The sporting world's biggest career fair is just around the corner.
In less than a week, 32 NFL teams worth of scouts, coaches, and general managers will descend onto Indianapolis to poke, prod and interview hundreds of entry-level candidates during this year's version of the NFL Scouting Combine. And with the Combine just around the corner, it's time for all the analysis and projections you draftniks can handle.
Mel Kiper will update his Big Board and argue with Todd McShay about their opposing mock drafts. Rich Eisen will try to improve upon his full suit-and-loafers 40-time. And Merril Hoge will insist to anybody still listening that the Titans made a mistake in the 2005 draft by taking Vince Young; and they are continuing that mistake by sticking with him, in spite of his 13-3 record in the last 16 games he has started.
The Texas Longhorns are often well-represented in the NFL Draft, and this year will be no different. Safety Earl Thomas, only the fourth football player to leave the 40 acres early under Mack Brown, and defensive end Sergio Kindle are almost assuredly first-round locks.
Quarterback Colt McCoy and his NCAA record 45 wins will try to shake off concerns about his ailing shoulder and sneak into the first day. And defensive tackle Lamarr Houston, along with eighth-year (or so) senior receiver Jordan Shipley hope to impress teams during the combine and various team workouts to work their way up the draft boards.
There are no certainties when it comes to the NFL draft. While each of these players enjoyed a great deal of individual success, there are no guarantees when or even if they will contribute for the NFL team that drafts them.
For every Matt Ryan or Mark Sanchez, there are dozens of quarterbacks that take years to get assimilated into the system to which he was drafted before they are successful. Receivers often need hundreds of hours of practice to get in-sync with their new quarterback before they can be relied on. And defensive players must get used to new terminology and schemes before they fully grasp the defense they get drafted into.
And so, it's about time for me to make an initial prediction heading into the week of the NFL combine.
Out of all the former Longhorns, the the player that will make the biggest impact for their NFL team in 2010 will be Hunter Lawrence.
The Big 12 Championship Game hero will suit up with some NFL team next season and instantly improve their special teams play. His 88.9 percent field goal accuracy would have ranked him seventh in the NFL last season among those with at least 20 field goal attempts. Lawrence also showed some range in his leg during his time in college, converting 9 of 12 field goal attempts of 40 yards or longer.
Unlike a lot of his alumni-turned-rookie teammates, Lawrence will be able to be relied upon early. There won't be a complex playbook he will need to learn. There won't be any terminology that he will have to pick up. From the get-go, Lawrence will only be asked to buckle up his chin strip and go kick game winners. No pressure, right?
But it's not as if Lawrence isn't used to the pressure. He will never play in an NFL stadium that seats as many people as Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin. Only Cowboys Stadium in Dallas is able to hold more, including it's standing-room only areas. But Lawrence has already played there, and all he did was kick a 46-yard field goal as time expired to send the Longhorns into the National Championship.
No fan base in the NFL, including America's Team, holds their team to higher expectations than Lawrence's alma mater (where the heads of offensive coordinators are called for when UT doesn't score 50 points immaculately). In tight situations, even the panicky Orangebloods were able to back away from the ledge when Lawrence trotted onto the field.
Speaking of the Dallas Cowboys, don't you think they would have loved to have a kicker like Hunter Lawrence last season? After spending most of the year with a faltering Nick Folk, they opted to turn to Cowboy-castoff-turned-Redskin-castoff Shaun Suisham. Suisham promptly went 3 for 6 during his second stint with Dallas, including a clutch 1 for 3 finish in their playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Or how about the Houston Texans? Texans kickers went 21 for 32 on the season, lost two games by three points and missed the playoffs by a razor-thin margin.
So this week will be another step in the tryout process for Lawrence and his teammates. And while he could end up being the last Longhorn drafted, look for Hunter Lawrence to make the biggest impact in 2010.