NFL Combine Through the Grapevine
INDIANAPOLIS -- Most of the invited college players and NFL team representatives have arrived here at the NFL Scouting Combine. This is the early word on the street -- and in the Lucas Oil Stadium Dome:
STRENGTHS/WEAKNESSES: This crop of players, overall, is considered a stronger one than in recent drafts. The standout groups are the offensive and defensive linemen, a wish granted for most NFL teams who believe in building their clubs from the interior outward. The group of defensive backs is also impressive. The weaker spots are at quarterback and wide receiver.
POKE AND PROD: Several NFL coaches and team executives said their focus in this combine is on players' medical results. Players' 40-yard sprint times remain a highly anticipated result for many. But here, NFL sources said, is where they gain the most useful information on players' medical conditions that either keeps guys on their draft boards or excludes them.
"There is also great value in sitting across from a player in private meetings with them and eyeball-to-eyeball getting a feel for the character of the player and his passion for football,'' one NFL general manager said. "GMs usually don't get on the road during the season to see these guys firsthand. We have only worked with our scouting reports. Now we get to see if the reports match up especially in the character/passion area."
FIVE PLAYERS EVERY TEAM WANTS TO SEE IN DRILLS:
1. Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska DT -- "Everybody wants to see this guy," an NFL general manager insisted. "We've heard so much about him. We've seen him from afar. We've heard the hype. He has the uncommon name and he has a reputation for being a dominating player. No one will want to miss his workout."
2. Tim Tebow, Florida QB -- Scouts and general managers call his college football career "legendary" and view his presence here as an important step in assessing his pro value even though Tebow has said he will not throw the football at the combine.
3. C.J. Spiller, Clemson RB -- "How fast is he, really?" an NFL general manager asked. "His speed is supposed to really jump out at you. We all want to see it. Some are concerned about his size (5-foot-11, 195 pounds) and if he can really stand up to the pounding at our level."
4. LeGarrette Blount, Oregon RB -- "He was suspended for throwing that punch after a game and came back and did all of the right things, but is he really a good kid?" an NFL general manager wondered. "And is he as good as we think he is, which would make some of the risks worth it? He will have a lot of eyes on him."
5. Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State WR -- "He got caught up in some bad advice and was suspended but we think he is a real talent," an NFL scout said. "Just watching how he handles this phase and seeing what he does in the drills will help answer that."
FIVE PLAYERS WITH PLENTY TO PROVE:
1. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame QB -- There is much chatter among executives here about Clausen's work ethic and leadership skills. They are as interested in his demeanor here foremost. An NFL general manager added: "The word is he is not a big worker, not a big leader and is something of a spoiled brat who has a father who is always around meddling. That's a lot to answer."
2. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma QB -- Bradford will not work out here and says he is continuing to strengthen his shoulder injury. But teams are eager to meet with him, to learn his exact height and learn more about his "football acumen."
3. Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma TE -- Had this player entered the draft last season he likely would have been a top-10 pick. He was injured much of his senior season and teams want to know if he is still a big-play, big-time tight end worthy of being selected in the first round.
4. Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma DT -- Suh is the better player, but McCoy will likely produce the better workout, scouts say. One scout here said he expects McCoy to "blow away his peers" at defensive tackle with his rare set of athletic skills.
5. Taylor Mays, USC S -- He looks the part. He can run exceptionally well north and south. But teams are concerned about his flexibility in terms of quick hip movement and how much of a difference-maker he is at the position.
FINDING VALUE PICKS
Team executives say that of the nearly 250 players that will be drafted only 100 or so of them are ready to play at the NFL level immediately.
"The rest are, basically, developmental guys," an NFL general manager said. "There's something wrong or something they can't do well that makes them third- to seventh-round picks. You can get lucky and find a starting gem in those later rounds, but basically you are firming up your late-value picks here. And there are several cornerbacks in this draft who I believe are overrated but will fly off the board, anyway, because there is such a premium for that position, one that's so hard to properly fill. This is the position where several guys have the chance to rise most because of the need."
The overall quality of this draft and the lack of NFL free agent quality induces several team executives to anticipate that this combine will eventually help prompt a record number of trades to move into desired spots throughout the April draft.
"I think that by the time teams leave here," said one NFL general manager, "they will have fallen in love a few times over and will be willing and anxious to deal. Gaining multiple picks by moving down or cashing in picks to move up will be more prominent because of the limited and restricted pool of free agents."