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2010 NFL Combine Review by Lloyd Vance

Florida QB Tim Tebow didn’t throw, but he was one of several NFL hopefuls that made a good impression at the 2010 NFL Combine

The 2010 NFL Combine is now in the books with 327 invitees, over 600 NFL talent evaluators, and over 400 credentialed members of the media heading home.  The combine is the only week where the NFL epicenter revolves around players working out in t-shirts and shorts –now track suites—with cattle numbers stamped on them.  We all know that game footage matters more than any other evaluation tool to teams as they move toward the  2010 NFL Draft on April 22, but the NFL Combine has become a phenomenon unto it’s self.  Now major sports media outlets are providing instant breaking news on potential NFL prospect’s forty times.

There are four major steps of the post college football / pre NFL Draft process — Bowl Game, All-Star Games especially the Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, and Pro Day/Private workout – that are vital for building a powerful resume for the upcoming NFL Draft.  Even though the overall draft process never totally gets every little thing about a prospect correct, especially whether a player will be a front-line contributor in 2 to 3 years.

“It’s an inexact science, if you can call it a science” said Colts General Manager Bill Polian during a combine interview.  However with signing bonuses and draft positions changing on the merits of a good or bad forty time, the NFL Combine has become a must-see event for league talent evaluators and fans — NFL Network had over 25 hours of Live Coverage and the Philadelphia Eagles sent a contingent of 47 people to Indy.

Prospects and their agents also seem to understand the importance of the NFL Combine — 66% of all positional players selected at the 2008 NFL Draft participated in the combine.  More than half of this year’s NFL Combine participants attended “cheat-sheet” preparation camps in place like California, Arizona, Florida, and Texas.  Practice made perfect, as several players were familiar enough with the drills to produce noteworthy results from this year’s event.  

Now that the weighing, timing, questioning, reviewing of injuries and backgrounds of the invitees is over and before we move onto Pro Days, here are some of my observations, news, and notes from the 2010 NFL Combine.

High Participation – With over 600 NFL talent evaluators traveling to Indianapolis, the combine was the one place where all NFL talent evaluators converged on one place for a week just to look exclusively at prospects.  Even though it seems every top quarterback including Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, and Jimmy Clausen chose to not participate in almost every on-field drill, most players wanted to work out. The 2010 NFL Combine continued the trend of high participation by invitees that has grown with the past five drafts.  It was reported that close to 95% of the 327 invitees took part in some portion of the combine process (drills and/or interviewing). The major reason for the high volume of participants forgoing the sidelines, including potential first overall pick Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh, is money. 

By waiting for their Pro Day, a prospect has a good chance of raising a red flag that could cost them millions — Top 10 picks are expected to receive $30 Million dollar signing bonuses.  With dollars fresh in their mind, potential Top 10 picks Oklahoma State OT Russell Okung, Tennessee safety Eric Berry, Oklahoma OT Trent Williams, Rutgers OT Anthony Davis, Suh and others all showed their stuff at Lucas Oil Stadium to the liking of the NFL personnel evaluators.  However the event didn’t go by without some high profile guys like Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford (interviewed, but didn’t throw as he wanted to work with his own receivers), Oklahoma State receiver Dez White (Interviewed only), Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen (interviewed, but is nursing a toe injury), and others forgoing some or all drills while waiting for their Pro Days.

Event Risers – These players increased their value in the 2010 NFL Combine.

Maryland OT Bruce Campbell – Scouts were buzzing about the performance of the big (6-7, 310) and athletic offensive tackle.  Campbell was officially timed at 4.85 in the 40 (the best time of any lineman – first reported as a 4.77), pounded out 34 reps on the 225 lb bench and jumped 32 inches vertically. Though there are concerns with Campbell only having 17 college starts, he probably was this week’s biggest winner. The junior-eligible road grader now looks like he has joined Russell Okung (Oklahoma State), Bryan Bulaga (Iowa), Anthony Davis (Rutgers) and Trent Williams (Oklahoma) as first round offensive tackle picks in the upcoming draft. Of this year’s offensive tackles, a personnel director for an NFC team said, “Five are slam-dunk firsts.  You’ve got some potential studs there.”

Florida QB Tim Tebow – College football’s most talked about prospect didn’t throw in Indy, but he was impressive in other areas.  Tebow (6’3, 245) showed great leadership, a “Can Do” attitude, and maturity in interviews.  Then on the field, he displayed athleticism that could equate to a position switch to H-Back or as a Wildcat QB, if needed.  The former Heisman winner ran the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds, vertically jumped 38.5 inches ( tied combine quarterback record set by Josh McCown), and led all quarterbacks in the three-cone drill (6.66 seconds), the 20-yard shuttle (4.17 seconds) and the 60-yard shuttle (11.27 seconds). So now the waiting game starts until Florida’s Pro Day on March 17th to see if working with former NFL coach Zeke Bratkowski has helped Tebow’s footwork, delivery, and other requisite quarterback skills.  I still think Super Timmy is a 3rd round pick.

