INDIANAPOLIS -- What does running the 40-yard dash in 4.27 seconds get a football players who's fresh out of college?
If his name is Mario Alford, it's an NFL contract and immediately inflated expectations.
While it's safe to say the seventh-round pick didn't make much impact during his rookie year (he was active for only one game this past season), he and another young receiver could turn 2016 into a breakout season depending on what happens for the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency.
Marvin Jones is understandably looking for a big payday and Mohamed Sanu is reportedly looking for a way out of Cincinnati. If one or both of the veterans leave, the Bengals will most certainly draft one or two receivers. But they also hope Alford or third-year receiver James Wright will more immediately transition into the spots that could be vacated by Jones or Sanu.
At the NFL combine Wednesday, offensive coordinator Ken Zampese shared what he's looking for from Alford and Wright.
On Alford, Zampese said: "We have to have a spring out of him where when we watch him play it says, 'I know exactly what I'm doing. I'm going a million miles an hour and I'm fearless, and I catch everything around me.' For him, I'm really looking forward to seeing him make a big jump in his play speed, play after play, and the consistency of technique, the consistency of the hands. He's certainly got a good amount of skill to do all that.
"I can't wait to visit with him to do all that and to see where his mind's at and just to get to know him a little bit more so I can help push him in directions that he hadn't been able to push himself at the moment."
Alford had just one catch for 15 yards in his lone appearance in 2015.
As for Wright, 2016 could be a bounceback year after knee surgery sacked him all of last season. Zampese isn't quite sure where things stand for Wright from a medical standpoint, but he was firm in stating that he wants Wright to factor heavily into his offense once fully healthy.
"He's a big part of what we're going to do," Zampese said. "That guy can run forever, he's tough as nails and he says nothing. He just goes and works, and I love him for that. ... Those are the kind of guys we want to bring in our building."
Wright was just starting to break out as a dependable third-down option near the end of the 2014 season when he first suffered a knee injury that ended his season. He landed awkwardly on the knee while catching a pass that converted a third down. He tried to get going again the following spring, but by training camp the knee hadn't progressed enough. He was Cincinnati's first injured reserve casualty of 2015.
"We're really looking for good things from him," Zampese said.