The path to the draft
How Barkley & Co. stack up as NFL scouting combine approaches
Matt Barkley (Combine jersey number: QB01)
Status: Barkley has been one of the big storylines heading into the combine because of his decision not to throw due to his injured shoulder. As much as he might have wanted to throw, it just doesn't make sense if the shoulder isn't completely ready. There will be time to showcase the arm at USC's pro day near the end of March, and there is still much to be gained at the combine. The interview process, in particular, is going to be a chance for Barkley to shine.
What he needs to prove: Barkley's arm isn't considered elite by NFL standards, and the shoulder issue is something that will need to be put to rest in his pro day workout.
On-field drills: It's not considered to be a strong draft class for quarterbacks, so this would have been a good chance for Barkley to show well against the competition.
Status: Woods has as much to gain from the combine as any USC player, since he is coming out as a junior (which means he wasn't scouted as much during the year as the senior prospects). The NFL scouts are going to see him up close more than ever, and they will find a fundamentally sound player who is ready to play the game as a professional.
What scouts like: As with Barkley, Woods can point to a ton of production at the college level, as well as a history of playing through injury.
What he needs to prove: One of the knocks on Woods is a perceived lack of strength. Some good testing results could benefit him in this area.
On-field drills: Woods should thrive with his solid routes and hands. He also will catch balls from Barkley at the USC pro day.
Khaled Holmes (OL25)
Status: A good combine showing is important for Holmes after he was unable to take part in the Senior Bowl. There are a couple other good centers in the draft that Holmes will compete with for an early-round selection, and this will be the final opportunity for a side-by-side comparison.
What scouts like: Good size (on the tall side for a center) and a three-year starter for the Trojans on the line. Another high-character player who will impress in the interviews.
What he needs to prove: There are questions about his durability, which he won't be able to do much about, but he can help himself by showing athleticism in the drills.
On-field drills: Holmes is projected to work best within a zone-blocking scheme.
T.J. McDonald (DB25)
Status: There is a lot of opportunity for McDonald at the combine, as right now he is not projected as one of the elite safeties. McDonald will look to show that his game fits well at the next level, and this event is the first step in that process. His father, Tim, recently was hired as the defensive backs coach of the New York Jets, so there should be a familiar face watching from the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium.
What scouts like: His instincts and hitting skills. You have to imagine his genes will be a benefit here, as well, with his dad having had a long career in the league.
What he needs to prove: Ball skills. McDonald will need to show that his coverage ability can match his physical prowess.
On-field drills: As long as McDonald can be steady in the drills, it should be a positive for him in the eyes of the scouts.
Nickell Robey (DB37)
Status: There were some raised eyebrows when Robey left school early, because he's not expected to be an early-round pick. Even with his limited size, he has enough athleticism to prompt a team to take a chance in the middle to late rounds.
What scouts like: A very coachable player who can contribute to the team in many ways.
What he needs to prove: His height is always going to be an issue, and there's nothing he can change about that for the combine.
On-field drills: Robey should be able to make a good impression here.
Jawanza Starling (DB43)
Status: Starling is one of those players who steadily improved in his college career to the point where he could end up getting drafted. The fact that he started for three years at USC also is going to be looked upon favorably.
What scouts like: Physical in run support and came up with multiple big plays over the past two seasons.
What he needs to prove: Ball skills and production.
On-field drills: Starling needs to do something to get noticed in a positive way. He's one of those bubble guys right now, with a huge opportunity ahead of him at the combine.