people away after team doctors and medical personnel look at him, that will help him build some momentum going into the draft. He was a late-first-, early-second-round prospect before his injury, but now he's trying to lock down a spot in Day 2.

Most to prove

West Virginia QB Geno Smith (89)

He has a lot on the line, and he's expected to throw. But I don't care whether he throws. The big issue is how he performs on the board, how he digests offenses when teams ask him to regurgitate things, how quickly he processes information when he goes through all of it.

He's an intelligent young man, and he's a determined player, a hard worker. The smartest football guys in the world are going to spend a lot of quality time with him, and it will be interesting to see how he does in terms of his football knowledge.

He's the odds-on favorite to be the first QB taken, and might be the only QB taken in the first round, but he needs to prove he's the guy in his meetings and throughout the entire draft process.

Notre Dame ILB Manti Te'o (91)

He will be one of the more interesting interviews of the whole process. It's going to be frustrating for him because he's going to have to tell his story over and over and over again. Some teams will be more sensitive than others about the questions they ask and the line of questioning.

This is the first true step in the rehabilitation process. Here, it matters. Nobody cares what Katie Couric thinks. It's how he handles himself, how he answers questions and how believable he is. We'll also see how he gets along with the other guys.

I've never heard a bad thing about him, and I've never heard anyone say anything but positive things. I've got to believe he's going to pass the test here, but until he does it ... there's still a lot to prove.

We want to see how he interacts with the other guys at the combine. Are guys whispering around him? Is he getting frustrated? How does he carry himself? His leadership and the way the guys flocked to him was one of his greatest strengths as a player. If that's something teams become nervous about because they're seeing guys not respond to him, it will be interesting to see the feedback from scouts who are walking around with his group.

LSU DB Tyrann Mathieu (57)

Mathieu has a lot of questions to answer, on and off the field.

What about his speed? Can he turn and run? Is he staying in shape? What's his plan now? Has he matured? What's he doing to stay on course?

He has to sell himself in that (1) he has the physical tools to get into Day 2 of the draft, and (2) that he's trustworthy and taking the right steps. There's a lot of doubt out there.

Georgia ILB Alec Ogletree (92)

He didn't have a lot of incidents, but then before the combine he goes out and gets a DUI.

First of all, is he in peak physical condition? Second, what were the circumstances surrounding that DUI? And third, was it an isolated incident or does it become a concern? Is this something that continues to occur? Not all of these questions will be answered here, but he's going to have a lot of them to answer in Indy.

The good news for him is that if he has been getting into shape, and it was an isolated incident in which he made a mistake, he has the athleticism to wow people. That doesn't make up for the mistake, but it will help. He's the fastest true linebacker and covers more ground than any linebacker in this draft. But can he show that in workouts?

Tennessee QB Tyler Bray (81)

In a QB class in which there are no standouts and a bunch of Day 2 prospects -- some of whom have some standout skills but not great intangibles, and some of whom have great intangibles but no standout skills -- Bray has the best arm talent of any quarterback in this class. He's a little inconsistent delivering the ball, but he makes throws others cannot make. NC State's Mike Glennon is the closest.

If Bray had outstanding intangibles, great football character and great leadership -- the first one in and the last one out -- and had a passion for the game, he could be a first overall pick. He's not a great athlete and there are some holes in his game, but he has that kind of talent.

He's so inconsistent with his reads, his decisions, and gets lazy with his mechanics. He just doesn't have the look on tape of a guy who is obsessed with doing all the little things right and obsessed with the game. Teams will be working their tails off to find the answers when they talk to him.

Maybe he'll blow people away with his football knowledge. Ryan Mallett did it. You talk to guys in the league, and Mallett was one of the great football minds. But if Brey can come out of this process and sell himself, it would help his cause as a potential second-round pick.

But if he comes in and confirms the perception that he doesn't excel in those areas, that could affect his draft stock. Teams just don't have time because 95 percent of the busted QBs -- the guys who don't have the football IQ or passion for the game -- just don't get it.