Alabama DL Terrence Cody – This year’s prototypical 3-4 defense two-gap run-stuffing nose tackle showed his commitment to playing in the NFL.  Cody weighed in at 354 pounds, which is closer to his target weight of 340 than the 370 giggly pounds that he showed up at the Senior Bowl.  Moved well in drills and now looks to be a mid first-round pick. With five of the top seven defenses in the league last season playing the 3-4  — New York Jets (first), Green Bay (second), Baltimore (third), Pittsburgh (fifth) and Denver (seventh) – expect Cody to be real popular in this year’s draft.

USC safety Taylor Mays – Consistently some evaluators have pegged the big (6’3, 220) hard-hitting safety as a possible weakside linebacker.  But Mays showed by his blazing forty and in drills that he is a legitimate threat to Eric Berry’s number one safety spot.  Some unofficial hand-times had Mays at 4.24seconds, which would have tied Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson’s record.  But “officially” his time was 4.43 seconds, which is still unbelievable for a safety.  Now some evaluators are saying the former USC standout is a surefire Top 10 pick.  However on film, Mays still looks to be a little deficient in coverage and he only caused just two takeaways as a senior (1 INT and 1 fumble recovery).

 Notre Dame WR Golden Tate – Looks to be this year’s version of Philadelphia Eagles burner DeSean Jackson.  The Fightin’ Irish playmaker ran a 4.42 in the 40, pumped out 17 reps and leapt 40.5 inches vertically.  Though not the biggest guy (5’10, 199), Tate looks to be one of this year’s climbers at the receiver position.  Over half the teams requested to interview him and most left impressed with his demeanor.  Something Tate will need to work on going into his Pro Day on March 23rd is his catching.  In the “Gauntlet Drill”, he had some struggles — allowed too many passes to get into his body and dropped more than a few passes.

California RB Jahvid Best – Going into the Combine, every team wanted to make sure that the former Cal star was durable and versatile enough to be a feature back in the NFL.  Best answered questions immediately by measuring in at 5-10 1/8 and 199 pounds.  Then the former California state champ in the 100 meters showed that he had put a back injury and concussion (missed 4 games) behind him by clocking a 4.35 in the forty and moving well in drills.  Will need to continue his momentum on his Pro Day as every team loves his 7.3 yards per carry average from his college career.

Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford – Incredibly by only weighing in and interviewing, the former Heisman winner may have vaulted himself into the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.  The St. Louis Rams, who own the top pick, liked his size (6’4, 236) and answers during meetings. Bradford came off poised and personable with the media too and veteran Rams beat writer Howard Balzer said of him via Twitter, “He has ‘it’”.   Now it appears that the draft’s top two defensive tackles, Suh and Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy, have some company at the top.  Bradford said of his opportunity, “I think everybody dreams about being Number #1. Through this process, I’m preparing myself. I’m gonna show those teams everything I have. But at the end of the day, it’s up to them. So I’m really not worried about what I can’t control.”

Indiana University (Pa) cornerback Akwasi Owusu-Ansah – The small school prospect showed that he could compete with the top corners in the draft.  Owusu-Ansah showed the speed (4.47, third best corner time) and smooth hips in drills that evaluators were looking for in coverage corners.  Look for him to be taken early on the second day of the draft (2nd and 3rd rounds). 

Wake Forest CB Brandon Ghee – Moved up to possibly a second round pick by recording an official 4.45-second forty (2nd fastest among all defensive backs).  Also showed good movement in drills plus broad jumped 10′7 and did 15 reps on the bench press.

Others deserving players mention:  Tennessee safety Eric Berry (despite the buzz around Mays, still was the best overall safety in Indy as he clocked a 4.47-second forty and looked like a corner in coverage drills); Norfolk State WR Chris Bell (HBCU standout showed good size (6-2 1/8, 211) and hands in receiver drills); Arizona TE Rob Gronkowski (showed that he had recovered from a back injury that kept him out of the 2009 season); Ohio receiver Taylor Price (ran a blazing 4.41 in the forty and showed good hands in drills); Pittsburgh TE Dorin Dickerson (explosive player, who can play fullback or tight end in college, was timed in 4.40 and jumped 43.5 inches vertically); Arkansas OL Mitch Petrus  (tied combine record with 45 reps of 225 pounds); Georgia DL Jeff Owens (showed good explosion in drills and banged out 44 reps); Fresno State RB Ryan Mathews (looked like a prototypical power back at 5-11, 218 plus ran well in drills)

Event Maintainers – These players were solid and did not hurt their value at the 2010 NFL Combine.

Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh – Even though he entered the combine with a bull’s eye, Suh was not intimidated by the process.  He was solid in drills and showed his strength by producing 32 reps.  Despite all the buzz around Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, Suh made an impression in the interview process too. As is the norm this time of the year, as everyone was saying that the Rams liked Bradford as their No. 1, ESPN’s Len Pasquarelli reported different.  He said that Rams scouts were becoming increasingly convinced that Suh is the best player in the draft. In Rams head coach Steve Spanuolo’s scheme, Suh would play the “three technique” defensive tackle spot next to run stuffer Cliff Ryan.

