Denver Broncos wide receiver Domenik Hixon was the highest rated player selected in last year's NFL Draft that did not attend the Combine. He was taken in the fourth round, pick #130 overall, the very next player taken Willie Colon, an offensive lineman from Hofstra, by the Pittsburgh Steelers was also a non-combine invitee. Previously, Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Matt McCoy (San Diego State) was the highest rated player taken without the benefit of the Combine in 2005; second round, pick #63 overall and San Francisco 49ers cornerback Shawntae Spencer (Pittsburgh) the highest rated player selected in 2004; third round, pick #68 overall.
The NFL Combine has become an even bigger part of evaluating the draft-eligible prospects based on the costly price of signing these new first-round draft picks, as a matter of fact, a total of over $300 million dollars has been spent on the signing bonuses for the first-round picks of the past three drafts alone.
Although many have speculated that the RCA Dome track is-or-has been a slow surface, the numbers do not agree with that, as a total of 29 players ran sub-4.4 times in the 40-yard dash on the old Astroturf 11 surface during the final two years (2004-2005) that the event was held on that old track with the majority of them being cornerbacks/wide receivers.
Last year's FieldTurf surface produced similar results, although several outlets continued to argue that it would create slower times than in recent memory. At least 18-20 players were timed at or below 4.4 range a year ago, according to the 40-times officially released and credited by the NFL Network or NFL.com.
A tell-tale sign for draft day has been if you are a defensive player invited to the NFL Combine, as between 70-to-75% of the defensive players invited to the Combine over the past nine years have been selected. On the offensive side of the ball those numbers decrease across the board, as offensive linemen and wide receivers barely reach 60%, while quarterbacks, running backs, fullbacks and tight ends slide closer to the 50/50 mark, and lets not get into the poor special teams prospects, who are down around the 20-to-25% mark.
Over the past 11 years (1995-2006), the most drafted position in the first round of the NFL Draft has been defensive linemen with 82 total players selected in that period of time. A further acknowledgement of the importance of building a strong "Front Four" would be that nearly 50% of the starting defensive linemen on this year's Divisional Playoff rosters (8 teams) were selected in the first round. In fact, those eight teams included New England and San Diego, who use 3-4 defensive schemes, so 14-of-the-30 starting DL's were at one time taken in the first round of the draft, which does not include Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris, who was injured and missed the playoffs. Those are very telling numbers and could improve the chances of several boarder-line initial round prospects to make the jump into this year's first round of the draft.
By the way, no true fullback has been selected in the first round of the NFL Draft in the past 11 years.
John Murphy is with Yahoo Sports.