We interrupt the negotiating, lawsuits, and posturing to bring you the closest thing we may have to football for quite some time: the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine.
Not that the Combine actually tells us much about the 329 invitees as football players; by this point scouts and personnel people have watched enough on-field action to have their draft boards pretty much set. Most of the important work at the Combine takes place behind the scenes, where teams poke and prod the bodies and minds of potential draftees for a final kick-the-tires on injury history, attitude, and other off-field concerns that could affect their tenure in the NFL.
But that doesn’t mean we won’t watch players lift, run, jump, throw, and catch.
Over the next week players will swarm Indianapolis to do all of the above; we’ll be able to watch much of the proceedings on NFL Network’s exhaustive coverage. You’ll get to see for yourself if there’s a back as fast as Jahvid Best or a receiver who can run like Jacoby Ford. And maybe a few names will sneak onto the fantasy radar as well.
Wednesday, February 23
Travel, Registration, Pre-exam & X-ray, Orientation, Interviews - Group 1 (PK, ST, OL), Group 2 (OL), Group 3 (TE)
Yawn. Nothing much to see here, unless you’re an armchair x-ray radiologist—though it’s unlikely NFLN will be showing us the results of everyone’s MRI. The anticipation builds, but we’re still a couple days away from any on-field entertainment.
Thursday, February 24
Measurements, Exams, Media, Psych Tests, Interviews - Group 1 (PK, ST, OL), Group 2 (OL), Group 3 (TE)
Travel, Registration, Pre-exam & X-ray, Orientation, Interviews - Group 4 (QB, WO), Group 5 (QB, WO), Group 6 (RB)
Get out the yardsticks! We’ll see if Notre Dame’s Kyle Rudolph, widely considered the top tight end in this draft, is a legit 6-6. The scale will also come into play, with TCU’s Marcus Cannon expected to tilt the heaviest—maybe even north of 350. More importantly than the scale, however, is the eyeball test. Anyone whose retinas are still scarred by visions of Bengals’ first-rounder Andre Smith shirtless from a couple years back knows this portion of the program is best viewed before eating.
Most of Thursday’s attention, however, will be devoted to the arrival of quarterbacks, running backs, and wideouts... and Cam Newton’s dad.
Friday, February 25
NFLPA Meeting, Psych Tests, *PK/ST Workout*, Interviews - Group 1(PK, ST, OL), Group 2(OL), Group 3(TE)
Measurements, Exams, Media, Psych Tests, Interviews - Group 4 (QB, WO), Group 5 (QB, WO), Group 6 (RB)
Travel, Registration, Pre-exam & X-ray, Orientation, Interviews - Group 7 (DL), Group 8 (DL), Group 9 (LB)
The punters, kickers, and long snappers will put on a show at Lucas Field, but most of the action is still taking place off the turf. Friday marks the first NFLPA meeting with potential draftees, where CBA negotiations and the rookie wage scale will most certainly be hot topics. And of course the first groups will experience the Wonderlic test. It’s worth noting that according to Paul Zimmerman’s The New Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football, offensive tackles have the highest average Wonderlic score at 26. Centers are second at 25, quarterbacks third at 24, guards fourth at 23, and tight ends fifth at 22. So after hitting four of the top five positions on the first day of testing, it’s all downhill from here.
The “pretty boys”—quarterbacks, running backs, and wideouts—will also take their turn in front of the yardsticks. Are Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Mallett and Colin Kaepernick all legitimately 6-5 or better? Whose 6-4 is taller, A.J. Green’s or Julio Jones’? Are there amusement park rides that Oklahoma State’s Kendall Hunter and Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers—both listed at 5-7—will be unable to ride without a chaperone?
Also, defensive players will start to arrive for their medical checkups, beginning with the defensive linemen and linebackers on Friday.