Clemson WR Jacoby Ford – After a solid Senior Bowl, Ford came to Indy looking to stay on the radar of NFL teams.  He did just that and more as the former Clemson track star produced the fastest time at the combine with a 4.28-second forty. The 5-8 5/8, 181 pounder also drew comparisons to veteran Panthers receiver Steve Smith by catching the ball well in the passing drills and showing a good burst in and out of his cuts.  Look for this potential 2nd or 3rd rounder to be a great returner and slot receiver at the next level.

Clemson RB C.J. Spiller – Looked like the next “Reggie Bush” homerun threat type of player.  Weighed-in at 5-11, 196 pounds plus showed breakaway speed with a 4.37-second forty – some unofficially timed him at 4.27 seconds.  Right now Spiller looks like the first running back to come off the board and teams love his explosiveness — in 2009 had 31 carries of 10+ yards and eight receptions for 20 yards or more plus contributed five TDs on returns. As for worrying that Spiller may have some of Bush’s durability concerns, he never missed a game in college due to injury.

West Virginia QB Jarrett Brown – After a solid Senior Bowl, Brown continued to step out of the shadow of former WVU teammate Pat White, who was a second round pick by the Dolphins in 2009.  Brown ran the forty in 4.54 seconds and showed good zip on his passes in drills.  Brown will need to perform well on his Pro Day for him to solidify his position as a good 3rd or 4th round developmental pick.

Ole Miss RB/WR/KR Dexter McCluster – The former Ole Miss running back maintained the level from his strong Senior Bowl week.  McCluster is a true game-breaker as shown by his 37.5 vertical jump and superior agility in pass catching drills.

Virginia CB Chris Cook – Had a strong Senior Bowl week, where he was physical in drills, so he wanted to show again in Indy that he was a high corner prospect.  Cook showed the speed (4.46 seconds in the forty) and explosiveness (best broad jump of 11′0″) that a tall (6’1) corner needs. Had good footwork in drills, but needs to work on his strength as he only produced seven reps on the bench press.

Florida State safety Myron Rolle – Continued to show leadership and maturity in interviews after everyone was abuzz regarding his alleged treatment earlier by the Tampa Bay Bucs.  Reportedly during a 45-minute interview before the Senior Bowl with members of the Buccaneers’ staff, one member of the staff was said to have asked Rolle, “What it felt like to desert his team last season”.  Rolle also looked to be in great shape (6’2, 215) after being away at Oxford, England (Rhodes Scholar).  The aspiring doctor still has to change some hard core football people’s minds about his commitment to play in the NFL, but to me some team will give him a shot.  As crazy as it sounds, Rolle still has to finish a 10,000-word thesis and take his final exams in June before reporting to any NFL training camp in July.

Stanford RB Toby Gerhart – The former two-sport star (supposedly gave-up baseball) showed that he has the ability to play running back in the NFL.  Though he didn’t run the forty, Gerhart (6-0, 231) displayed explosiveness by producing a 38-inch vertical jump.  The 2009 Pac Ten Player of the Year and Heisman runner-up (1,871 rushing yards in 2009) also showed his agility in the shuttle runs.  Looks like he can be a power back at the next level.

Event Crashers – These were players that we believe hurt their value at the 2010 NFL Combine and will need to make up ground going into the draft.

Florida Joe Haden – Going into the Combine, the Gators sticky corner was considered a can’t miss first round shutdown corner.  Some were even saying the name “Darrelle Revis” in comparisons to Haden.  But a pedestrian forty time of4.57 seconds has put doubt in some evaluators’ minds.  We will have to see if Haden can rebound by the Gators’ Pro Day on March 17th in the Swamp.  To me, I still believe the film doesn’t lie about Haden and he is very good player, who is more than a Rhonde Barber zone corner.

Michigan CB Donovan Warren – Unfortunately, the combine showed that Warren may have difficulty as a man-to-man corner.  Warren recorded unofficial forty times of 4.65 and 4.68 seconds, which raised a red flag in the minds of evaluators.  Still could be a valuable special teams and nickel player due to his good size and physicality.  You know Warren wants a better showing at Michigan’s Pro Day on March 12th.

 Alabama CB Javier Arenas – The smallish corner from the National Champions, unfortunately tweaked his right hamstring so bad running his first forty that his combine was quickly over. Arenas will need to heal quickly as Alabama’s Pro Day is on March 10th.

Michigan DE Brandon Graham – After being named Senior Bowl MVP, Graham came to the combine with comparisons to former Michigan teammate LaMarr Woodley — now a Pro Bowl outside linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Unfortunately after posting a pair of 4.69-second forties (10th among D-linemen), Graham pulled up lame with a hamstring injury and had to shut it down.  However expect the former All Big Ten player to get a look as a 3-4 linebacker after he put up 31 reps on the bench.  Hopefully by Michigan’s Pro Day on March 12th, he will be able to further impress NFL talent evaluators.

Georgia Tech RB Jonathan Dwyer – Still considered one of the bigger backs in the 2010 NFL Draft.  Unfortunately, Dwyer (5-11 1/4, 229) looked like a plodder as he ran in the 4.7 range and did not look as fluid as Spiller, Best, Matthews, and other backs.

