It's time for the NFL Combine, the yearly gathering of NFL teams, scouts and draft prospects in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Every February, we gather to watch young athletes try and make an impression on teams and stand out from the pack and, every year, we're still surprised by at least a few people.
Today, we try and take a stab at some of the surprises in store for us later this week—who will step up and exceed expectations, who will be a name we hadn't heard of before and who is a guy solidifying his draft stock before we head into pro days.
Of course, tape is king above all else, but we'll forget that for a while this week as players hit the turf at Lucas Oil.
Here are a few predictions bound to be perfectly accurate when we look back at this article when all is said and done.
Currently a late first, early second round drafts pick, Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman is the type of athletic prospect who usually blows up the combine.
Hageman is big—he measured at 6’6” and 318 pounds at the Senior Bowl weigh in—but moves well for his size. Not only will he do relatively well in the agility drills, he should also have a pretty impressive vertical.
Recruited as a tight end out of high school, Hageman moved to the defensive line and has improved every year. He still retains a tight end’s agility though and it’s the sort of thing which turns heads in Indianapolis.
Which, in turn, is the sort of thing which can make a late first-, early second-round pick a solid first-round pick.
This is not to say Derek Carr will be the most incredible prospect throwing at the combine, just that some team will reach for him based on what I expect to be a solid outing.
Carr was the best of an unimpressive roster of quarterbacks in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl, capping an inconsistent week with a very nice game. While his reviews were positive among media like Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com, I didn’t love what I saw during the week, though he definitely was the best of the bunch.
As it stands, I have Carr as my fourth quarterback, though I don’t see him as a first-round prospect.
Of course with a strong combine, that won’t keep him from jumping into the first round. There’s always a quarterback (sometimes two) and Carr has already been mocked in the first by multiple analysts.
However, the best way to really cement his status as a first-round quarterback is to throw at the combine. Far too often, players avoid it, especially if they’re top-ranked prospects like Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles.
Which only allows Carr the full stage to himself, as he had in Mobile. If he can be successful, and without any wind or inclement weather in a dome he should be, he’ll be the guy scouts are talking about when they leave Indianapolis.
That could lock him into a first-round slot.
After turning heads in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl, West Virginia running back Charles Sims will continue to turn heads in Indianapolis.
Sims has great burst, exceptional acceleration and is very elusive despite his height. He’s also a very good pass catcher out of the backfield.
While he could be a better blocker and runs a little high, his overall physical skills are the type of things which play well at the combine.
Sims is a very good back with a well-rounded game who will do everything well and at a high level.
Every year we spend a ton of time talking about the 40-yard dash and what it means.
What we don’t talk nearly enough about is the first 10 yards of the 40-yard dash. Ask a scout, coach or trainer and they’ll tell you for many positions, a player’s 10-yard time is more vital than his 40 time.
Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews will be a great example of the difference and why it matters this week at the combine.
As I have written previously, one of Matthews’ biggest issues is a lack of ability to separate from coverage. Some of that is his overall speed, but most of it is because he does not accelerate quickly.
Teams know this and will be watching carefully. So while I expect his 40 time to be good, it’s his 10-yard time that is critical, and that’s what people should focus on this week.
At this point, we don’t know if UCF quarterback and potential No. 1 overall pick Blake Bortles will throw at the combine. As Paul Tenorio of the Orlando Sentinel writes, he’s training as if he’s going to throw the ball in Indianapolis, but the final determination will not be made until he leaves for Indiana.
It’s become tradition over the last few years for the top quarterbacks to avoid throwing the ball at the combine.
Bortles will buck this trend.
Simply put, Bortles wants to be the first quarterback off the board in May. Now, he has a pro day and a lot of team interviews between now and then to secure that spot, but throwing at the combine when it appears both Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel will not could put him in the lead now.
It’s all about perception of course and teams love to see players who want to compete and are willing to take some chances at the combine.
Bortles does have some issues throwing the ball, and some will say that, coupled with throwing at unfamiliar receivers, will keep him from doing passing drills.
However, I say Bortles goes out to Indianapolis and slings it.
He wants to be that first guy off the board and that will motivate him to be one of the rare first-round quarterback prospects who throw.
With all the off-the-field concerns about Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, I think it’s safe to say a lot of people expect to hear some poor reports about his team interviews at the combine.
Instead, they’re going to hear nothing but good things.
Why? Well, as much as we saw a lot of “Johnny Football” this past season, Manziel has been quietly doing work. A dedicated film-room guy who puts a lot of time in the weight room and at the practice field, Manziel is the football-focused flip side of “Johnny Football.”
We know Manziel has been focused on getting ready for the combine, including passing on traveling to the Super Bowl, as reported by NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread. He’s taking this seriously, likely much to his detractor’s chagrin.
That’s going to make a big impact in interviews. The teams who speak with Manziel will see him sharp, focused and all about football.
So you won’t hear anything about “Johnny Football” out late at a Shake Shack this coming week. But you’ll hear plenty about how Manziel impressed teams at the chalkboard and in sit-down interviews.
So far during draft season, Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo has been busy building momentum. After shining at the Shrine Game, he made the most of a Senior Bowl invite and now has the chance to really “wow” scouts at the NFL combine.
For a small-school guy like Garoppolo, all-star games and a combine invite are huge as they give teams a chance to get to know him better and see him in relation to other players at his position. Given that Eastern Illinois doesn’t play the crème de la crème of college football, it’s important for him to stand next to players from bigger schools for comparison.
He’s also an incredibly smart and friendly guy who will do very well in combine interviews with teams. Spend a few minutes around him, like I did at the Senior Bowl, and you’ll get a sense that he is a solid guy who can lead in the locker room.
It’s unlikely Garoppolo will end up as a first-round pick—he’s got some question marks which will not be allayed at the “Underwear Olympics"—but a good combine will keep the buzz going on him and, if he can continue to build on that, he can certainly put himself in a great draft position.
If you don’t know the name, you will by the end of the combine.
This is a very fast group of players coming into the combine. And while Johnson’s record has stood a very long time, this is the right group to change that.
Nobody is running a sub-4 second 40-yard dash, but there is plenty of speed to challenge Johnson’s crown.
Will it be Wyoming wide receiver Robert Herron? Maybe Clemson’s Sammy Watkins? Maybe Oregon running back De’Anthony Thomas or Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby?
And that’s just a sampling of the speedy talent heading to Indianapolis this week.
It feels like this is the year for someone to set a new record.
I buy it. Why? Because Clowney is very motivated to shut everyone up. All season long he heard questions about his desire and commitment, and he will come to Indianapolis with a huge chip on his shoulder.
According to Richardson, Clowney claims he’s been hand-timed at around 4.4 seconds. Now, we all know there’s a certain measure of inaccuracy with hand-times so he has to know that a sub-4.4 time isn’t assured.
But you can bet he will be gunning for it, and I’m betting he makes it.
One thing you can count on every February—NFL Network host Rich Eisen will run the 40-yard dash.
This year he will finally beat his “career” best time of 6.03. He may even get to a flat six seconds.
Sadly, he will not be faster than any prospect at the combine. That part isn't much of a bold prediction, though.
Small steps, Rich. Small steps.