From February 20-February 26, coaches and scouts will gather for the NFL Scouting Combine held annually at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. This year, 332 prospects will be given the opportunity to interview for a potential job in the National Football League. They'll be measured and have the chance to put their athletic prowess to the test. All 32 teams will closely eye these athletes to gauge their potential as they go through a number of drills and test their readiness inside the football classroom. Teams will want to know the ins and outs of their million-dollar investments and draft fans figure to pay a close eye as they continue to stack their board and fill out personal wish lists. Player and team rumors will begin to gain traction this week as internal leaks to the media will begin to feed the draft hype machine. Those who have followed this week before know the excitement of mere fractions of a second (and ultimate irrelevance in most cases); however, if this is your first time closely following the draft process, don't worry-here are the events on tap and what you can expect to extrapolate from the numbers. And for the first time in many years, a new off-field evaluation tools will allow scouts and executives to delve even deeper into the minds of prospects.
Five to Follow:
Manti Te'O, ILB, Notre Dame - After one of the most bizarre storylines to hit sports in a long time, Manti Te'O will undergo a series of rigorous interviews at the Combine. For many teams, that may be the big takeaway in regards to his evaluation, but a story that checks out in addition to an impressive week on the field should be enough to reverse the momentum of his draft stock.
Geno Smith, QB, West Virgina - With the number one pick on his mind and a number of recent reports from draft analysts criticizing this year's quarterback class, Geno Smith has decided to go through a full set of drills on the field to silence critics and compete for that top spot. As a quarterback, perhaps his maturity and interviews will be more important than what we see on the field, but it's always a good sign to see a top prospect compete at the Combine
Ziggy Ansah, DE, BYU - Ansah has garnered a lot of comparison to Jason Pierre-Paul with his athletic prowess. Though it may be unfair to expect him to live up those expectations, the success of a JPP can definitely aid Ansah's draft stock if he can replicate some of the JPP's athletic ability through drills next week. He has a remarkably high ceiling and should be a fun prospect to follow around the field this week. With his already presumed numbers, Ansah will make or lose more money in the positional drills.
Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan - After wowing the football world at the Senior Bowl, Fisher will bring his athletic ability to the Scouting Combine where he can continue to exhibit his athletic ability and build his case for a top 10. Spending the day in space, tackles have been known to make some money this week with measurements and movement skills. With Luke Joeckel also in the house, Fisher will have a shot to put that top tackle spot into his reach.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee - Patterson may very well be the first receiver off the board come April and could go a long way in creating his case as such this week. With limited tape, it will be difficult to foresee any scenario where he's the first off the board without leaving Indy a big winner on the field. Interviews will also be crucial this week, but his natural athletic ability should shine on Sunday.
Weigh-in: Nearly every player in Indianapolis will be measured for height, weight, arm length, and hand length. Scouts will be watching as the players stand shirtless and get their measurements. It will also give NFL personnel the opportunity to see whose carrying those extra pounds and who looks ready to play football. Separate from the weigh-in, players will also be medically examined and marked up for all prior injuries. This information will rarely leak out to the public, but can be pivotal in the decision-making process for General Managers and often the reason behind the seemingly catastrophic fall of some players on draft weekend.
40 Yard Dash: The 40 Yard Dash is the most hyped event at the Combine. Players run from point A to point B 40 yards away and are timed at intervals of 10, 20, and 40 yards. While the 40 time may get the glamour, look for the 10 and 20 yard times that test explosion and have more relevance at most positions. These splits often trickle out later.
Bench Press: Players lie on a bench and lift a 225 pound bar and barbell as many times as they can. It tests upper body strength and is most important for offensive and defensive linemen. Keep in mind that this isn't the ultimate strength test. Shorter armed players will have the opportunity here with less distance to extend the bar. Further, technique can help immensely, and in reality this is as good a test for preparation as it is strength.
Vertical Leap: Players stand flat-footed underneath plastic flags raised in the air and supported by a vertical bar. They jump with an extended hand to see how many flags they can displace. It tests vertical leg explosion and is most important for receivers and corners to see how well they can compete for jump balls at the next level.
Broad Jump: Players stand flat-footed and try to jump as far as they can, while landing with balance. This also tests leg strength and explosion. The broad jump is most important for running backs.
20 Yard Shuttle: Perhaps one of the most important tests at the Combine that goes widely unnoticed by fans. Players run in a straight line, 5 yards to the left, 10 to the right, then 5 to the left again. It tests lateral quickness and change of direction and is equally important for all positions.
3 Cone Drill: Cones are placed in the shape of an “L” and players are forced to run around them starting and ending at the same line. It tests explosion, change-of-direction, and body control. Like the 20 yard shuttle, this is also equally important for all positions.
60 Yard Shuttle: Also known as the long shuttle. It has the same format as the 20 yard shuttle, only longer. It's a better test for speed and endurance than the 20 yard shuttle or the 40 yard dash, but many tend to pass on this drill.
Interviews: Teams will have the opportunity to speak with up to 60 players at the Combine. The interview will allow teams to ask just about anything ranging from football knowledge, off-field issues, to family. Nothing is off limits. Numbers are nice, but this could be the most important aspect of the process for every player. A wrong response could cost them a chance at a job in April.
Position-specific Drills: As great as the numbers look on paper, most NFL scouting departments will weigh the position-specific drills even more. There's nothing like watching a player move through bags, change direction on command, and react to footballs in the air without losing balance.
The Wonderlic Test: The Wonderlic is similar to the IQ test in testing intelligence. Players have12 minutes to answer 50 questions. Low scores for quarterbacks could spell disaster and have teams asking more rigorous questions in the classroom. If they can't handle this material, can they handle the volume of an NFL playbook?
The New Aptitude Test: Though this event has been kept vague to the public to this point, we know this will serve as a new tool meant to measure a player's "non-physical capabilities, aptitudes, and strengths...[it] measures a wide range of competencies, including learning styles, motivation, decision-making skills, responding to pressure or unexpected stimuli, and core intellect." (per the NFL memo). Though the NFL has said the new aptitude test isn't mean to replace the Wonderlic Test, if successful this year, it does appear to be a long-term replacement for the heavily criticized Wonderlic.
Thursday, February 21:
Group 1(PK, ST, OL), Group 2 (OL), Group 3 (TE) - Measurements
Friday, February 22:
Group 4(QB, WR), Group 5 (QB, WR), Group 6 (RB) - Measurements
Saturday, February 23:
Group 7 (DL), Group 8 (DL), Group 9 (LB) - Measurements
Group 1, Group 2, Group 3 - Workout (timing, stations, skill drills)
Sunday, February 24:
Group 10 (DB), Group 11 (DB) - Measurements
Group 4, Group 5, Group 6 - Workout (timing, stations, skill drills)
Monday, February 25:
Group 7, Group 8, Group 9 - Workout (timing, stations, skill drills)
Tuesday, February 26:
Group 10, Group 11 - Workout (timing, stations, skill drills)
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