Combine storylines to watch: Offense
Even though the Seahawks proved once again that defense can in fact win championships, the players on the other side of the ball will command the majority of attention — at least from the general public — when the NFL’s scouting combine begins this week.
A few storylines to watch:
Which QBs will throw?
Johnny Manziel won’t. Neither will Derek Carr or A.J. McCarron. Blake Bortles has yet to make up his mind — his dad told the Orlando Sentinel it will be “a game-time decision.” And a couple of injured QBs (Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger) are not healthy enough to take the field fully yet.
Should Bortles sit, that would leave three of what may be the top four QBs drafted (Teddy Bridgewater, Manziel, Bortles and Carr) sitting on the sidelines during a key combine drill.
The reasoning behind taking a pass on that activity is that the combine presents some unfamiliar circumstances, as quarterbacks are forced to find an instant rhythm with unfamiliar receivers. All of the prospects will air it out come their schools’ Pro Days, when the targets are hand-picked and the atmosphere less pressure-filled.
It’s a disappointing development that quarterbacks decide not to throw for all of the league’s scouts and front-office personnel. For a player like McCarron, whose stock feels like it has plateaued after a long tenure as Alabama’s starter, throwing at the combine would present an opportunity to boost his stock; for Carr, whose top attribute is his rocket arm, it would be a chance to pull away from the pack a bit.
Instead, most eyes will fall on potential No. 1 overall pick Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville. He does plan to participate in the combine’s passing drills, and a strong showing would boost his argument for that top slot. Other lesser-known prospects such as Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo and San Jose State’s David Fales will share the spotlight.
There’s seemingly nothing to be gained by avoiding drills, especially for a QB. Even if a shaky performance ensues, the aforementioned Pro Days and private team workouts stand as shots at redemption. What’s on the college game tapes is more telling than a short window throwing against no defenders at Lucas Oil Stadium anyway.
Garoppolo is carrying the torch here. He has generated plenty of buzz over the past few weeks, mainly thanks to an impressive week at the Shrine Bowl. For now, he sits firmly in the Day 2 (Rounds 2 and 3) discussion.
He is not the only intriguing prospect from a non-BCS school attending the combine. Garoppolo will be joined in the QB group by Cornell’s Jeff Mathews (he was an Audibles feature topic back in June) and West Texas A&M’s Dustin Vaughn. The combine’s running back group will include Towson’s Terrance West, a 2,000-yard rusher in 2013. At wide receiver will be Saginaw Valley State’s Jeff Janis, who had a pair of catches at the Senior Bowl.
The O-line group usually is good for uncovering a few unknowns as well. Furman, Grand Valley State and Bloomsburg will be represented there, but it’s North Dakota State’s hulking tackle Billy Turner who has a chance to push into the top 100.
Can any running back separate himself?
This position shapes up as a bit of a jumbled mess — in a good way, if you’re hoping to find a RB in the draft. Much like in 2013, when Eddie Lacy, Le’Veon Bell, Gio Bernard, Montee Ball and Christine Michael all came off the board in Round 2, there appear to be several backs in this class capable of stepping in and producing right away. The question is if any of them are worthy of a Round 1 selection.
As the NFL heads to Indianapolis, the general consensus is that the class’ depth overshadows its elite skill, meaning that teams may wait to nab a player unless someone really jumps off the page.
Colt Lyerla’s second chance
The ex-Oregon tight end had planted himself firmly on the NFL’s radar headed into 2013. An arrest in October for cocaine possession threatened to derail that. After pleading guilty and receiving a sentence of 10 days in jail plus two years of probation and 40 hours of community service, Lyerla will attempt to convince an NFL team that he’s left his troubles in the past.
The interview processes that start in Indianapolis supersede anything he will do on the field. Sure, scouts and coaches want to see that he still has the raw ability to project as a threat at tight end. They also need to hear Lyerla take responsibility for his fallout at Oregon and explain what’s changed since.
Crashing the Sammy Watkins party
Watkins has held steady as the top receiver available in 2014, whether you’re tracking mock drafts or positional rankings. However, there is a laundry list of talented prospects knocking at the door behind him.
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. really set the WR bar high in his last mock draft, placing nine receivers among the first-round selections. The eight included alongside Watkins all will be in attendance this week: Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, Odell Beckham, Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee, Davante Adams, Brandin Cooks and Jarvis Landry.
The view may be slightly different here than at running back, in that the so-called “elite” prospects look to be there. That said, the depth at this position is close to unprecedented, so teams will have to weigh that factor when picking their player.