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2014 NFL SCOUTING COMBINE PRIMER

The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine is here and it will be the biggest one ever with over 330+ prospects at the event to compete in front of all 32 NFL teams. All the biggest names will be in attendance, Jadeveon Clowney, Johnny Manziel and Sammy Watkins will be in the house. The pressure will be on all of these prospects as the eyes of every coach, scout and front office guy in the NFL will be on them. A lot of money can be made or lost at the Combine as these prospects go head to head with one another.  As always there will be no shortage of storylines going on in Indy. Here are ten to watch.

1.  The Battle for the first overall pick

In most years there is usually a heavy favorite or two to be selected with the first overall pick, but the 2014 NFL Draft’s first selection owned by the Houston Texans is currently wide open as the NFL Scouting Combine is set to begin. Defensive End Jadeveon Clowney is the top prospect on almost every draft board and has been for the majority of the last two years and is considered by most to be an once in a decade type talent. Why isn’t he a clear favorite to go first overall then, well the Texans have a new head coach in place and a gaping hole at the quarterback position in a draft year that features a trio of signal-callers (Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel) ranked among the top 15 prospects with all three being predicted to come off the board within the first five picks in most experts’ mock drafts heading into the Combine. Those four aren’t the only prospects in the discussion as a pair of potential franchise left tackles Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews are ranked right behind Clowney and ahead of all three quarterbacks on a number of draft boards. Robinson has been the fastest rising prospect since declaring for the NFL Draft after dominating the SEC as just a redshirt sophomore and helping lead Auburn to a National Championship. He’s an athletic freak with a ridiculously high ceiling and is expected to light it up at the Combine. Matthews meanwhile could have been a high draft selection last year, but chose to return to school for another year and in turn sat at the top of draft boards along with Clowney all season long. He’s not the athlete that Robinson is, but he is much further along in his development and possesses elite technique in pass protection and run-blocking. The performances on the field and in the interview rooms at the Combine will go a long way in determining which one of these prospects or another yet to emerge will be selected with the first overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft.

2.  Who will be the first quarterback chosen?

While the battle to be the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft is very intriguing, so is the one between the top three quarterback prospects (Bridgewater, Bortles and Manziel) to see which one will be the first to come off the board. They all rank among the top 15 prospects by most experts in one order or another with Bridgewater holding the slight edge over Bortles then Manziel in most cases. All three are also expected to be selected within the first ten picks, possibly even the top five with so many QB-needy teams drafting early and all are heavily in the discussion to be taken with the first overall pick. Bortles could gain an edge at the Combine over Bridgewater and Manziel as he is the only one of the three that is willing to step up and participate in the throwing drills, while the other two will wait until their pro days to throw in what will be scripted workouts.

3.  Tight Position Battles between Top Prospects

Every year there are close battles between prospects at every position to see which one will come off the board before all the others. This year is no different, except that a number of the battles will feature the very top prospects fighting it out to see which one will be the top player selected at his position. As mentioned above Bridgewater, Bortles and Manziel are neck to neck at the quarterback position, while Sammy Watkins holds an edge over Mike Evans and Marqise Lee at wide receiver and offensive tackles Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews are as closely ranked as any two prospects at the same position with Taylor Lewan and Cyrus Kouandjio lurking closely behind them. Eric Ebron has a lead over Jace Amaro at tight end while the running back and guard battles are wide open among the top five or six prospects at each position. On defense, Jadeveon Clowney is in his own world at defensive end, but so is C.J. Mosley at the inside linebacker position, perhaps even more so as the next ILB might not be selected until two round after him. There are however, three close head to head battles among prospects at outside linebacker, cornerback and safety to see who will be the first to be selected at his position. Outside linebackers Anthony Barr and Khalil Mack appear even heading into the Combine, while cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert are nearly as close. At safety, HaHa Clinton-Dix is currently holding an edge on the surging Calvin Pryor. Meanwhile, defensive tackle is arguably the most wide open of any position with every expert’s rankings appearing in a different order. Performances at the Combine could go a long way in determining who wins each of these position battles.

4.  What are the coaches saying?

Coaches always seem to be in a good mood at the Combine and because of it they seem to be more open to answering questions making the media session full of interesting tidbits about each team. The coaches often reveal what direction they may be looking with their first round draft pick, what prospects they’re interested in seeing, which free agents their team may want to resign or let test free agency and much more. The Combine is often times the most open and revealing that the coaches are all year.

