2020 NFL scouting combine preview: Joe Burrow headlines quarterbacks

The NFL scouting combine is essentially boiled down to four key phases: medical evaluation, interview, athletic testing and positional workouts.

This year, in previewing the 2020 combine, we decided to highlight one prospect at each position who needs to nail (at least) one phase of the combine.

We also wanted to highlight one smaller-program prospect at each position who could make a bigger name for himself with a strong performance in Indianapolis.

The NFL scouting combine workouts begin Feb. 27 and run through March 1.

Quarterback overview

This year’s QB class is an interesting one, with three potential top-10 selections: LSU’s Joe Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert.

Burrow could show up in a mink coat and sunglasses and probably still be considered the favorite to go No. 1. Tagovailoa has plenty to gain or lose in Indy, but Herbert’s stock is rock-steady heading into combine week.

After that, two other quarterbacks have a shot at landing in Round 1. Utah State’s Jordan Love and Washington’s Jacob Eason each possess traits that could land them in that range, but there are questions about their consistency.

After that, there are some solid mid-round prospects who could develop into lower-end starters or quality backups, plus a few late-round passers who might surprise. Overall, it appears to be a solid group but perhaps not a truly special one.

Who needs to nail the medical evaluation

Tua Tagovailoa

And it’s not even close. In fact, no other player in the entire class — regardless of position — likely has more on the line at the combine than Tagovailoa does with his medical evaluation.

Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa won't be allowed to run or throw at the NFL scouting combine, but his medical evaluations will be critical. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

We’ve written about it ad nauseam, but the fact remains: Positive results in Indy could mean Tagovailoa goes as high as the top three selections. But bad news from his evaluations might cause the talented lefty to slide … and how far, no one really knows.

Yes, he’s reportedly received good news at his three-month post-surgery checkup, but Tagovailoa’s fate ultimately will be decided by NFL doctors and decision-makers, not by information believed to be leaked by Tua’s camp.

Who needs to nail the interviews

Shea Patterson, Michigan

Patterson gets a bit of a bad rap, as two teams we spoke with that met with him at the Senior Bowl had some of their concerns eased after hearing negative reports from some former Ole Miss and Michigan coaches about his intangibles and commitment.

We’re not at all calling Patterson a bad kid, but teams we’ve spoken with suggest that he still needs to convince teams that he has the maturity and temperament to handle the most pressure-packed position in sports. With positive results in this department, Patterson really can help his cause on draft weekend.

Who needs to nail the athletic testing

Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma

This is a bit of a double-edged sword here, as most teams know Hurts is an excellent athlete with a thick frame and good lateral quickness. In general, quarterbacks’ athletic numbers are highly subjective. For pocket passers, they’re not all that important.

But for players such as Hurts, an unrefined passer who thrives on his athleticism, it can tell us a lot. Will he be able to create the same kind of magic in the NFL as he did in college against bigger, stronger and faster defenders? That’s where the 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill and even the jumps (high and broad) can help define how good his athletic profile is.

The flip side is that working out at an exceptional level might prompt some teams to peg Hurts more as an “offensive weapon” if they’re suspicious of his ability to be an NFL quarterback. This is not Lamar Jackson 2.0 we’re talking about; they’re really quite different studies. But the same type of “Is he a QB?” debate could ensue.

Who needs to nail the positional workouts

Jacob Eason

Some evaluators believe Eason could (figuratively) blow up the combine with a strong workout. There’s no question he has an absolute hose for an arm to spray the ball anywhere on the field with almost any kind of trajectory.

Washington QB Jacob Eason has a great arm, but his footwork also will matter at the NFL scouting combine. (Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

But that’s only part of the evaluation. Eason has been dinged for “slow feet” and “poor rhythm” in this drops and throwing delivery. Basically, everything needs to be cleaned up and tightened for Eason to win this phase of the workout. He certainly has the potential to shine, and a strong showing could grease the wheels toward that first-round landing spot.

Small-school standout

Kevin Davidson, Princeton

We spotlighted Davidson back in November after his tough outing against Dartmouth at Yankee Stadium, but it was one of the few poor outings this season from the Tigers’ first-year starter. But Davidson showed enough in his other nine games to earn a pleasant surprise of an invitation.

It hurt his cause that he had to sit for years behind former Ivy League Player of the Year Chad Kanoff (who was on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ practice squad) and All-American John Lovett (who has transitioned to tight end and is on the Kansas City Chiefs’ injured reserve list), but Davidson made the most of his final chance last season.

He’s an impressive physical specimen at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, and made the most of his 10 starts, with 2,569 yards passing, 20 TDs and six interceptions. Davidson opened some eyes with his work at the Shrine Game and could open more with a strong combine.

More from Yahoo Sports: