Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - For some the NFL Draft has become bigger than the game itself.
For months leading up to the annual April event at New York City's Radio City Music Hall various experts tell us exactly who is climbing up their boards and who is sinking faster than the Titanic.
Starting with Senior Bowl week prospects are poked and prodded, looking for minute differences in size, speed, strength, quickness and mental aptitude.
The real start of draft season, however, is when the top prospects gather in Indianapolis for the annual NFL Scouting Combine. Lucas Oil Stadium serves as the NFL's version of a stock exchange, the place where players can elevate their draft prospects or see their futures turned into toxic assets.
Here's a look at five players you should be keeping an eye on in Indy when things kick off on Feb. 20:
1. - Ryan Nassib - quarterback, Syracuse - Most rate Nassib as a second or third round pick but in a draft with no Andrew Luck- or Robert Griffin III- types the Syracuse product is generating some buzz as a potential first round selection with a few even earmarking him as a top 10 choice. That's a stretch and fueled in large part by the fact Nassib's old college coach, Doug Marrone, is now the head man in Buffalo, which just happens to have the eighth overall pick and is looking for a signal-caller.
Even though Marrone is obviously a Nassib fan, it's unlikely he'll want to shorten his honeymoon in Western New York and pull the trigger on his old protege that early but trading down is always an option and Nassib is reportedly on the radar of other quarterback-starved teams like Kansas City, Philadelphia and the New York Jets also.
NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock recently compared Nassib to Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and Washington signal-caller Kirk Cousins. Whether that kind of ceiling is worthy of a first-round pick is questionable but Nassib is certainly taking things seriously and has been preparing for the scouting Combine with former NFL offensive coordinator Paul Hackett and Ken Anderson, the ex- Bengals great. A solid performance in Indy could cement Nassib as a first-rounder.
2. - Cordarrelle Patterson - wide receiver, Tennessee - It's early but Patterson is rising in most mock drafts and looks like his has a real chance to be the first receiver off the board come April. He's raw and body catches far too often but his size (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) and speed ratio have NFL scouts drooling.
During his only season at the FBS level, Patterson scored four different ways, as a receiver, runner, kick returner and punt returner. That kid of versatility is rare for outside the number threats in the NFL and if Patterson proves he can get off the line of scrimmage against NFL coverage and sharpen his routes, its' hard to imagine him falling past Miami at No. 12.
3. - Eric Fisher, offensive tackle, Central Michigan - Texas A & M's Luke Joeckel is unquestionably a top five pick in 2013 and it's looking like CMU's Fisher won't be far behind.
At 6-foot-8 and 305 pounds Fisher is a tall athletic player with the ability to add weight and strength to his lanky frame. Most project Fisher as a better player than Joe Staley, a fellow Central Michigan alum who was a first round pick in 2007 and has developed into one of the top tackles in the NFL.
Fisher already had an excellent Senior Bowl week and if he proves he has the functional football strength to hit the ground running in the NFL, it's more than conceivable he'll be joining Joeckel in the top five.
4. - Theo Riddick, running back, Notre Dame - In this era of specialization you can't helped but be intrigued by a versatile player like Riddick, who started his career in South Bend at running back before moving to wide receiver when Brian Kelly needed him there only to return to the backfield as a senior.
If Riddick can muster a strong 40-time in Indianapolis or at his pro day, he could be a valuable middle- or late-round addition for a team as a third down back.
A natural runner with solid situational receiving skills on the outside as well as in the slot will be a tough matchup for any defense in today's NFL.
5. - Ezekiel Ansah, defensive end, Brigham Young - Some are calling Ansah, who lined up as a rush outside linebacker, defense end, and defensive tackle at BYU, Jason Pierre-Paul version 2.0.
An imposing physical specimen with the ranginess and versatility of J.J, Watt, at least on the college level, Ansah might be this year's ultimate boom or bust prospect. A former track star and basketball player, Ansah's ceiling reaches higher than just about anyone else in this draft but he's also got a long way to go.
Ansah's motor tends to waiver at times, his technique is very raw and some have questioned his toughness. A greater attention to detail along with a commitment to conditioning is all that stands between Ansah and NFL stardom.
The Sports Network