Not long after Santonio Holmes’ toes touched down in the end zone, the attention of NFL fans turned to the 2009 season. And the gathering of 300-some top prospects in Indianapolis for the Scouting Combine is the kickoff to each team’s dream-building for the upcoming year.
The interview process began Wednesday night when the first group—offensive linemen, specialists, and tight ends—arrived in Indianapolis, and festivities will carry through next Tuesday when the defensive backs finish their workouts. In between hopes will be dashed (on a scale ranging from Maurice Clarett’s glacial 40 in 2005 to De’Cody Fagg’s career-ending knee injury last year) and legends will be created, like when Calvin Johnson borrowed a pair of shoes and blistered a 4.35 40 in 2007.
Here’s a rundown of what’s happening when, and what fantasy folks might want to pay attention to as they look for a jump on their own 2009 campaign.
Thursday, February 19
The first three groups were poked and prodded by every doctor from Pepper to Rosenrosen on Wednesday night, so Thursday they’ll parade around in their underwear for official height and weight measurements. The next three groups (quarterbacks, wideouts, and running backs) arrive and will undergo their medical exams, while the early arrivals will sharpen their pencils for the dreaded Wonderlic.
What to watch: Coverage of the player press conferences begin at 2:30 Eastern on NFL Network, and you can expect cutaways to the weigh-in and measurement festivities. LSU guard Herman Johnson should draw plenty of oohs and ahhs at the weigh-in; he lists at 6-7 and 380. Alabama tackle Andre Smith’s weigh-in will also be closely scrutinized; he lists at 340 but reportedly ballooned as high as 385 in 2007 and is facing questions about whether or not he’s quick enough to play left tackle in the NFL. Another key measurement for the linemen is arm length, the rationale being a longer arm allows them to get their hands on the defender before the defender gets to them.
What you won’t see: Any on-field activity or defensive players; they don’t start arriving until Friday.
Friday, February 20
What to watch: Another day of mostly talk, with press conferences starting once again at 2:30 Eastern on NFL Network. The key fantasy folks—quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers—will be weighed and measured, which is bound to produce some interesting results. By my count 27 of the 44 wideouts invited to the Combine claim a height of 6-0 or greater; I’d be pretty confident taking the “under” after they get out the official yardstick. Cal Poly’s Ramses Barden should clock in as the tallest wideout with a listed height of 6-6; it will be interesting to see if that’s legit. Same goes for juniors like Rutgers’ Kenny Britt, Michael Crabtree, and Darrius Heyward-Bey, who all claim 6-2 or better and would solidify their Day One status if those numbers hold up.
Running backs will undergo similar scrutiny, with their weight factored in as well. Half of the Combine backs claim a height of 5-10 or 5-11, with only six of the 26 admitting to falling below 5-10; again, the smart money is on the “under” number swelling. The 6-1, 235-pound frame of Liberty’s Rashad Jennings will likely elicit the most stares from the crowd.
What you won’t see: At least the defensive players have started showing up by this point, but aside from the punters, kickers, and long snappers doing their thing the on-field activity will again be kept to a minimum.
Saturday, February 21
What to watch: Finally! The linemen and tight ends hit the field for some running, jumping, and lifting. You’re sure to see Cardinals strength coach John Lott motivating a future millionaire to squeeze out one more rep at 225 pounds on the bench, but what fantasy fans will want to be tuning in for is a talented tight end class going through workouts. Seven of the 18 invited tight ends claim to have run under 4.6, including five of the top seven on most draft boards. South Carolina’s Jared Cook has reportedly broken the 4.5 mark, and if at 6-4 and 240 he can match that feat at the Combine he could be the biggest mover of the weekend. Coverage begins at 11 a.m. Eastern on the NFL Network, but don’t worry if you sleep in; it will be re-aired at 4:00 and packaged into highlights at 8:00 that evening.
What you won’t see: You won’t see Cal center Alex Mack, whose stellar work at the Senior Bowl had nudged him into late first-round contention. Mack sprained his ankle working out earlier this week and will attend the Combine but won’t run. A strong showing might have solidified his spot in the first round, but now Mack will have to wait until his pro day in March to further impress the scouts.
