The NFL Scouting Combine is the NFL's biggest convention, a meeting place where players, coaches, evaluators and media collide to do interviews, workouts and much more.
With so many media personnel in attendance and nearly every decision-maker in the NFL walking around Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, more than few quotes or rumors come out of the combine that give evaluators and media members some insight as to how the draft may go, despite it being months in advance.
Organized by team, I've collected the "draft buzz" for every franchise coming out of the combine. While there were few earth-shattering stories, there's plenty of insights to gather from a busy seven days in Indianapolis.
The draft may be months away, but the Houston Texans are already on the clock. Will new head coach Bill O'Brien take a quarterback he plans to mold into his franchise quarterback? Or will he and the Texans management take the best defensive prospect in the 2014 class, Jadeveon Clowney?
CBS Sports' Dane Brugler mentioned that, according to his sources, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel are the favorites to be the top overall pick. But with O'Brien's experience in developing quarterbacks and how remarkably talented the Texans defense would be with an elite talent like Clowney on it, he can't be ruled out to still be the Texans' option.
There's a little over two months left before the Texans need to finalize their selection, but the players in the running seem to have come to the forefront in their deliberations, at least based off the buzz in Indianapolis.
When Mike Shanahan and the Washington Redskins drafted Kirk Cousins in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, the same year they mortgaged their future drafts for Robert Griffin III, it developed into one of the most intriguing quarterback situations in the NFL.
Two years and two knee injuries for RGIII later, Cousins' value to the Redskins has changed from developmental young backup to constant topic of discussion.
But since new head coach Jay Gruden made it clear that Griffin is the team's starting quarterback for 2014, per Dan Hanzus of NFL.com, trade rumors and scenarios have begun to mature.
However, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Redskins have "no plans nor interest" in parting with Cousins. That'll thrust up the value of every other free-agent quarterback available, and it will force teams in need of the quarterback of the future to be even more aggressive as they consider drafting one early in the 2014 class.
The Jacksonville Jaguars need a new quarterback. It doesn't take advanced stats or hours of game tape to reach that realization. The question is, will they find that new quarterback early in the 2014 draft?
Based on their interviews in Indianapolis, the Jaguars are strongly considering it and are casting a very wide net.
According to Ryan O'Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, the Jaguars met with 10 quarterbacks in Indianapolis, including Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Zach Mettenberger.
Bridgewater is the top quarterback prospect on my board, but he's no lock to be available when the Jaguars pick at No. 3 overall.
Regardless, the previous regime made a mistake that cost them their jobs when they selected Blaine Gabbert in the 2010 draft. It appears general manager David Caldwell doesn't want to suffer the same fate.
After cleaning house in the front office a week before the NFL Scouting Combine, the Cleveland Browns entered Indianapolis with a clean slate. But regardless of who was or is in charge in Cleveland now, it's been clear since the season ended that the quarterback position was high on their list of needs.
Mike Pettine even went as far to say it's an "obvious priority," according to Mary Kay Cabot at Cleveland.com, adding that "We're going to be very meticulous there."
At fourth overall, they'll likely have at least one of the big three options available. But with the two teams ahead of them also potentially considering a quarterback with their first picks, as well as teams like the Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings likely to consider trading up to secure their own franchise quarterback, the Browns need to enter the 2014 draft with a clear plan in place if they hope to address that obvious priority.
Terrelle Pryor had moments of excitement during the 2013 season with the Raiders, and Matt McGloin provided an unexpected spark toward the end of the season to give Oakland two quarterbacks who can add value to the team now and in the future.
However, Oakland doesn't appear to feel either is the long-term answer at the position, as it interviewed Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, Derek Carr and Blake Bortles while in Indianapolis, according to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Bridgewater brings the most intrigue, as he's the most NFL-ready of those passers. With many on the Raiders coaching staff on one-year deals, they may not have time to develop the likes of Manizel, Carr or Bortles.
One of the most discussed prospects at the combine, Jadeveon Clowney was surprisingly outspoken during his interviews with the media. He addressed concerns about his drop in production in his junior year, Steve Spurrier's recent comments and what his goals were in Indianapolis.
