With no clear-cut No. 1 pick prospect in this year’s NFL draft, the NFL combine is more important than ever for this year’s teams and draftees. A total of 333 players reported Wednesday to Indianapolis to prepare their talents for the combine starting Feb. 23 and ending Feb. 26.
Last year was a draft class full of once in a lifetime talent, and this year’s crop of talent is much different. The star-studded talent may not be there, but the draft is the most important way to build a team in the NFL with the tight salary cap.
As always, the spotlight will be shining bright on the quarterbacks at the combine. Last year’s draft class produced the likes of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson who all took their teams to the playoffs as rookies. The overall talents of quarterbacks in this year’s draft are not expected to live up to the results of that group.
The most highly touted quarterback going into last season was easily University of Southern California’s Matt Barkley. When he announced he would be back for his senior season, people immediately considered him a Heisman trophy finalist and possible No. 1 overall pick. After a 7-6 season where Barkley separated his shoulder with two games left, the first fantasy never happened, and the second is a long-shot too. Barkley will not throw, but he will participate in the rest of the drills and be interviewed by teams at the combine. Thanks to an awful showing by quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl, Barkley still has a shot to slip into the first round.
Geno Smith of West Virginia will be doing all the drills in Indianapolis and plenty of teams will be watching. Smith has been considered a Kansas City Chiefs hopeful with the first pick. Quarterbacks Ryan Nassib, Mike Glennon and Tyler Wilson will all be trying to put on a show as well to help solidify themselves as first-round picks.
The quarterbacks may not be full of first-round talent, but the men protecting them are. This draft is full of talent on the offensive line. Nobody watches the combine to see linemen work on blocking drills, but NFL coaches will be all over them.
After blocking for Johnny Football himself, Texas A&M’s left tackle Luke Joeckel is another potential player that could go first overall. Joeckel, small-school star Eric Fisher from Central Michigan and Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson are top-10 talents at left tackle. Evaluators see this deep class of linemen having talent all the way into the fifth round.
The Manti Te’o show will simply never end. After going through the roller coaster of events with his online girlfriend who never actually existed, Te’o’s interviews will be one of the most anticipated events in combine history. Spectators are usually dazzled by the 40-yard dash and other events that show player’s athletic abilities, but this interview will be one that everyone wishes they could be a part of. His draft stock shouldn’t fall because of the incident, but if he has a rough interview process, Te’o’s draft stock could certainly fall.
Players draft stock could rise or falter just by how fast they run or how many times they can bench 225 pounds. The whole process is a bit baffling.
Prospects line up wearing compression shorts that sometimes reveal way too much, but how fast they run 40 yards can be the difference of millions of dollars. How many times do players even run 40 yards in a football game? Not too many.
The storylines of the NFL draft are always compelling, and seeing these freak athletes on display can be a head-shaking experience, but the whole process is a little silly. These players are in Indianapolis to put on a show and have a lot to prove, but when it comes down to it, the game film still matters the most.