The Vikings' Armchair Scout's Guide to the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine
Only 224 get drafted (not including a handful of compensatory picks), which makes it clear how critical this week is for many players, especially those who are not "names" the public is all that familiar with.
Vikings fans are going to need a spreadsheet to keep it all straight and probably a 40-ounce energy drink to keep up.
I don't have that, but I have put together a guide to help you through the event.
First off, if you don't have NFL Network, you can catch up on all the video of the main drills at NFL.com's Combine page. It'll have interviews with the prospects as well as discussion from their draft experts along with most of the drills.
Of course, you follow anyone there on Twitter as well for live takes as well as press conference news.
With so much to watch, It's important to decide ahead of time where to focus your attention. So let's go over the schedule and what groups of players Vikings fans will want to follow.
Group 1, 2 and 3 Schedules
Group 1 are the kickers, special teams players and half of the offensive line prospects, Group 2 are all offensive linemen and Group 3 are the tight ends.
The Vikings would do well to take a look at the punt and kick returners, but they (and you) should focus on the offensive linemen in this section. You have Matt Kalil, but Charlie Johnson wasn't much better at left guard than he was at tackle and Brandon Fusco struggled at right guard.
So they should keep an eye on the guards at least, as well as depth for the tackle spots.
These groups arrive Wednesday and do some medical tests, though the bulk of the medical stuff will be dealt with on Thursday. On that day, we'll hear about the measurements as well—official height, weight, arm length, hand measurement—and any questions about lingering injury issues will be checked out (for example, Matt Barkley's separated shoulder).
Friday brings psychological testing, the bench press and the workout for kickers and special teams players.
The bench press for the offensive linemen will be something you'll want to keep an eye on since the offensive line is a position of interest.
You'll also want to watch the on-field drills on Saturday as well. This will cover the same drills you've seen many times before—the broad jump, the vertical jump and the fabled 40-yard dash.
Tight ends will, of course, also do some receiving drills. I don't think tight end is a big need for the Vikings beyond potential depth or blocking tight ends, so it's not too much of a priority if you have limited viewing time.
Group 4, 5 and 6 Schedules
Groups 4 and 5 are comprised of both quarterbacks and wide receivers, while Group 6 is just running backs.
Vikings fans will want to focus on wide receivers as even if Percy Harvin returns, they will need to draft more talent to help out Christian Ponder. There's a lot of talent at wide receiver overall, so there will be a ton of players to watch.
I think a lot of fans will watch the quarterbacks as well despite (or in some cases, because of) Ponder's presence as starter. They certainly need better depth at the position after the debacle that was Joe Webb's appearance in the playoffs.
Running backs are always fun to watch and the Vikings might look at one late, but if you're short on time, they aren't likely to be a priority for the team at all.
Arriving on Thursday, these groups will do the same schedule as the previous groups, just one day later. So their full medical is Friday, the bench press and testing is on Saturday and their on-field workouts are on Sunday.
Keeping in mind that nobody is hitting these players, you can only gain so much from watching the receiving and various passing drills. However, it's useful to have the players on the field at the same time so you can compare some of what they do.
And certainly for the receivers, seeing how their hands and breaks look even if they aren't covered is a good exercise.
You'll see the backs make some cuts and do a little blocking as well as receiving out of the backfield.
The quarterbacks throw a lot of different routes and distances but ultimately you don't learn a ton you didn't know by watching games. If a guy can't hack it when there isn't pressure though, or if his mechanics are a mess, it will show up here and that can be a huge red flag.
Speaking of film, keep in mind that these drills should never overshadow the game film on these players. It's great to have a low 40 time, but some of the backs and receivers play faster than they time, while some play much slower than they time.
Quarterbacks can look spectacular when in shorts and Under Armour shirts but fall apart in games.
Still, for both receivers and running backs especially, drills are important. The broad jump helps test an athlete's explosiveness off the line, as does the vertical jump. The 3 Cone Drill shows you how an athlete can change direction while running, something which will help you see how crisp a route a receiver might run or whether a back is capable of cutting quickly to make a defender miss.
For an excellent rundown of all the main drills, check out Mike Mayock's explanations at NFL.com.
The Vikings have to get more help at wide receiver, and we should get a real look at some interesting athletes at the position this week.
Group 7, 8 and 9 Schedule
We flip the script for these groups and go all defense from here on out. Group 7 and 8 are both defensive linemen, while Group 9 contains all the linebackers.
All three of these groups are of interest for Vikings fans, both inside positions and out. The Vikings aren't bad along the front seven, but they can get much better especially at tackle.
However, I would like to see them go after some outside linebacker help as well.
So you can watch everyone here and not go wrong.
This group arrives on Friday, then does its full medical Saturday, its testing and bench press on Sunday and its drills on Monday.
Of course, you'll want to note what the players do on the bench press Sunday, but the drills will again be the key here for combine watchers.