Arkansas State DE Alex Carrington — Lost out as several pass rushing prospects passed him after he had to shut it down after twisting his ankle.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

Speed was back at Lucas Oil stadium – There were 27 players who ran sub-4.5 forties at Lucas Oil including this year’s champion Clemson WR Jacoby Ford who ran an official 4.28 second time.  Ford blazed past other speedsters LSU returner Trindon Holliday (4.34), Cal RB Jahvid Best (4.35) and Clemson teammate CJ Spiller (4.37) to win this year’s college football version of the fastest man.   Also with everyone from NFL Network to team officials leaking times (i.e. USC safety Taylor ran an unofficial 4.19 second forty according to his former coach and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll), remember the only times that count are the three official times clocked by National Football Scouting (two electronic and one handheld). Anyway I think people put too much emphasis on the forty anyway as one draft evaluator said at the event, “Larry Fitzgerald ran more than 4.6 when he went through the draft process and I don’t hear too many people now talking about what he ran Pre-Draft”

Back courageously returns to the bench – Miraculously, USC running back Stafon Johnson was back participating in the bench-press. Unfortunately way back in September, Johnson (5’11, 214) was hurt while bench pressing when the bar slipped from his hands and crushed his neck and larynx. The former USC star underwent seven hours of emergency throat surgery.  Five months later, he showed some real “guts” here at the combine by putting up 13 reps .

Podium time for the Coaches and GM’s – For the third year in a row, the combine had a full slate of GM’s and coaches holding their own press conferences at the event.  The media could go from hearing new Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan (first real appearance for his new organization) to new Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey to Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid to Rams GM Bill Devaney without missing a beat.  Though you know the evaluators are smoke-screening this time of the year, it is always good to get some insight.

The ‘Wildcat’ is still loose in the NFL – Though the number of teams running “Wildcat” plays last season was less than in 2008, there is still a strong presence of the formation in the NFL.  So in a copy-cat fashion, Lucas Oil Stadium was abuzz looking for players who could run the “Wildcat” formation.  Evaluators were asking running backs and receivers whether they had been a high school quarterback (ex. Fresno State RB Ryan Matthews and Buffalo RB James Starks).  Plus mobile throwers like Florida’s Tim Tebow, Appalachian State QB Armanti Edwards, and Penn State QB Darryl Clark were definitely looked at as potential future Wildcat signal-callers. 

What You Benching?? – I would love to see a 225-pound bench pressing contest head-to-head of this year’s champ Arkansas OG Mitch Petrus (45 reps – tied NFL Combine Record of former Ohio State DE Mike Kudla) and current NFL strongman Eagles defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley (44 reps back in 2006).  Of course we would need loud mouth Arizona Cardinals Strength and Conditioning Coach John Lott as the moderator – “Come on Meat, HUP, HUP!!”

Who needs the Combine?? – Some players that I still believe will be on the NFL’s radar even though they were not invited to the NFL Combine are Bowling Green WR Freddie Barnes, Alabama-Birmingham QB Joe Webb, Grambling State DE Christian Anthony, Auburn CB Walter McFadden, Utah S Robert Johnson and Army WR/TE Ali Villanueva.

How Awesome is NFL Network!! – Again NFL Network brought the combine to the masses by providing the aforementioned 25 Hours of original programming of the event and all 327 hopefuls.  I could listen to draftnik Mike Mayock all day as he breaks down all of the players.  Mayock can rattle off an NFL prospect’s bio, college football honors, and combine times/numbers/figures before you can say, “Jack Spratt” (Sorry Mel and Todd, but this guy is the best).  By the way, Mayock kept saying during combine broadcasts that this is the deepest draft for defensive players he’s seen in nearly 10 years.

The official workout results of the top performers at the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine are now posted at http://www.nfl.com/combine/top-performers

That is a wrap and Sports Journey will definitely be there next year to cover the Combine, which is now a major happening as seen by the over 400 credentials handed out this year.

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2010 NFL Draft order is set by Lloyd Vance


The draft order for the 2010 NFL Draft is all set and right now Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh seems the logical choice for the first overall pick

Today at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis all coin flips to break ties for draft position were completed.  So now the draft order for the 2010 NFL Draft is set….of course that is until all of the wheeling and dealing starts before April 22nd.

Currently the St. Louis Rams (1-15) own the first overall pick for the 2010 NFL Draft and I am fairly certain their prize will be dominating Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.  However as is the norm this time of year, there are many rumors circulating that the Rams could trade the first overall pick and move down in the draft to select a quarterback like Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford or Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen.  But if the Rams have done their homework, this one is a no-brainer.

Suh had one of the best years of any college defensive tackle in NCAA history as he produced 85 tackles, a NCAA leading 24 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. The decorated award-winner (Lombardi, Bednarik, Willis, and first team All American) also had 10 passes defensed, 28 QB hurries, 1 INT and three blocked kicks.  The cat-quick and strong defensive lineman possibly played his best game in Nebraska’s near upset of the Texas in the Big 12 Championship game, finishing with 4.5 sacks.