But maybe most telling statement from the near-consensus top defensive player in the 2014 class was his statement on where he'd like to play.
"I wish [the Falcons] could trade up for me," Clowney told Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com.
The compelling part about his statement is how logical of a move it would be for the Falcons, assuming Clowney doesn't go first overall. The Falcons have traded up in the draft to secure a top talent in the past (Julio Jones in 2011). The St. Louis Rams are picking second overall but appear to be a trade-down option due to their recent drafting success, and current Rams general manager Les Snead is a former member of the Falcons front office.
Maybe Clowney is saying what he truly wants. Or maybe he's just foreshadowing what is to come in early May.
Mike Glennon performed admirably in a tumultuous season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Unfortunately, he saw the regime that drafted him get the ax after the season, now forcing him to show general manager Jason Licht, head coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford that he should be their quarterback of the future too.
But Licht has already made it clear that the team will be looking to bring in a veteran to compete with Glennon, according to Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune. However, if the Bucs can't find a veteran quarterback (and maybe regardless of their free-agent moves), the new regime needs to consider drafting a passer it can consider its own.
That potential fit at seventh overall? Don't rule out Derek Carr. Tedford was David Carr's offensive coordinator at Fresno State, and he has remained close to the Carr family since his time there.
Using a first-round pick on Christian Ponder in the 2011 draft ended up being a major mistake, and just three years later, the Minnesota Vikings are back in the discussion of drafting a first-round passer.
However, general manager Rick Spielman (who was at the helm when Minnesota drafted Ponder) said that hiring Norv Turner has caused him to rethink the team's quarterback plans this offseason, according to Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com.
What does that mean? If one of the top passers isn't available (both Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles seem like good fits for Turner's offense), don't be surprised if the Vikings pass on a quarterback altogether in this year's draft.
Only one quarterback went in the first round of the 2013 draft, as the Buffalo Bills made the shocking decision to draft EJ Manuel with the 16th pick of Round 1. But while Manuel showed some flashes during his rookie campaign, his first year with head coach Doug Marrone and the Bills was marred with injury.
Marrone was asked about the team's thoughts on its quarterback position as a whole, and he made it clear that the team can really go any direction to provide depth and competition to the position, via Chris Wesseling of NFL.com.
Does that mean he'll address it in free agency, early in the draft or in a developmental quarterback role? Marrone likely purposefully made that unclear, and it'll be an interesting storyline to follow leading up to free agency and the draft.
After cutting Louis Delmas two weeks ago, the Detroit Lions provided themselves with their most glaring need for free agency and potentially the draft as well. While the safety class isn't among the best positional units in the 2014 draft, the Lions, picking at No. 10 overall, will likely have their pick at the position.
With the defensive backs as a group working out on the final day of the combine, the Lions will have to wait to evaluate their most critical need in Indianapolis and decide if there are any worthwhile options for the 10th overall pick or if they'd be better suited waiting until the later rounds to find their safety.
After a quick pit stop as offensive coordinator with the San Diego Chargers, Ken Whisenhunt is back in charge of an NFL team. While he inherits a team that has drafted well, especially defensively, the past few drafts, he has the pieces to work with to potentially turn the Tennessee Titans into a playoff contender in year one.
However, with question marks about whether Jake Locker is a franchise quarterback, whether the offensive line still needs upgrading despite drafting a guard in the top 10 last year and what the long-term plan is for Chris Johnson, Whisenhunt also inherits a team destined for some turnover.
Free agency is an option to fix some of the quick holes on the roster, but Whisenhunt's first few draft picks in early May likely will be indicative of where he feels the franchise needs to go in the future.
Offensive linemen at 300-plus pounds should not be consistently running 40 yards in under five seconds. We've seen "freak" athletes in the past who have managed, and they generally are put in high regard for evaluators.
This year, five offensive linemen finished with sub-five-second 40-yard dash times, including Auburn's Greg Robinson and Michigan's Taylor Lewan. With those two wowing in workouts and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews also considered a potential left tackle prospect, the supply of elite offensive tackles may not meet the demand of teams in need in the draft's top 10 picks.
The New York Giants could certainly use more help along the offensive line, and the potential to get an offensive tackle with franchise left tackle ability in the middle of the first round should have the Giants front office salivating.