You'll want to watch the broad and vertical jumps closely for your edge pass-rushers, and a good 40 time won't go awry. Of course like the receivers and backs, the linebackers and linemen have their own positional hoops to jump through.
You'll see coaches having players follow the ball in his hand and react to sudden changes in direction, see players show off their hand motion and strength in batting their way through tackling dummies as well as see the usual basic drills.
Keep a sharp eye on anyone who stands out in the specialized drills as those might be players the team goes back and takes a closer look at on tape.
Group 10 and 11 Schedule
Both of these groups are defensive backs, usually split into corner and safety groups. They have the same schedule as everyone else, just pushed another day back. They arrive Saturday and do their medical exams on Sunday, their regular testing and the bench press on Monday and drill on Tuesday (the final day of the combine).
The Vikings will be looking for more secondary help and fans should pay close attention to these groups. Both safety and cornerback are important, though I would give corner the edge in terms of need.
Watch for safeties in the vein of last year's pick of Harrison Smith—big hitters who also tackle well and can defend passes. Corners will be the rule of the day though, and I expect them (and you) to be watching players who can do it all—guys who show good power and instincts as well as speed and agility.
Vertical jump is a big drill here, as well as the more specialized workouts. We'll see some hands drills as well as take a look at them backpedaling (though let's be honest, that's much more important when watching it on game film).
All throughout the week, these players will be meeting with teams so team staffs can get the measure of a player one on one. They'll chat about anything from how they'd react to a situation on the field to how they would deal with something off of it, to even things like what they listen to, read, watch on television and more.
Nothing is off topic and their reaction to a question can be as important as the answer they give.
These interviews, while done away from prying eyes, are more important than almost any drill for many players and could boost a player's stock or remove him from a team's board.
You'll hear more about the interviews the day after players leave and all of next week and it's worth listening to how players did, especially ones who have question marks.
Players to Watch
Of course, there are more players you could watch than you anyone might have time for. The great thing is, if there is a drill you missed, especially the "main" drills like the 3 Cone or the 40-yard dash, NFL.com will have them up on the site after the fact (including the highlight of the week: Rich Eisen's 40-yard dash).
We'll start out with the wide receivers, as it's a deep class.
Some higher end guys to look at whom the Vikings might take with their 23rd overall pick include Cal's Keenan Allen and Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson (though recent "buzz" seems to have him going higher, potentially as a top 15 pick).
I took a look at this last week, bringing up Tavon Austin, DeAndre Hopkins and Aaron Dobson as some potential players, so keep an eye on them.
I'd add Markus Wheaton from Oregon State and Tennessee Tech's Da'Rick Rogers as players of interest. There are plenty of players to watch though—keep an eye out for good hands, crisp route-running and speed.
The Vikings will look at all sorts of receivers but someone who can become a vertical threat will be high on the list.
Next up, you'll want to keep an eye one some of the linebackers and defensive tackles. I recently saw Mel Kiper throw out Sylvester Williams from North Carolina as a potential tackle, and I agree with Kiper's take that he can step right into the lineup for them.
I have seen Williams' stock all over the place in the last few weeks so this might be a good chance for him to solidify it.
Johnathan Hankins (Ohio State), Sharrif Floyd (Florida) and John Jenkins (Georgia) are potential early picks to look at while Akeem Spence (Illinois), Jordan Hill (Penn State) and Everett Dawkins (Florida State) could be later picks who you can keep an eye on.
At linebacker, Alec Ogletree could see his stock slip due to the DUI he just got arrested for, and if he's there at 23, the Vikings should take a look. Keep an eye on him and listen to see the reaction from teams next week.
Of course, the team would need to be convinced he can keep his nose clean and there are definitely doubts about that.
DeVonte Holloman (South Carolina) is an intriguing later-round pick who has great instincts but will probably lack any 'wow' factor at the combine, but is worth looking at. Brandon Jenkins (Florida State) has some injury questions and size concerns which might get overlooked because of his speed off the edge.
They could also look at a guy like Arthur Brown who could play inside or outside at linebacker depending on how they use him.
Finally, there are cornerback prospects to keep track of as well on the last day. Xavier Rhodes (Florida State) could be someone to look at with a late first round pick, as well as Desmond Trufant (Washington).
The Vikings could wait a bit and go after Robert Alford (Southeast Louisiana) or Leon McFadden (San Diego State), both of which are worth keeping an eye on.
However much you watch or read about the combine, keep in mind that it all comes back to tape.
All too often, teams and analysts get caught up in a great combine and forget the tape. It happens more with analysts than teams of course, but it happens for teams as well. Every year a "workout warrior" comes out of nowhere, gets drafted early and then flops on the field.
If you see someone break out over the next week in shorts, make sure you go back and watch the one thing which matters above all else—the tape.
Ultimately if a player can't do it there, he probably won't do it on Sundays.
Take another look, sure. But don't get too high or too low after the combine.
After all, it's just one step in the process.
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