Other Top 10 prospects for the 2010 NFL Draft include: Tennessee safety Eric Berry, Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy, Florida CB Joe Haden, Oklahoma State OT Russell Okung, Bradford, and Clausen.

2010 NFL Draft Order as of February 26

1) St. Louis Rams (1-15)

2) Detroit Lions (2-14)

3) Tampa Bay Bucs (3-13)

4) Kansas City Chiefs (4-12)

5) Washington Redskins (4-12)

6) Seattle Seahawks (5-11)

7)  Cleveland Browns (5-11)

8 ) Oakland Raiders (5-11)

9) Buffalo Bills (6-10)

10) Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9)

11) Denver Broncos (from Chicago -their record was 7-9)

12) Miami Dolphins (7-9)

13) San Francisco 49ers (8-8)

14) Seattle Seahawks (from Denver – their record was 8-8)

15) New York Giants (8-8)

16) Tennessee Titans (8-8)

17) San Francisco 49ers (from Carolina – their record was 8-8)

18 ) Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)

19) Atlanta Falcons (9-7)

20) Houston Texans (9-7)

21) Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)

22) New England Patriots (10-6)

23) Green Bay Packers (11-5)

24) Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)

25) Baltimore Ravens (9-7)

26) Arizona Cardinals (10-6)

27) Dallas Cowboys (11-5)

28) San Diego Chargers (13-3)

29) New York Jets (9-7)

30) Minnesota Vikings (12-4)

31) Indianapolis Colts (14-2)

32) New Orleans Saints (13-3)

  • Teams currently without a first round selection:  Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears
  • Teams currently having two first round picks: Seattle Seahawks (6, 14) and San Francisco 49ers (13, 17)

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Everything you need to know for the 2010 NFL Combine by Lloyd Vance


Prospects for the 2010 NFL Draft will have to endure the NFL’s version of a job fair including interviews, drills, and other tests at this year’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis

The NFL’s biggest “workout session” called the NFL Combine takes center stage at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis from Wednesday February 24th to Tuesday March 2nd as potential draftees dreams can be made in 4.29 seconds (a very good forty-time in case you didn’t know).  It is hard to believe that the zany idea of former Dallas Cowboys draft guru Gil Brandt from over 30 years ago to gather all of the draft’s prospects in one place so every team could get an “equal” look together has come so far that it is now a major part of the yearly sports calendar.

You can thank former University of Kansas option quarterback Nolan Cromwell for the madness as he was traveling from team to team in 1977 with the same information, giving the forward thinking Brandt the idea for the combine. How “huge” is this one-time anomaly event, well the NFL Network will broadcast over 26 live hours of coverage plus the NFL Combine even has its own website. There will also be a Super Bowl like “Radio Row” atmosphere at the Indianapolis Convention Center so media can provide fans with instant results.  No more “urban legend” results like Deion “Prime Time” Sanders running a “slow”, as he pontificated about it, 4.19 forty-yard dash in secrecy at the 1989 event.

The NFL Combine is part of the annual arduous four-month long “NFL job interview” process for college players to get to their dream destination of being drafted.  The job interview process has four distinctive parts – College Bowl Games, All-Star Games especially the Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine, and Pro Days (private workouts) — that are all extremely important for building a powerful resume for potential players and a successful draft board for NFL personnel departments.

The NFL Combine is such a big deal that approximately 600 NFL Draft evaluators including head coaches, general managers and scouts plus their “favorite” tag-a-longs, the media – almost 400 credentialed members of the media – will pack into the Lucas Oil Stadium to watch 327 college players do whatever is asked of them in shorts and tee shirts.   These poor kids will be stamped with their cattle number like “QB03″ and then they will be poked and prodded every which way to Sunday as they will be interviewed, examined, x-rayed, measured, run all over, made to jump, twisted, bent, interrogated on their past… you name it, all to enhance their spot in the upcoming 2010 NFL Draft in April.

With this year’s success of rookie difference-makers like Houston Texans LB Brian Cushing, Philadelphia Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin, Minnesota Vikings receiver Percy Harvin, Washington Redskins pass rusher Brian Orakpo and others, the importance of building a competitive team through the draft is ever present throughout the NFL. Teams now have very high expectations for players selected in the first two rounds of the draft and want to get earlier returns on their large investments (i.e. No more redshirting in the NFL).  However the hoopla over the NFL Combine to me is borderline insanity as most scouts I talk to put more credence in regular season game tape, All-Star game performances, talking with college staffs, bowl games, and almost anything else over seeing guys tested at the combine in t-shirts and shorts.

The biggest word of caution to fans and teams is to guard against the “love” factor at the NFL Combine as every year some team gets an “I gotta have him” attitude usually leading to draft day moves based solely on a player’s work at the NFL Combine (see Eagles 1995 first round draft pick and 7th overall pick DE Mike Mamula – moved up the board from a 2nd or 3rd round pick to a top ten pick mostly based on his high marks at the combine).    Agents representing these prized NFL recruits definitely know what is at stake at the NFL Combine as in recent years they are pulling their player clients off of college campuses to prep at pre-combine workout facilities.

