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2009 NFL Combine Preview
By Chad Reuter, Senior Analyst, NFLDraftScout.com
Coaching, scouting and medical staffs from every National Football League team descend on Indianapolis beginning Wednesday to poke, prod and pry into the lives of more than 300 prospective pro players in that annual event known as the Scouting Combine.
At a time when record numbers of Americans are out of work and even minimum wage employment is highly desirable, the Scouting Combine might be considered the ultimate job fair. This is where multi-million dollar contracts are on the line as NFL teams evaluate the positives and negatives of the best prospects eligible for the April draft.
With hundreds of NFL team officials micro-analyzing everything, players will run, jump, answer very personal questions, take unusual psychological tests and undergo detailed medical examinations.
A surprising result one way or the other could easily mean a player's projection moves several rounds in the draft, which brings with it a swing in potential income -- or team expenditure -- of many millions of dollars.
Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts, will be a new host for the event, which has been held at the RCA Dome since 1987.
Players' arrivals in Indy are staggered according to their position group. The first to arrive are kicking specialists, offensive linemen and tight ends on February 18th. Day two brings in the skill position players (QBs/RBs/WRs) while front seven defenders (DEs/DTs/LBs) arrive the next day. The defensive backs turn off the lights on their way out on the 24th.
On their first few days, players are checked medically and mentally with rigorous physical and intelligence/personality exams, such as the controversial Wonderlic test. They are measured by the height to an eighth of an inch, weighed to the exact pound and viewed by the skeptical eyes of scouts for physique and body type. Prospects also have meetings with NFL Players Association staff and up to 60 individual interviews with teams before the athletic testing begins.
The more popular physical events include the 40-yard dash, the vertical jump and bench pressing 225 pounds as many times as possible. Although teams will downplay the usefulness of these workouts in underwear, every general manager, coach and scout makes sure to take detailed notes on the results.
Usually, teams already know who will perform well. Unlike the general fan, they have access to college workouts and other tests that were taken the previous spring on most campuses.
However, some players will make headlines during Combine week for remarkable results -- one way or the other. Teams use these results and interviews as virtual tie-breakers for players who have displayed similar talents on the field.
A closer look at some prospects the staff at NFLDraftScout.com believes will be newsworthy during the Combine:
James Casey, TE, Rice: This 24-year-old junior (spent time in the Chicago White Sox organization) will impress teams with his physique, athleticism and excellent hands.
Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State: Working off his extra weight before his junior season means scouts will be impressed by his stature, as well as his arm strength. As with most quarterbacks, Freeman's interviews with teams will be as important as his workout.
Jarron Gilbert, DT/DE, San Jose State: Freakish athlete who might not put up the greatest 40 time, but who will jump out of the building. The 6-foot-5, 287-pounder's explosion is what defensive coaches love to see from their linemen. Teams using a 3-4 scheme might consider him a potential defensive end.
Rashad Jennings, RB, Liberty: At 6-1, 234 pounds, Jennings' quick feet could allow him to break 4.5 in the 40 and excel in position drills. That might push him into the late first/early second-round conversation with underclassman backs mentioned in the next section.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri: He's starting to creep into the top 10 of mock drafts. If he runs a sub-4.4 40, looks good in drills and measures in at more than 6-feet and 200 pounds -- all while Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree sits on the sideline -- Maclin's stock might rise even higher.
Aaron Maybin, DE-OLB, Penn State: Some believe Florida State's Everette Brown will be the junior making a play to become a top five overall prospect. And while that's possible, Maybin's height, length and athleticism should tempt teams like Cleveland (fifth overall pick) to add him as a 3-4 linebacker.
BATTLING FOR POSITION:
QBsMark Sanchez, USC / Matthew Stafford, Georgia: Stafford's three years of experience makes him the top dog right now. After talking with the more charismatic Sanchez and watching him sling the ball around the field, teams might not rank him ahead of Stafford but Sanchez could get back into the conversation. Trade talks with teams in the early teens might also begin in Indy.