Two years ago, the St. Louis Rams were in the No. 2 position on draft day. They coaxed the Washington Redskins to move up to secure Robert Griffin III in what was one of the biggest draft day trades in NFL history.
Fast-forward to this draft, and the Rams once again are likely to move out of the No. 2 spot.
"As an organization, we need to make the best of that asset like an business would do," Les Snead told the media in his press conference, via Dan Kadar of SBNation.com. "So [trading down is] definitely an option."
No matter who the Texans take with the first overall pick, the Rams should have alluring trade possibilities. If Jadeveon Clowney is on the board, the Falcons should be thoroughly interested in moving up. If Teddy Bridgewater is still available, the Jaguars, Browns and Raiders all make move up to secure a franchise quarterback.
In general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman's first season with the Chicago Bears, they proved that their offensive drafting and scheming ability shouldn't be a problem for the future. Alshon Jeffery emerged as one of the best receivers in the NFL, Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett were kept happy with plenty of touches and the offensive line improved during the year.
The defense, however, still seemed to struggle, thanks to both injuries and turnover on the roster, and management recognizes a need to build on that side of the ball.
“Obviously the most important part of this offseason is rebuilding our defense to a stature that’s expected of us at Halas Hall, in our community and our fan base," Trestman told Jay Taft of RRStar.com.
The combine provides teams with so much more than workout numbers, and the smart front offices make the most of the process by capitalizing and taking detailed notes about all of the ancillary benefits of the NFL's scouting combine.
For Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, the ability to check every prospect's medical reports is at the top of his list of valued insights to be gained, as Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted.
With that being said, don't expect the Steelers to target players with repeated injury concerns or who may have lingering injuries once they reach the NFL. Most notably, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio failed several teams' physicals.
After dominating during his senior season and impressing scouts in Mobile, Ala., during the Senior Bowl practices, Aaron Donald once again exceeded expectations in Indianapolis, putting up 35 bench reps—the second-most among defensive linemen.
With the productivity, consistency against top talent during and after the season and that type of strength displayed, Donald is looking more and more like a safe top-25 pick and a player the pass rush-needy Dallas Cowboys should strongly consider.
The Baltimore Ravens traded Anquan Boldin last offseason and have sorely missed his physicality at the catch-point and ability to pick up first downs for the Joe Flacco-led offense. Finding the next Boldin-like receiver will likely prove difficult, but finding a weapon in the first round that can fill that role shouldn't be.
Eric Ebron displayed rare athleticism throughout the combine drills during the workout, including a blazing 4.50 40 time, a 32" vertical jump and a 10'00" broad jump.
While he may be worth a top-10 pick, there may not be a team with a tight end need to draft him in the top few picks. The Ravens will likely rush to the podium if he's available at 17 overall. If not, they could consider Texas Tech's Jace Amaro in the first round or Notre Dame's Troy Niklas in the second.
With the emergence this past season of Alshon Jeffery and the continued trend for NFL teams to find big, physical receivers who can have success vertically, prospects like Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin or Texas A&M's Mike Evans were automatically going to be pushed up draft boards.
But after putting up jaw-dropping numbers for players their size, the top 20 for both players seems very likely.
At 6'5", 240, Benjamin ran a 4.59 40-yard dash. As for Evans, he put up a 4.47 40-yard dash time and 37" vertical jump at 6'4", 231 pounds.
For a New York Jets team looking to add weapons for last year's second-round quarterback Geno Smith, getting an ideally built receiver would likely do wonders for his comfortableness.
The Richie Incognitio and Miami Dolphins locker room concerns aren't going away quietly. And with Incognitio off the team and changes to the training staff already made, Joe Philbin is now one of the faces of the problem and is immediately on the hot seat in the media's eyes.
Philbin did his best to answer some of the issues and has continued to take responsibility during his press conferences, but it still lingers as a black eye for him, the Dolphins and the NFL.
In free agency, the Dolphins may not be an easy sell to many of the top players available, which should lead to Miami needing to hit on most of its early draft picks if it hopes to improve on both sides of the ball for next year.
