This weekend, many an NFL Draft fanatic will be tuned into the NFL Network or sitting in front of their computer as the stars, starters, busts, and footnotes of tomorrow will showcase their talents at the combine in Indianapolis.
New venue, new prospects, same process.
Through all of the interviews and drills, we’ll have a prospect or three whose physical abilities shoot him up the draft board, a highly-touted prospect or seven who don’t live up to the hype, the feel-good story, and a few prospects whose off-field issues pick a nice time to come to light. And we’ll hear the words ’potential’ and ’upside’ about 5,937,468 times over the next several days and weeks.
So, while the draft’s top prospects get ready for the most anticipated sprints in sports besides the 100 at the Olympics, sharpen their brains (and pencils) for everyone’s favorite aptitude test, and prepare to be sized up, down, left, right, inside, and out, here’s a position-by-position breakdown of who and what to watch for this weekend in Indy, starting with the offensive units.
Unless he decides to mail it in completely, Georgia’s Matthew Stafford likely won’t be displaced as the top QB prospect in the ‘09 class. Hopefully he’s already checking out houses in the Detroit area…that, and doing a lot of praying.
Is there room for USC’s Mark Sanchez to change a few minds? I like him to go in the top 10, and he could even go as high as No. 3 to Kansas City, but if he wows at the combine, I don’t see why Detroit wouldn’t consider him at No. 1. Pete Carroll’s probably still seething about his decision to leave despite only one full season as a starter,
Past Stafford and Sanchez, the only other first-round prospect is Kansas State’s Josh Freeman, who I currently have going No. 22 to Minnesota. An impressive showing this weekend could solidify him as a first rounder, and if Stafford goes No. 1 and Sanchez goes No. 3, don’t rule him out of San Francisco’s plans at No. 10.
The senior crop of signal-callers isn’t rated too high, and after all of the quarterbacks drafted on the first day last year were seniors, the only hope for one being drafted on the first day this April might be Rhett Bomar.
2008’s draft class of backs produced five first rounders, and three rookie backs ran for more than 1,000 yards. Years down the line, it could be looked at as one of the greatest class of backs in draft history, if most of the promising prospects pan out.
This year’s class has some top-10 talents in Knowshon Moreno and Chris Wells, but there won’t be as much of a spotlight on the backs as there was last year. It’s not a position of need in this year’s draft, which means that the first back could go off the board outside of the top 10 and even the top 15, the first time that will have happened since 2004, when Steven Jackson was taken by the Rams with the 24th pick.
Moreno, Wells, McCoy, and Ringer might get the most attention, but Shonn Greene and Donald Brown might be the backs a team like Cleveland might key on in the second round. Looking for speed? How about Wyoming’s Devin Moore? Small-school stud? Liberty’s Rashad Jennings. Big-named back who needs a big weekend to up disappointing draft stock? Clemson’s James Davis.
Of course, we’ll only mostly be watching what they do in their 40s, but that’s the only thing that matters, right?
I’ll admit that I was one of the horde who thought that last year’s class of receivers was destined for greatness. Then, none of them were drafted in the first round, and several of them didn’t make discernible contributions in their rookie seasons.
We’re not going to get burned this time around, but there is a solid class of pass-catchers, led by Michael Crabtree, who won’t get knocked off of his pedestal even though he won’t run the 40 in Indy.
After St. Louis, Seattle, and maybe Oakland, there’s a long gap to the next team who might have receiver at the top of their list. Jeremy Maclin looks to be a lock for the first round as well, but what of Percy Harvin?
Fast 40 or not, his lack of size could see him fighting with Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey and North Carolina’s Hakeem Nicks, along with Rutgers’ Kenny Britt, to be the target of teams like Baltimore, Tennessee, and the New York Giants who could be looking for a receiver at the bottom of the first round.
Oklahoma State’s Brandon Pettigrew is unequivocally the top tight end on the board, but how high will he go? A great combine could see Buffalo think just a little about him at No. 11, but the Bills could rather keep their focus on seeing how Missouri’s Chase Coffman and South Carolina’s Jared Cook perform to see if either will be a viable option in the second round.
Offensive line was the most heavily drafted position in the first round last year, as eight linemen were taken. This year, up to seven tackles could be taken in the first round, and with the draft’s top guard (Oklahoma’s Duke Robinson) and center (Cal’s Alex Mack) both looking like solid first-round picks, at least nine linemen could be taken in the first 32 picks.
However, there’s no consensus No. 1 tackle heading into the combine. Alabama’s Andre Smith, Virginia’s Eugene Monroe, Ole Miss’ Michael Oher, and Baylor’s Jason Smith could all go in the top 10, but who will go first (to either St. Louis at No. 2 or Seattle at No. 4)?
Smith is the top guy for many, but if he looks more blob than beast this weekend, that could open the way for Monroe. The ‘other’ Smith has less hype than the rest, thanks in part to the program he hails from, but with little separation between the quartet, the chance is there to prove that he’s the best in the bunch.