What happens next?
The NFL combine is a rest stop in draft season and a needed reprieve from an otherwise dead period in the football year. It gives us something to talk about, yes, but with over two months between now and the draft, what is there to do but regurgitate talking points over and over again?
Well, for teams, this time could not be any more important. While the combine might take backseat to the tape that has already been dissected again and again all season long, the workouts and testing will send plenty of scouts back to that tape to see if they missed anything on prospects that performed well. They'll also be sent around the country to speak to the coaches and trainers of these athletes to see why and how the numbers don't match what they saw on the field.
Of course, teams will also be planning pro-day trips. The goal isn't just to decide who needs to see which prospect, but the crew a team sends to a pro day can also say a lot about their intentions, and teams are sensitive to that.
Free agency is also a big player at this time of the year, and the media will be busy with that for much of the time. Teams, too, will be adjusting their draft boards based on what free agency does to their needs. They'll also be weighing the talent in this class at certain positions—and which prospects they think they could realistically get their hands on—compared to the value of free agents.
As much as the combine is a very visible way station on the road to the draft, it's also just the beginning of a very quick ramp up. One of the reasons the NFL moved the draft from April to May is to give teams a little more time during this period, but even with that extra breathing room, assume that your favorite team's coaching staff and personnel department will be about as busy as they can be.
For More Combine Preview Reading:
- Position-by-Position Combine Primer (Michael Schottey)
- Official Invite List (National Scouting)
- All-Time Combine Records (Jesse Reed)
- How Important is the Combine? (Greg Gabriel)
Day 5 Highlights
Day 6 Schedule and Preview
On-Field Workout, Departure: Group 11 (defensive backs)
Thanks to the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, teams will be taking an extra close look at bigger defensive backs. However, teams that aren't ready to be so dogmatic about the kind of corners and safeties they need may be able to find great value on smaller athletic players that may lack an inch or two in height.
However, the Seahawks aren't the only trendsetters in the NFL. Teams like the Denver Broncos—remember, even as badly as they lost in the Super Bowl, they were still dominant for most of the season—are constantly adding more and more offensive weapons. Worse yet, those weapons are becoming more and more versatile.
Don't think for a second that defensive coordinators across the league weren't watching players like De'Anthony Thomas (RB Oregon), Lache Seastrunk (RB Baylor) and Brandin Cooks (WR Oregon State) and weren't wondering how in the world they'd cover those athletes if teams in their division picked them up.
It's an arms race in the NFL and one of the reasons that the Seahawks are so impressive defensively is that they've stayed ahead of the curve in acquiring bodies to cover the multiple receiver sets that are becoming less rare and more par-for-the-course at every level of the sport.
Justin Gilbert (CB Oklahoma State) is the top corner on my board and barely fits in the "big corner" group at 6'0" 202 pounds. He's not small by any means, but compared to the "Legion of Boom" in Seattle, some teams might write him off as a member of the "Lollipop Guild."
That would be a huge mistake.
Gilbert hopes to test well on Tuesday in order to keep his No. 1 spot locked down from an assault by Darqueze Dennard (CB Michigan State). Dennard has the better tape of the two and is more of a "lock down" corner, but his tape against Big Ten schools is valued less and he's thought to have less athleticism than Gilbert. If he closes the gap athletically—at least in terms of perception—he could easily go first among defensive backs.
There's a similar battle at the safety position between Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (FS Alabama), who spent much of the year as the top safety prospect according to most, and Calvin Pryor (FS Louisville) who may be a better fit in the NFL because of his elite range. Now, range isn't something one measures on a stopwatch, because reaction and football IQ plays into it, but if Clinton-Dix can show he's every bit the athlete Pryor is, his SEC tape could take precedence.
In the 40, look for Bradley Roby (CB Ohio State) to test really well. He's a raw prospect. But, honestly, every cornerback is raw by NFL standards. He's been battling injury, but is healthy now and has a chance to sneak into the first round with a good workout, because the league needs more speedsters in the defensive backfield. Roby told FoxSports.com's Ross Jones: "My goals right now is for me to go in the first round. I want to have a great combine. I want to be defensive rookie of the year and I want to help my team win as much as I can. It’s all about being a great teammate.”
Other names to watch closely because they could raise their draft stock: Kyle Fuller (CB Virginia Tech), Ed Reynolds (S Stanford), Jimmy Ward (SS Northern Illinois), Pierre Desir (CB Lindenwood) and Chris Davis (CB Auburn).