The reason for the intense preparation for the NFL Combine is plain and simple…MONEY in the form of rookie contracts — 2009 NFL Draft first overall selection Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford signed a rookie contract with the terms 6-years, $72 million of which $41.7 million was guaranteed.  This is high stakes poker at its best, so at pre-combine training camps in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Southern California, players are learning everything from interviewing skills, how to take the Wonderlic Test, explosive running techniques and pumping iron.

All that being said, statistics do show players need to at least attend the NFL Combine, especially early entrants in the draft since they don’t have the advantage of going to College All-Star games — in the 2006 Draft of the 330 players invited to the NFL Combine, 222 were drafted.  The NFL Combine is also a setting where the entire NFL’s traveling show (Head Coaches, Scouts, GM’s, media, etc) comes together in Indy allowing for “shop talk”.  As the scene is a continuation of the NFL’s convention like atmosphere that was started at the Senior Bowl and Super Bowl.   In the stands  are sure to hear veteran NFL personnel evaluators, like Miami Dolphins football czar Bill Parcels, talking about the impending Free Agency period (March 5th), franchised players (deadline of February 28th), the soon to be expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement (March 2011), an uncapped year in 2010, possible trades of disgruntled players or draft picks, and much more.

The Players

There will be over 300 players throughout the four-day event with every position represented from Quarterback to Defensive End to Long Snapper.  Not all invitees will participate in all events and some may pick and choose or wait for their Pro Day to show their stuff — Thanks Agents!!  Unfortunately two of the bigger names in the 2010 NFL Draft, quarterbacks Tim Tebow (Florida) and Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) have chosen to only come to Indy to participate in interviews, the Wonderlic, and measurements, but not the on the field drills.

But some players who I will be interested in seeing their efforts are Central Michigan quarter back Dan LeFevour – QB11 (Needs to show better arm strength than at the Senior Bowl), USC RB Joe McKnight – RB18 (Will he workout, is he the top player in the 2010 running back class, and how is his character), Florida LB Brandon Spikes – LB30 (How is his character (off the field past), is he ready for the NFL) and Florida State safety Myron Rolle – DB42 (How much rust does the aspiring doctor have after being in Oxford, England for a year on a Rhodes Scholarship) . Also it will great to see who is faster in the forty Clemson RB CJ Spiller (RB24), LSU returnman Trindon Holliday (ST02), Clemson WR Jacoby Ford (WO10) or some other speedster.

Find the complete list of the players invited to the 2010 NFL Combine.

NFL Combine Events

On the Field Drills

“The Forty” – This is the glamour event of the combine, as guys want to show the world how fast they are.  The player starts from a three-point stance and runs 40 yards as fast as possible. The player is timed in 10, 20 and 40-yard increments, to gauge the player’s explosion and speed.  Now track speed is good, but “football speed” – ability to run fast while cutting or changing direction and catching the ball – is more important.  Too often guys go to speed camps and “manufacture speed” (see 2007 Draftee Washington State WR Jason Hill) causing scouts to take a harder look at their game film.

225-Pound Bench Press – This is the second most talked about event of the combine.  As everyone around Indy will be saying the same line as when I was in high school, “What can you bench??”  At the combine everyone except quarterbacks and wide receivers are required to show how many reps they can do at 225-pounds.  Of course this event is led by famous loud mouth Arizona Cardinals Strength and Conditioning Coach John Lott – “Come on Meat, HUP, HUP!!”  Remember that players with longer arms have a tougher time pumping out reps and shorter squat guys usually can do some damage in this event.  To show you the importance/non-importance of this event, the record holder former Ohio State DE/OLB Mike Kudla (45 reps in 2006) wasn’t even drafted.

Standing Vertical Jump – This event shows the explosiveness of players from a still position.  With the NFL passing game based a lot of times on jump balls, this event is of ought most importance to receivers and defensive backs.  From a flat-footed position the player jumps up and smacks at plastic flags on a pole.  When you watch this event think of explosive Niners’ Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis, who had a position record of 42 inches at the 2006 combine.

Broad Jump – Another explosion drill.  From a standing position a player’s lower body strength is tested as they squat and jump forward as far as possible.  This event is usually led by the running backs and defensive backs. Jumps are measured from the starting point to the player’s back heel.

Three Cone Drill – This event is a test of a player’s speed, agility and cutting ability. Three cones are set up in an “L “shape (triangular format) with 5 yards between each of them. From a three-point stance at the first cone, on a coaches whistle the player has to sprint five yards ahead to the first cone then touch a white line – then sprint back to the starting cone touching a white line there – then running to the outside of the second cone – then cutting right to circle around the third cone – then finishing by running around the second cone and returning to the first cone.  This sounds exhausting just thinking about running this drill.

20-Yard Shuttle – This is an old fashioned test for most of us as you probably did this one in the Presidential Physical Fitness challenge…remember how much fun that was in fifth grade.  This drill tests speed, agility, and coordination. From a three point stance on a whistle a player runs 5 yards to one side touches the yard line – then runs ten yards in the other direction touches the line there and runs back to the original line.