RBsDonald Brown (Connecticut) / Shonn Greene (Iowa) / LeSean McCoy (Pittsburgh): McCoy's the favorite to be a late first-round pick. Brown's all-around game could push him over the edge, and scouts may overlook the powerful Greene's age (turns 24 in August) with a nice week.
CBsVontae Davis, Illinois / D.J. Moore, Vanderbilt: There's no clear winner in the battle for the draft's No. 2 defensive back behind Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins. Teams projecting Jenkins to safety might consider selecting one of these two ahead of him if they need a pure corner - if their performance warrants it.
DEsEverette Brown, Florida State / Brian Orakpo, Texas: Most consider Brown the top defensive end in the draft, but some scouts aren't so sure he's any different than past Florida State ends who have faltered in the pros (Alonzo Jackson, Jamal Reynolds, Andre Wadsworth, Reinard Wilson, etc.). If Orakpo runs better than expected and is fluid in drills, his combination of speed and strength may push him over the top.
OLBsLarry English, Northern Illinois / Clay Matthews, Jr., USC / Clint Sintim, Virginia: Matthews was the clear winner among the group at the Senior Bowl, with teams expecting him to be a mid-to-late first round pick (possibly ahead of his more hyped teammate Brian Cushing). The ever-increasing number of teams using the 3-4 scheme could make English and Sintim late first-round picks if they perform up to par.
OTsEugene Monroe, Virginia / Michael Oher, Ole Miss / Andre Smith, Alabama / Jason Smith, Baylor: It appears Monroe and the two Smiths are likely top 10 picks, but the order in which they will go is highly dependent on team preferences that could be formed this week. The Combine is most important for Oher, however, because he has the chance to secure a higher position by putting to bed teams' concerns about his character and ability to handle complex line assignments.
WRsKenny Britt, Rutgers / Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland / Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina: With Crabtree and Maclin in the mix, we won't have a second consecutive first round without a receiver selected. But these three underclassmen are also fighting for a spot late in the initial stanza. Running well, looking fluid in the gauntlet and demonstrating quick feet in other drills could help separate the wheat from the chaff.
Must step up:
Nate Davis, QB, Ball State: Poor decision-making on the field late last season dropped Davis' draft stock. His lack of prototypical size for the position is also a concern, so his measurements are very important. Teams will also be watching to see if he throws the ball accurately with gloves on and/or without using the laces.
Mike Goodson, RB-WR, Texas A&M : Goodson's interviews are crucial since NFL administrators will question the reasoning behind his early departure from A&M. Teams must also decide if he fits best at running back or receiver given his 6-foot, 195-pound build. One thing no one will question is his speed, as he will likely burn up the turf in the Lucas Oil Dome.
Percy Harvin, RB-WR, Florida: Injuries haven't derailed his career, but their constant presence makes teams question his durability - especially if they are projecting him as a running back. A clean bill of health, good interview and exceptional timings might allay those fears. Exhibiting strong hands in receiver drills is also a must for teams expecting to use him in the slot or as a return option.
Michael Johnson, DE-OLB, Georgia Tech: Everyone expects him to appear ultra-athletic in shorts. If he weighs in at around 265-270 pounds and lifts relatively well (longer players don't generally put up high reps), 4-3 teams may consider him more than a pass-rushing specialist at defensive end. Flaunting his length and quickness in linebacker drills could also make 3-4 teams think Johnson could operate as a stand-up pass rusher.
James Laurinaitis, ILB, Ohio State: His 40 time might be the most important of any player's at the Combine. Penn State's Paul Posluszny fell into Buffalo's hands in the second round two years ago partially due to his 4.7 40, even though his shuttle and other times were among the best for his position. Of course, Laurinaitis' agent also knows this -- and might convince him to hold off running until the Ohio State Pro Day in March.
William Moore, SS, Missouri: Moore looked like a safety-linebacker 'tweener at the Senior Bowl, but he could make up some ground at the Combine by looking better in defensive back drills and running well.
Chris Wells, RB, Ohio State: Another player teams have concerns about due to his soft-tissue injuries. While he's obviously an elite talent with nice size and quick feet, Wells needs a clear physical exam, strong times and solid interviews to creep into the top half of the first round.