Sunday, February 22
What to watch: Game on! You think the fact that quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers hit the Lucas Oil turf on a Sunday—when we’re conditioned to plant ourselves in front of the television to watch some football—is a coincidence? The degenerative gamblers among you can clip your prop bets sheet (yes, you can bet on the Scouting Combine; is this a great country or what?) to see if any running back can best the O/U time of 4.38; the wide receiver number is set four-hundredths lower. And there’s even head-to-head wagering, with Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno (-160) the prohibitive favorite to best Ohio State’s Chris Wells (+130) in the 40. That’s just an undercard for the main event in which Florida’s Percy Harvin (-180) is expected to top Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin (+140).
Obviously, guys like Troy Williamson have proven that there’s more to being a productive NFL wide receiver than running fast in a straight line. But you saw how Chris Johnson shot up the draft board after his blazing 40 last year, and how speed pushed Donnie Avery and Eddie Royal to the fore of last year’s class of receivers, so you’ll want to keep an eye out for attention-getting times. Candidates include Harvin, Maclin, Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey, Florida’s Louis Murphy, Mississippi’s Mike Wallace, and McNeese State’s Quinten Lawrence—all anticipated to be under 4.4—among wideouts and Moreno, Pitt’s LeSean McCoy, Connecticut’s Donald Brown, Clemson’s James Davis, and Texas A&M’s Mike Goodson expected to be the fastest among the running backs. The aforementioned Jennings could see his stock elevate if he’s able to dip under 4.5 at 6-1 and 235 pounds.
Defensive backs will be put through the weights-and-measures paces, and it’s worth keeping an eye on the official results for undersized corners like Wake Forest’s Alphonso Smith and Vanderbilt’s D.J. Moore, who may be denied first-round grades if they falls short of their listed 5-9.
Like Saturday’s workouts, coverage of Sunday’s sessions will start at 11:00 Eastern on the NFL Network and be repeated at 4:00 and 8:00. C’mon, it’ll be just like settling in for pregame! Your indentation is still in the couch!
What you won’t see: Georgia’s Matt Stafford isn’t expected to throw and Texas Tech wideout Michael Crabtree has indicated he won’t run at the combine. Scouts say this isn’t a big deal to them, though if there’s no underlying reason (like, say, an injury) for skipping drills it does raise a yellow flag about the athlete’s competitiveness. Who knows, maybe Crabtree will get the same itch that pushed Calvin Johnson into borrowed shoes a couple years back; the good news for Crabtree is that his goodie bag from Under Armor, the official sponsor of the Combine, has a pair of shoes in his size ready for use.
You also won’t see Navy fullback Eric Kettani, who was invited to participate but barred from joining in the fun because of his five-year service obligation. At least the Navy nipped this in the bud—unlike last year, when Army safety Caleb Campbell went through the workouts and was drafted by the Lions before being told he wouldn’t be available to play.
Monday, February 23
What to watch: If you’re looking to get a jump on your IDP league, this is the day to pay attention. This draft is chock full of hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end types, and Monday you’ll get to see them go through workouts. Can Florida State’s Everette Brown and Texas’ Brian Orakpo drop back into coverage, or will they need to play with their hand on the ground? Two-thirds of the league’s defensive coordinators have turned over since the start of the 2008 season, and many will be looking for a pass rusher to plug into their scheme—be it as a 4-3 end or a 3-4 linebacker. Brown, Orakpo, Penn State’s Aaron Maybin, Northern Illinois’ Larry English, and San Jose State’s Jarron Gilbert were all grouped with the defensive ends, but rest assured they’ll be put through the coverage drills.
Dedicated IDPers can blow off work and catch the live workout coverage beginning at 11:00 Eastern on the NFL Network; if you’re out of sick days, the sessions will be repeated at 4:00 and 8:00.
What you won’t see: Offensive players, as the “skill” positions groups all check out on Sunday.
Tuesday, February 24
What to watch: The final workout day features d-backs and nothing but d-backs going through the drills. Jackson State’s Dominique Johnson and South Carolina’s Captain Munnerlyn come into the Combine with the fastest posted 40 times, but for the most part all these guys are fast—and if they’re too far above 4.5 they’ll be labeled as “Cover-2 corners”, which means they’re not thought to be fast enough for man-to-man coverage at the NFL level.
What you won’t see: Your significant other for quite some time if you’ve been glued to the tube and/or computer for the entirety of the Combine coverage. Of course, armed with this much knowledge you’ll be so prepared for your fantasy season that a title is a foregone conclusion; buy your significant other a little token of your appreciation with the winnings and all will be forgiven.