60-Yard Shuttle – Same as the twenty-yard shuttle, but longer.   This time the player has to go 10 yards to a line then 5 yards back then 10 yards the other way then 20 yards back and finishes this time 10 yards to the starting point. This is an endurance monster, sorry Big Boys on the O-Line.

Position Drills – This is my favorite event at the combine, because NFL position coaches know what specific practice drills that the players that they coach will need to be good at, to succeed at the next level.  A couple position coaches from different NFL teams design ball motion drills usually around blocking dummies.  I love watching the D-Lineman practicing their rip moves and running full force at a blocking dummy.  Also watch for receivers running routes, quarterbacks being asked to throw the infamous out-pattern to the far sideline, and college defensive ends trying to make the transition to outside linebacker in the NFL trying to catch the ball – at the 2007 event a former NFL coach working for the NFL Network called several non-catchers “volleyball” players as passes bounced off their hands.

Off the Field Events

Measurements – Hey players do you want to feel like a piece of cattle.  As soon as players arrive in Indy they are given a cattle number (ex. QB03) and every player in attendance is measured head to foot with their height, weight, arm length, and hand size recorded.  And you thought that All-American offensive lineman was really 6′7 and 325 from his college game day program thought wrong, as he was only 6′4 ½ and weighed in at a sloppy 344.  Also the combine has a new piece of equip called the “Bod Pod” where players get in a space ship type machine and it measure s their body fat percentage.

NFL Team Interviews – Like any young person going from college to a job, players need to ace their interviews.  Teams know exactly what they want to ask when going after a player’s past in order to try and predict their future.  In the early years of the NFL Combine, the interview process used to be a mad scramble where teams would hoard players that they liked.  But now teams get about fifteen minutes to get to know a player with a limit of 60 players for each team. This usually occurs at the convention center or player hotel with every team looking to see what makes each player tick.  Remember “character” is the number one item on most teams list along with toughness, interests on and off the field, and intelligence (the Giants and Patriots are notorious for measuring a player’s understanding of the “game of football”).  At the 2009 NFL Combine, former Florida receiver Percy Harvin impressed the Minnesota Vikings by firmly answering some tough questions about his past.  The Vikings by doing their homework on Harvin at the Combine, went on to draft him with the 22nd pick of the first round and the former Gator went on to be named the 2009 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year

NFLPA Meeting – This is a pre-cursor meeting to the NFL Rookie Symposium later in the summer.  The meeting serves as a welcome to the business of football for the crop of potential rookies and their agents.  The future of the NFL will learn all about their union including team reps, dues, health coverage, the collective bargaining agreement, and much more.  With potential labor strife hovering over the NFL in 2010, this year’s Combine invitees better be listening extra specially in these meetings.

The Wonderlic Test – The NFL is now calling this portion of the NFL Combine, psychological testing.  But I am not sure if there are any other brain tests other than the dreaded Wonderlic test.  The test is designed to measure a player’s I.Q. through a 50-question test administered in 23 minutes.  Most players are tired/uninterested when taking the test, which leads to a majority of guys not completing the test.  Some agents have started to have their clients cram for the test like the SAT coming out of high school, but at least you can take that test multiple times.  This is a one shot deal that many people put way too much emphasis on.  I can still hear all of the preposterous Vince Young test score reporting from 2006 — did you know that Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino and Terry Bradshaw both scored a 15 while forgettable former Rams quarterback Hugh Millen scored a 41.  Here is a sample question: “Paper clips sell for 23 cents per box. What will 4 boxes cost” — take all the time you need, because the only intelligence score that scouts should worried about is a player’s Football Intelligence (FBI).

Injury Evaluations – Every player at the NFL Combine has to walk around with their x-rays and injury history.  Teams and their doctors will poke and check any little thing that doesn’t sound or look right.  This part of the combine has to be difficult, because players may even be scrutinized about a small injury from high school.  Back at the 2007 NFL Combine, former Louisville and current Raiders running back Michael Bush – severely broken leg his Senior season — had to put on a happy face even though he was subjected to answering question after question about the condition of his surgically repaired leg.

The Cybex Machine Test – This machine will work the heck out of a player’s knee, as they are strapped to basically a spring-loaded madman creation. The Cybex machine tests a player’s knee movement and flexibility. While this test seems like any other medical test, it can be the difference in being a Day 1 or 2 pick.

Drug Test – Everybody wants to make sure players are clean coming into the NFL.  So like any other new job a drug test is administered looking for illegal drugs including marijuana (allegedly Warren Sapp tested positive for weed at the 1995 combine), cocaine, and performance-enhancing drugs (Luis Castillo of the Chargers test positive for ‘roids at the 2005 combine, but still went in the first round).