5.  Meeting the Media

Prospects aren’t only put to the test by NFL teams on the field and in the interview room, but they all must go through the gauntlet that is the media session. Often times dealing with the media can be one of the toughest things an athlete has to deal with especially with the advances of social media. Most of these prospects have never had to really deal with the media before, let alone the hordes of journalists and reporters that will be drilling them with all kinds of questions from every direction at the Combine. These sessions with the media can often reveal a prospect’s real personality and character. Prospects that will have it tougher than others include Johnny Manziel, Michael Sam and Jadeveon Clowney.

6.  Who will impress at the Weigh-Ins?

Before any of the prospects put on a show on the field, they get weighed-in and measured for all to see. Each year whether it’s a mammoth 330lb. nose tackle or a 6’5”, 270lb. athletic freak, there are always a handful of prospects that stand out from the pack and blow coaches and scouts away just by the way they look. That’s not to say that the measurements aren’t that important because they are. The measurements of every prospect can’t be trusted until they get officially measured at the Combine. The majority of them actually tend to slightly shrink from what is listed on their school or team profiles. There are certain measurements that are more critical and important than others depending on the position. For Quarterbacks; height and hand size stand out, arm length for offensive tackles and cornerbacks, and height/weight for defensive ends and outside linebackers seem to be some of the more important measurements to be taken. The height and length of the cornerbacks appear to be what most scouts are intrigued with this year.

7.  Who will be the Workout Warriors?

Some of this year’s favorites to light it up at the Combine include highly ranked prospects like Clowney, Greg Robinson, Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr and Eric Ebron. Others to keep an eye on include Loucheiz Purifoy, Bradley Roby, Dee Ford and Seantreal Henderson. Outside of those names there is guaranteed to be someone nobody is talking about that puts on a show that gets everyone talking. As always it will be interesting to see which prospect’s performance sends him skyrocketing up draft boards.

8.  The 2014 Wide Receiver Class

This year’s crop of wide receivers is absolutely ridiculous in terms of the talent that is available. All season long analysts talked about how amazing the 2014 quarterback draft class was potentially going to be, but due to a few different circumstances it didn’t quite turn out like that or even come close while quietly the number of highly talented wide receivers entering the draft started to pile up. Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and Marqise Lee headline this class as top 15 ranked prospects, but they could also be just three of a possible eight or nine that are selected in the first round. Mel Kiper’s latest mock draft had an astounding nine receivers coming off the board in round one. If these prospects can perform up to expectations at the Combine, this class has the makings of something potentially historic.

9.  Small School Flavour

Each year prospects from “small schools” with very little fan fare emerge at the Combine and move up draft boards when given the chance to put their skills and athletic abilities to the test right next to some of the more talked about and well-known players from the bigger programs. Of the 330+ prospects in Indy, 37 come from a non-FBS level program. The fast-rising Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois) headlines the list of “small school” prospects to watch after lighting it up at both the East-West Shrine game and the Senior Bowl. Behind him are a trio of ultra-productive running backs in Dri Archer (Kent State), Terrance West (Towson) and former Georgia Bulldog Isaiah Crowell (Alabama State). Garoppolo isn’t the only quarterback to keep an eye on as Jeff Matthews (Cornell) and Dustin Vaughn (West Texas A&M) are intriguing prospects as well. Some others to watch out for include WR Jeff Janis (Saginaw Valley), OL Billy Turner (North Dakota State), OL Dakota Dozier (Furman) and LB Tyler Starr (South Dakota). The prospect I recommend most however is CB Pierre Desir (Lindenwood) as he will attract a number of teams due to his size and length. The rise of Richard Sherman and other big corners over the last year or two should draw some eyes Desir’s way as he stands a reported 6’1” with 33 inch long arms. He isn’t just another big corner either as he happens to possess some very good game tape.

10.  The Medicals

Perhaps more so than any drill or interview, a prospect’s medical report at the Combine can make or break his draft stock. Whether it is a prospect trying to show he is fully or nearly recovered from an injury suffered over the last year or an unreported injury or health issue is discovered. The medical testing is arguably the most rigorous and nerve-racking test that every prospect has to go through at this event. A bad result can send a prospect’s stock spiraling down draft boards. This year a few prospects to keep an eye on in regards to the medicals are DT Dominique Easley/Florida, NT Louis Nix III/Notre Dame, QB Zach Mettenberger/LSU, QB Aaron Murray/Georgia, CB Kyle Fuller/Virginia Tech, RB Dri Archer/Kent State and CB Antone Exum/Virginia Tech.

Written By: Mark Scott

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