Bruce Arians took over in Arizona and immediately turned the Cardinals into a playoff contender with Carson Palmer at the helm of the offense. Palmer is on his third team in four seasons now, but with Arians running a vertical passing game, he might have found a home in Arizona for the long term.
Still, the quarterback position is too important to be completely faithful in Palmer to last as the starter with no young, developmental player behind him, especially given that he's 34 years old. But will the Cardinals consider taking a quarterback in the first round?
"With the supply and demand at quarterback, Carson at least puts us in the position where you don't have to force," Keim said, according to Dan Kadar of SB Nation. "And when I say force, you're sitting at 20 or wherever we are in the draft, and feel like we have to have one."
The Green Bay Packers could go almost any direction early in the 2014 draft. They've drafted well enough in the past to have depth and starter-level talent at most positions, but they could use upgrades along the offensive and defensive line as well as in the secondary.
According to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the offensive line as a whole is "up in the air." Despite being comfortable with their depth, the Packers may still be in the market for an offensive line upgrade, including with the 21st selection in the draft.
In terms of off-the-field issues, Colt Lyerla is as close to an "untouchable" draft prospect as you'll find. As Jeff Risdon of Detroit Lions Draft and Justis Mosqueda of Optimum Scouting detailed, he's had a history of issues, including his most recent cocaine possession charge just a few weeks after leaving Oregon.
On the field, including during his recent combine workout, there are tight ends who can call themselves better athletes or who have the same upside that Lyerla does. Posting the best 40 time (4.47), vertical jump (39") and broad jump (10'08") among all tight ends, he made a point to prove he nonetheless has the talent to play in the NFL.
But with teams so character-conscious in today's NFL, does Lyerla have a home? Well, his former coach at Oregon, Chip Kelly, the last coach he played a full season for, is in charge of the Philadelphia Eagles, and despite the team's drafting of Zach Ertz last year, I wouldn't rule out the Eagles getting a top-end talent like Lyerla, who's likely to fall greatly on draft day to the later rounds.
The receiver class has been highly touted since the underclassmen declaration deadline passed, and the sheer depth of receiver talent was made clear. While other storylines take the lead in Indianapolis, the workout numbers and the persistent wow factor that many of these receivers produce didn't fade throughout Sunday's on-field workouts.
Be sure to check out all the combine numbers here, as there's a remarkable combination of speed, size and explosiveness across the list. The bad news for these receivers, however, is that with so much talent, teams may opt to wait on a pass-catcher in favor of maximizing this class's depth.
The good news for teams, in that same sense, is that franchises picking in the bottom of the first round (like the Kansas City Chiefs) may have their pick at receiver with teams valuing other positions ahead of them. Players like Kelvin Benjamin, Odell Beckham Jr (pictured above) or Brandin Cooks may all be there for the drafting despite possessing top-20 upside.
The Cincinnati Bengals have done a great job the past few drafts at stockpiling talent and giving their coaching staff plus talents across the field. However, the Bengals are now feeling the pain of drafting so well—they can't keep everyone long-term.
DraftInsider.net's Tony Pauline had this to say about the Bengals cutting one of their best defensive players: "I’m told the Cincinnati Bengals may have to cut Carlos Dunlap in order to create the salary cap room necessary to sign a number of other highly considered players on their roster about to hit free agency."
If that's the case, the Bengals' draft needs immediately turn to defensive end, where they'll like try to find a cheaper replacement to fill the void potentially left by Dunlap.
Now in his second year and first full offseason at the helm of the San Diego Chargers, general manager Tom Telesco is already faced with tough decisions about the future of the franchise. According to Eric D. Williams of ESPN, "general manager Tom Telesco acknowledged that his team is tight against the salary cap and has some tough decisions to make on whether to keep a number of veteran players who are due to make a significant amount of money during the 2014 season."
Based on what the Chargers' current depth chart and salary cap situation, the Chargers could look at the offensive line, pass-rusher and defensive back early in the draft, including at 25th overall.
During the 2013 NFL season, the Indianapolis Colts made the aggressive decision to trade a first-round pick in the 2014 draft for a former top-five pick in Trent Richardson of the Cleveland Browns. At the time, the trade had it's supporters, especially with the Colts' need at the position and the draft hype Richardson received when he came out of Alabama just two years earlier.
