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NFL Combine 2016 preview: What to watch for in Indianapolis

Wide receiver Chris Conley gets ready to

Wide receiver Chris Conley gets ready to run the 40-yard dash during the 2015 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on Feb. 21, 2015 in Indianapolis. Credit: Getty Images / Joe Robbins

The NFL’s top prospects are getting ready to show their stuff to scouts, coaches and general managers this week at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

The Combine officially begins Tuesday when the first group of players arrives in Indianapolis. It ends Monday after the final two groups complete their on-field workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium. In between: workouts, measurements, team interviews, medicals, media sessions and a whole lot more.

The NFL Network will televise Combine workouts from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. ET Friday, Saturday and Sunday as well as from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday. The broadcast also will be available via livestream.

Special-teamers, offensive linemen and running backs will take the field for workouts on Friday. Quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends work out Saturday. Defensive linemen and linebackers hit the field Sunday, and defensive backs cap things off Monday.

Here are five story lines to keep an eye on:

Will anyone jump out as the class’ top quarterback?

So far, there doesn’t seem to be a quarterback who can jump in and start in Week 1. But Cal’s Jared Goff, North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz and Memphis’ Paxton Lynch — widely believed to be the top three quarterbacks in this draft class — have a chance to make their case to be worthy of an early first-round pick.

All three will throw for teams, and all three bring a different skill set. Goff has an accurate arm and great pocket presence, but he has a smallish frame and will face questions about taking snaps under center after playing in Cal’s Bear Raid scheme. Wentz has good size and hails from a traditional offense, but the jump from the FCS to the NFL is a big one. Lynch has a big arm, a big frame and excellent mobility, but his footwork needs a good deal of improvement.

How will off-field questions be answered?

By now, teams have done their homework on most of the prospects. In addition to gauging football ability and IQ, coaches and GMs will use their interviews with players — and in some cases, teammates of those players — to get answers to any potential off-field red flags that need to be investigated.

Players such as Eastern Kentucky edge rusher Noah Spence (kicked off of Ohio State’s team in 2014 after two drug suspensions and charged with public intoxication and disorderly conduct in May 2015), Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche (charged with marijuana possession after falling out of a hotel window during Sugar Bowl week) and Rutgers receiver Leonte Carroo (arrested and charged with simple assault, though the charges were eventually dismissed) have the chance to explain themselves to team decision-makers and prove their incidents are firmly in the rearview mirror.

How players respond to those red flags — and how teams like those responses — may mean the difference between being drafted early and not being drafted at all.

Will the medicals check out for two top linebackers?

Every prospect gets a medical check at the Combine, and the results will be especially crucial for two top linebackers.

Myles Jack tore a meniscus in his right knee during a September practice. He wasn’t cleared for full Combine participation, though he reportedly is able to run and cut. The UCLA product and converted running back is an athletic freak who has the explosiveness to stop the run and the athleticism to cover receivers and tight ends. If his knee is good to go, Jack could be a top-five pick in April.

Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith, a consensus top-10 pick entering bowl season, tore his left ACL and LCL in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1. Smith likely won’t be participating in any Combine drills, but teams will be interested in his recovery. When healthy, Smith was a three-down linebacker who could play in any scheme, so any good news on his recovery could re-insert him into the top-10 discussion.

Will not running hurt Laquon Treadwell’s draft stock?

Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell, whom many consider the top wide receiver in this class, reportedly won’t be running the 40-yard dash at the Combine. What may concern some teams is that he’s not skipping it for injury or medical reasons.

Treadwell is big-bodied and uses his excellent catch radius and physicality to attack the ball, so it’s unlikely he would have run one of the Combine’s faster 40s. But by skipping the Combine, he’ll only have one chance — the Rebels’ Pro Day on March 28 — to show he can run a good 40 time. Until then, the questions about his speed will linger.

Can anyone top the Combine’s 40-yard dash record?

Back in 2008, Chris Johnson tied Rondel Melendez’s Combine record with a 4.24. Since then, a few players have come within hundredths of a second of the record, but it still stands. This year, adidas is adding extra incentive — if any prospect wearing their cleats breaks the record, he will get $1 million.

Keep an eye on these candidates to do that: TCU wideout Kolby Listenbee, Notre Dame receiver Will Fuller, Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey, Ohio State receiver Braxton Miller, Miami (Fla.) cornerback Artie Burns and Southern Utah cornerback LeShaun Sims.

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