In the NFL's never-ending quest to promote its product, the curtains are being pulled back on the scouting combine with fans getting an opportunity to watch bench-press drills as draft prospects push up reps at 225 pounds.
Workouts have been televised for years and now there is a "Combine Experience" for fans as teams go about the process of vetting the 335 invited prospects. Running backs, offensive linemen and specialists are the first to hit the field on Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
It's an opportunity for teams to go beyond game video they have been evaluating for months and gain critical medical evaluations and interviews as well as results of the workouts, which don't create nearly as much movement on draft boards as they do hype.
Here are six storylines to watch:
Pass on passers?
Four teams with an acute need for a quarterback are drafting in the top six and the question is how will DeShone Kizer, Patrick Mahomes, Mitch Trubisky and Deshaun Watson stack up in evaluators' eyes when the combine is over? The quarterback market will come into better focus next week. Presumably, the Redskins will place the franchise tag on Kirk Cousins for the second year before the 3 p.m. Wednesday deadline, otherwise he becomes a coveted free agent when the new league year begins March 9. That is also the first date the Patriots can trade backup Jimmy Garoppolo. If New England chooses that route, it can likely get multiple teams involved and create a robust market. The teams that don't land Garoppolo will be left to consider drafting a quarterback to build around.
"Everyone is knocking these quarterbacks right now, but that's what they do, they poke holes in players," one national scout said. "When it comes time, there's going to be one or two taken high because there's a need. Sure, they'd like to pass on drafting one until later, but can you do that and still get your guy?"
The point is well made. The Browns (first pick), 49ers (second), Bears (third) and Jets will be in a risky position if they hope to get one later on. Of course, the Browns also own the 12th pick courtesy of a trade last year with the Eagles.The deadline to declare for the draft has passed. The Senior Bowl is in the books. The NFL scouting combine is a scant three weeks away. Draft season is fully engaged and the many prospects are already well along the proverbial road to the podium.
Which players will get that invite to the 2017 NFL draft in Philadelphia? Plenty of those among my Top 50 will get that coveted invitation to Philadelphia, so let's take a look at my Big Board heading into the combine at the end of the month.
— John Harris, Special To The Washington Post
"More quarterbacks are going to be pushed up than you even expect," one college scouting director said. "If you need a guy and you're in position to take one, it's incredibly risky to not. Now, you have to like him. You can't force it and the worst thing you can do is miss on someone like a talented cornerback or another position. But if everyone in the room agrees, you take the QB."
It's a strong draft for cornerbacks and would not be a surprise if nearly a quarter of the first-round picks are cover men. Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore, Florida's Teez Tabor, Washington's Sidney Jones and LSU's Tre'Davious White headline a deep group with size and skill. How they run will help define the group.
"It's a great class," the college scouting director said. "Through two rounds you are going to get a starting corner."
Two safeties have been drafted in the top 10 only once since 2000. It happened in 2006 when the Raiders selected Michael Huff at No. 7 and the Bills grabbed Donte Whitner with the next pick. Huff was a bust and Whitner was overdrafted. The two safeties that headline a strong class — Ohio State's Malik Hooker and LSU's Jamal Adams — could both come off the board in the top 10.
Hooker is raw with only one year of experience, but one scout says he could become an All-Pro. Adams is a better tackler and has the kind of intangibles that will make him captain material by Year 2. The position isn't nearly as valued as cornerback, but an elite safety can give defensive coordinators a tremendous amount of flexibility.
"It's kind of like 1a and 1b with these guys," the college scouting director said. "Hooker is more of a flip-the-field playmaker. He's not just in the right place at the right time; he goes and finds the ball. Adams is tough as hell and really smart."
There are other intriguing options when looking to Rounds 2 and 3.
The running back class has some elite players at the top in LSU's Leonard Fournette and Florida State's Dalvin Cook and good depth into the middle rounds with a little bit of everything. Power backs, third-down backs, speed, it's all available. Cook has better ability in the open field and is No. 1 in some rankings, but the four evaluators I spoke to give a slight edge to Fournette. Fournette has been a slam dunk first-round pick since he set foot on campus at LSU. This group will create buzz by the end of the week.
One of the deeper tight end classes in recent years has something for every kind of offense whether you're seeking a detached receiver or an in-line blocker. Miami's David Njoku has freakish athletic ability. Alabama's O.J. Howard, Ole Miss' Evan Engram and South Alabama's Gerald Everett are quality prospects and so is Michigan's Jake Butt, even as he recovers from a torn ACL. It's a diverse group for a position that is often challenging for NFL teams to find talent.
Players with off-field conduct issues, including Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon and Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly, were not invited to the combine, but they'll still be evaluated. One national scout called Mixon a second-round talent. Kelly, who was involved in a bar fight while at Ole Miss and pleaded guilty to the non-criminal charge of disorderly conduct, will have more trouble than Mixon because teams tend to shy away from quarterbacks with baggage. Mixon is a better player, but there's video of him punching a woman in 2014 (he was given a one-year deferred sentence in a plea deal), and that's a high hurdle for him to clear.
"The question is when has he paid his dues?" the national scout said.
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