The 2013 NFL Combine will start this weekend (Saturday, Feb. 23 in Indianapolis), with over 300 collegiate football players displaying their skills to be scrutinized by every scout, coach, general manager and, of course, the fans.
Live combine coverage will begin at 9 a.m. ET on Saturday on NFL Network and will conclude with the combine wrap-up show Wednesday evening February 27. The four-day event will answer many questions for every team, including the Denver Broncos.
"X" prospect played well at a small school, but how do his athletic feats match up against other prospects?
Those are the kind of questions the Broncos scouts, led by director of player personnel Matt Russell, will be asking this weekend. Not everything can be viewed in black-and-white form, however, because 40 times do not tell the whole story.
"I think [combine context is] critical," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said in a conference call with reporters on Monday (a transcript of the interview was provided to B/R courtesy of NFLN's PR guru Andrew Howard). "Teams look at it as a cross check and not a leader. By that, one of my favorite sayings is fast guys run fast, slow guys run slow. It's not a story until the opposite happens."
"So you've got a guy all of a sudden that runs slower than you expect or faster than you expect. You have to go back and watch his tape," said Mayock.
The combine gives players a chance to put their name into the conversation and often causes teams to go back and watch more film of them—which ultimately leads to those players being selected come April.
Player: Kevin Minter, LSU LB
Height/Weight: 6'2", 245 pounds.
Current Draft Stock: First-to-mid round selection, per MileHighReport.com.
Notes: The Broncos haven't had a true 4-3 middle linebacker anchor their defense since the great Al Wilson in the early 2000s. Denver has a pair of youngsters in Steven Johnson and Nate Irving at the position, but neither of those players contributed much beyond special teams play last season.
The team's original 2012 starter, Joe Mays, is coming off a season-ending injury and received a lot of grief for taking poor angles against the run and getting exposed in pass coverage last season. Veteran Keith Brooking, who finished the season as the team's starter, is set to become a free agent.
If the Broncos plan on drafting their next starting MLB, Minter could be a nice fit.
"I like Minter a lot," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said earlier in the week. "He's a better player than I thought when I put the tape on. I think there are three potential first-round, inside linebackers, and he's one of them."
Player: Manti Te'o, Notre Dame LB
Height/Weight: 6'2", 255 pounds.
Current Draft Stock: 1-2 round selection, per NFLDraftScout.com.
Notes: Te'o was involved in an embarrassing off-the-field incident in January, but ultimately, the Broncos care more about his on-the-field performance.
Said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock:
I think he's a good kid, and I think he made a mistake, and he's naive and all that stuff, but [he shouldn't] back away [from questions]. You did what did you. Look people in the eye, tell them your story, and let the tape do the talking for you. Your tape over four years, your performance this weekend, run your tail off, and it's going to be uncomfortable, but be honest.
Te'o still has football. This weekend, he'll get a chance to prove he deserves to be a first-round pick.
Player: Nico Johnson, Alabama LB
Height/Weight: 6'3", 245 pounds.
Current Draft Stock: A mid-round pick, per NFLDraftScout.com.
Notes: If the Broncos chose to not go middle linebacker with their first pick (drafting perhaps a defensive tackle), a player like Johnson should still be available later in the draft. With an impressive combine performance, Johnson can increase his draft stock.
Player: Jon Bostic, Florida LB
Height/Weight: 6'1", 246 pounds.
Current Draft Stock: Fourth round pick, per NFLDraftScout.com.
Notes: Last season, Bostic played well against both the run (62 tackles) and the pass (three sacks and two interceptions). The Broncos have room for a balanced MLB, and Bostic will get the chance to impress them during the combine.
Player: Michael Mauti, Penn State LB
Current Draft Stock: Mid-round selection, per B/R's John McGonigal.
Notes: Continuing the trend, Mauti is another inside linebacker that the Broncos will be watching closely. Mauti will be available in the middle rounds of the draft and could end up being a draft-day steal.
Player: A.J. Klein, Iowa State LB.
Height/Weight: 6'2", 250 pounds.
Current Draft Stock: Fifth-round pick, per NFLDraftScout.com.
Notes: Of all the linebackers mentioned thus far, Klein has the potential to increase his stock the most. Projected to be a mid-to-late round pick, Klein can shoot up Denver's draft board with an impressive combine performance.
Player: Montee Ball, Wisconsin RB
Height/Weight: 5'11", 215 pounds.
Current Draft Stock: Taken within the first three rounds, per B/R's Lisa Horne.
Notes: Ball posted impressive numbers in college behind a great offensive line, but how will he perform in Indianapolis?
"I just happen to like Montee Ball a lot. When I put the tape on, he's a downhill [runner], tough kid. I think he's got really good feet for a fairly large back," said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock.
The Broncos can use a power back, and Ball fits the bill.
"I think he's shown toughness, balance, [and] vision. He's a one-cut, north-south runner and I think he fits most of the offenses in the NFL. I see him as a late two to an early three," concluded Mayock.
Player: Michael Dyer, Former Auburn RB
Height/Weight: 5'9", 210 pounds.
Current Draft Stock: Mid-to-late round pick.
Notes: Dyer did not play football last season (he transferred to Arkansas Baptist College last fall), but he is entering the draft. Another powerful running back, Dyer can impress scouts with a balance of strength and speed at the combine.
Player: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma DB
Height/Weight: 5'11", 212 pounds.
Current Draft Stock: Jefferson's projected round is not listed on NFLDraftScout.com, but he will probably be a mid-round pick.
Notes: The Broncos can use an upgrade over Mike Adams at safety and Jefferson was impressive in college, earning a reputation as a thumper. With a good combine, Jefferson can show that he is both athletic and a solid tackler.
Player: Ryan Swope, Texas A&M WR
Height/Weight: 6'0", 206 pounds.
Current Draft Stock: Fourth-round pick, per NFLDraftScout.com.
Notes: The Broncos' slot receiver, Brandon Stokley, is set to become a free agent. Swope could provide a nice replacement. He has the hands (89 catches as a junior), but does he have the speed and strength to survive in the NFL?
Player: Kawann Short, Purdue DT
Height/Weight: 6'3", 315 pounds.
Current Draft Stock: First- or second-round pick, per NFLDraftScout.com.
Notes: There are many that are projecting Denver to select a defensive tackle with their first-round pick. During the combine, Short can convince the Broncos that he's their man.
Player: Sharrif Floyd, Florida DT
Height/Weight: 6'3", 303 pounds.
Current Draft Stock: First-round pick.
Notes: Like Short, Floyd is a prospect that many are projecting to Denver. He'll have to perform better than Short in order to be drafted before him.
Player: Robert Woods, USC WR
Height/Weight: 6'1", 190 pounds.
Current Draft Stock: Unlisted on NFLDraftScout.com.
Notes: Next offseason, Eric Decker will be a free agent. The following year, Demaryius Thomas will hit the open market. Could Woods land in Denver as a safety net?
Player: Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State CB
Height/Weight: 6'2", 185 pounds.
Current Draft Stock: First or second round, per NFLDraftScout.com.
Notes: Said NFL Network's Mike Mayock,
As far as Banks is concerned, people like his length. He's got some press ability. He's long. I think he's one of the guys who is a combine critical four. Corners and wideouts are the two most critical "speed positions" and all the teams are waiting to see what guys run.
[If[ Banks is the one that runs sub-4.5, I think he locks up a first round. If he runs 4.55, or 4.58, he's not going there. So for Banks it's a critical, critical weekend.