But after a season in which Richardson struggled to play with consistency and was eventually benched, many now are bashing the trade in hindsight. Still, general manager Ryan Grigson is confident it was the correct decision. He had this to say at the combine, according to Dan Kadar of SB Nation: "We all have expectations for Trent and he has expectations for himself. And they’re for him to be great. He has expectations of himself to be great. I think he’s in a great place and we’re in a great place with him."
Two weeks before the combine, the New Orleans Saints began planning their offseason moves by releasing a handful of veterans in order to clear the way to add new faces to the franchise. With Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Roman Harper and Jabari Greer now off the team, the Saints are now expected to be even more focused on draft day on the defensive side of the ball.
Luckily for New Orleans, it should have plenty of options to better the defense with its first-round selection. The Saints could consider pass-rushers like Jeremiah Attaochu of Georgia Tech or Dee Ford of Auburn, linebackers like C.J. Mosley of Alabama or Kyle Van Noy of BYU and cornerbacks like Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State and Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech with the 27th overall pick.
Jordan Gross has been with the Carolina Panthers since he was drafted into the league in 2003, protecting whoever was their quarterback and playing consistently in the upper echelon of the position throughout his career.
However, after 11 seasons, rumors of Gross' retirement have continued to grow. According to Alex Marvez of Fox Sports, general manager Dave Gettleman is still unsure of what Gross will do.
With Gross expected to be gone for either next year or the year after, the Panthers need to address the offensive tackle position early in the 2014 draft if they hope to curb the potential glaring hole that Gross will leave.
In what has been one of the most fascinating stories of the NFL offseason, the San Francisco 49ers' rumored trade of Jim Harbaugh to the Browns—with Browns owner Jim Haslam confirming the two teams have talked, per Jarrett Bell of USA Today—has provided the perennial NFC Conference contenders with concerns about the future of their management team.
With Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke having a strained, awkward relationship, it may be only a matter of time before one of them leaves the franchise, despite their joint success.
Unrest in a front office is never a good thing, as it affects the scouting staff and the rest of the coaching staff and opens the door for tension throughout the building that affects people's ability to do their job.
Michael Lombardi lasted just one full offseason in Cleveland as the general manager before he was let go by Jim Haslam and the Browns. However, it didn't take long for him to land on his feet.
Lombardi is already a part of the New England Patriots front office, joining the team at the combine to help with its evaluations in Indianapolis, according to NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal.
What does it mean for the Patriots' draft plans? Potentially nothing.
For years, Bill Belichick and Lombardi have been friends and have spoken about key decisions for the Patriots. But with Lombardi being fully devoted to the scouting process during the 2013 season, he'll likely give New England another well-versed 2014 draft expert in the front office.
Just a few weeks removed from losing in blowout fashion in the Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos' focus needs to shift to the 2014 offseason and draft, where it's clear they need to improve a defense that allowed three touchdowns to the Seattle Seahawks and struggled to slow Russell Wilson down all game long.
According to ESPN Denver's Cecil Lammey, the Broncos could be looking to shore up those concerns on draft day with a major trade up targeting linebacker C.J. Mosley or safety Calvin Pryor.
To get one of those two, they'll need to move up at least 10 spots in the first round, which will take some serious ammunition. But with the window closing on Peyton Manning's days in the NFL, Denver may feel it's now or never to be aggressive and to secure the help defensively the team needs to get to the Super Bowl again next season.
On Friday, ESPN's Adam Schefter dropped the news that the Seattle Seahawks had released Sidney Rice just three years after giving him a mega-free-agent deal after he left the Minnesota Vikings.
While Rice won't get a contract like the five-year, $41 million one the Seahawks gave him in 2011, with his experience and talents, he'll find an NFL home quickly during free agency.
As for the Seahawks, moving on from Rice opens the door for them to capitalize on a tremendously deep receiver class, as I alluded to with the Chiefs.
Odell Beckham Jr. of LSU, Allen Robinson of Penn State and Jarvis Landry of LSU are all intriguing options for Seattle at the end of the first round.