Saturday, February 26
Workout (timing, stations, skill drills), Departure - Group 1(PK, ST, OL), Group 2(OL), Group 3(TE)
NFLPA Meeting, Psych Tests, Interviews - Group 4 (QB, WO), Group 5 (QB, WO), Group 6 (RB)
Measurements, Exams, Media, Psych Tests, Interviews - Group 7 (DL), Group 8 (DL), Group 9 (LB)
Travel, Registration, Pre-exam & X-ray, Orientation, Interviews - Group 10 (DB), Group 11 (DB)
Here is where it gets interesting, and not just because the defensive backs are swaggering into town. The defensive linemen and linebackers take to the scale, where Baylor’s Phil Taylor, Hampton’s Kenrick Ellis, and Mississippi’s Jerrell Powe will go belly-to-belly to see who’s the beefiest. The quarterbacks, running backs, and diva receivers meet with the NFLPA, look at inkblots, and tell team representatives what kind of tree they’d be if they were a tree.
And, finally, the workouts begin in earnest with the offensive linemen and tight ends running and jumping. Don’t look for any land speed records to be set, but 6-8, 315-pound tackle Nate Solder has been clocked under five seconds in the 40 and tight ends who can get into the 4.5s like Jimmy Graham did last year are bound to draw some attention as well; this year, Arkansas’ D.J. Williams and Florida Atlantic’s Rob Housler are candidates to run in that range.
Sunday, February 27
Workout (timing, stations, skill drills), Departure - Group 4 (QB, WO), Group 5 (QB, WO), Group 6 (RB)
NFLPA Meeting, Psych Tests, Interviews - Group 7 (DL), Group 8 (DL), Group 9 (LB)
Measurements, Exams, Media, Psych Tests, Interviews - Group 10 (DB), Group 11 (DB)
You think it’s an accident that Sunday—Football Day—will see the pretty boys take the field for their workouts? Well, at least the quarterbacks, running backs, and wideouts are scheduled to workout; some will opt to run or throw at their Pro Day rather than throw to unfamiliar receivers in a passing tree that’s not scripted to their specific strengths. Say what you will about some of Cam Newton’s questionable decisions to this point; his vow to participate fully in the Combine workouts may not be the path many big names have followed in the past (neither Sam Bradford nor Tim Tebow threw at last year’s Combine), but it proves he’s confident in his ability and won’t be hiding behind a personalized passing tree script. Newton’s competition to be the first quarterback off the draft board, Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, won’t be throwing until his Pro Day; read into that what you will.
In other goings on in Indy, the defensive linemen and linebackers will be administered psych tests (there’s an episode of “Dexter” waiting to happen) and meet with the NFLPA while the defensive backs are weighed and measured. There could be some interest here, as at present four of the top five cornerbacks all list at six foot or taller; will that number still be the same after each is backed up against the official yardstick?
Monday, February 28
Workout (timing, stations, skill drills), Departure - Group 7 (DL), Group 8 (DL), Group 9 (LB)
NFLPA Meeting, Psych Tests, Interviews - Group 10 (DB), Group 11 (DB)
While the defensive backs get the NFLPA treatment and conclude their psych tests and interviews, the defensive linemen and linebackers take to the field. More than just 40 times, the main order of the day will be identifying which hybrid end/backers have the ability to play upright and drop into coverage. In some cases this will be scouts’ first opportunity to see linemen who played with their hand on the ground stand up, so the positional drills are especially important. Among others, keep an eye on Robert Quinn, Aldon Smith, Ryan Kerrigan, Jabaal Sheard, and Sam Acho.
Tuesday, March 1
Workout (timing, stations, skill drills), Departure - Group 10 (DB), Group 11 (DB)
Remember all those “big” corners getting measured on Sunday? Now we find out if they can run. Most of the top corners on the board claim sub-4.5 40 times, but several—specifically Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara—need to confirm their speed. Of course, a 4.57 wouldn’t necessarily be a killer for Amukamara; worked out okay for Joe Haden last year.
And just like Deion exiting the building during his mythical 40, the d-backs put a wrap on the 2011 Combine. Then we’re on to pro days, mock drafts, and—hopefully—a collective bargaining agreement that ensures the Combine won’t be the last football-related activity we see for a while.