2010 NFL Combine Group Schedules

Wednesday February 24 to Saturday February 27

Group 1 (Kickers, Punters, Long Snappers and O-line), Group 2 (O-line), and Group 3 (Tight Ends)

  • Wednesday February 24, 2010 — Travel to Indianapolis* ~ Registration ~ Hospital Pre-Exam & X-rays ~ Orientation ~ Interviews
  • Thursday February 25, 2010 — Measurements ~ Medical Examinations ~ Media ~ Psychological Testing ~ Interviews
  • Friday February 26, 2010 — NFLPA Meeting ~ Psychological Testing ~ *PK/ST Workout* ~ Interviews
  • Saturday February 27, 2010 — Workout (timing, stations, skill drills) ~ Departure from Indianapolis

Thursday Feb 25 to Sunday February 28

Group 4 (Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers), Group 5 (Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers), and Group 6 (Running Backs)

  • Thursday February 25, 2010 — Travel to Indianapolis* ~ Registration ~ Hospital Pre-Exam & X-rays ~ Orientation ~ Interviews
  • Friday February 26, 2010 — Measurements ~ Medical Examinations ~ Media ~ Psychological Testing ~ Interviews
  • Saturday February 27, 2010 — NFLPA Meeting ~ Psychological Testing ~ Interviews
  • Sunday February 28, 2010 — Workout (timing, stations, skill drills) ~ Departure from Indianapolis

Friday February 26 to Monday March 1

Group 7 (Defensive Linemen), Group 8 (Defensive Linemen), and Group 9 (Linebackers)

  • Friday February 26, 2010 — Travel to Indianapolis* ~ Registration ~ Hospital Pre-Exam & X-rays ~ Orientation ~ Interviews
  • Saturday February 27, 2010 — Measurements ~ Medical Examinations ~ Media ~ Psychological Testing ~ Interviews
  • Sunday February 28, 2010 — NFLPA Meeting ~ Psychological Testing ~ Interviews
  • Monday March 1, 2010 — Workout (timing, stations, skill drills) ~ Departure from Indianapolis

Saturday February 27 to Tuesday March 2

Group 10 and Group 11 (Defensive Backs)

  • Saturday February 27, 2010 — Travel to Indianapolis* ~ Registration ~ Hospital Pre-Exam & X-rays ~ Orientation ~ Interviews
  • Sunday February 28, 2010 — Measurements ~ Medical Examinations ~ Media ~ Psychological Testing ~ Interviews
  • Monday March 1, 2010 — NFLPA Meeting ~ Psychological Testing ~ Interviews
  • Tuesday March 2, 2010 — Workout (timing, stations, skill drills) ~ Departure from Indianapolis

Top NFL Combine Event Records

Fastest NFL Combine 40-Yard Times

4.19 – Deion Sanders (DB), Florida State – 1989 (Hand Timed)

4.24 – Chris Johnson (RB), East Carolina – 2008

4.24 – Rondel Melendez (WR), Eastern Kentucky – 1999

4.28 – Jerome Mathis, (WR), Hampton – 2005 (electronic)

4.29 – Fabian Washington, (CB), Nebraska – 2005

4.30 – Darrent Williams, (CB), Oklahoma State – 2005

4.30 – Yamon Figurs, (WR), Kansas State – 2007

4.30 – Darius Heyward-Bey (WR), Maryland – 2009

Most 225-Pound Bench Press Reps

45 – Leif Larsen, (DT), Texas-El Paso – 2000

45 – Mike Kudla, (DE), Ohio State – 2006

44 – Brodrick Bunkley, (DT), Florida State – 2006

43 – Scott Young, (OG), BYU – 2005

42 – Isaac Sopoaga, (DT), Hawaii – 2004

Best Vertical Jump

46 – Gerald Sensabaugh, (FS), North Carolina – 2005

45 1/2 – Derek Wake, (OLB), Penn State – 2005

45 – Chris McKenzie, (CB), Arizona State – 2005

45 – Chris Chambers, (WR), Wisconsin – 2001

43 1/2 – Dustin Fox, (FS), Ohio State – 2005

43 1/2 – Kevin Kasper, (WR), Iowa – 2001

Fastest 10-Yard Times

1.43 – Aundrae Allison, (WR), East Carolina – 2007

1.43 – Eric Weddle, (SS), Utah – 2007

1.43 – Marcus McCauley, (CB), Fresno State – 2007

1.45 – Leon Hall, (CB), Michigan – 2007

1.46 – Colin Branch, (FS), Stanford – 2003

Fastest 20-Yard Shuttle Times

3.73 – Kevin Kasper, (WR), Iowa – 2001

3.76 – Deion Branch, (WR), Louisville – 2002

3.78 – Dunta Robinson, (CB), South Carolina – 2004

3.82 – Dante’ Hall, (RB), Texas A&M – 2000

3.83 – Kevin Bentley, (OLB), Northwestern – 2002

Fastest Three Cone Drill Times

6.45 – Sedrick Curry, (CB), Texas A&M – 2000

6.48 – Rogers Beckett, (FS), Marshall – 2000

6.49 – Carlos Rogers, (CB), Auburn – 2005

6.50 – Leon Hall, (CB), Michigan – 2007

6.51 – Jon McGraw, (SS), Kansas State – 2002

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)