Previewing the 2004 Combine

With almost two-thirds of the scouting process complete, the final leg begins in earnest this week. More than 300 potential NFL prospects, coupled with another 600 scouts, coaches and general managers, are converging in Indianapolis for the annual scouting combine.

For six days, players will be poked, prodded, weighed, timed, and mentally tested as teams finalize their draft boards for April's big weekend. As has been the case in the past, many stand to gain from good showings at the RCA Dome and here are a few.

Sunday afternoon could be one for the ages as the quarterbacks take the field to show their stuff. After running the forty, the signal callers will be put through a battery of passing drills which could end up determining the order for April's draft.

This will literally be the first head-to-head match-up between Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, assuming Manning throws. Scouts will keep a watchful eye on Manning's arm strength and Big Ben's accuracy out to the flanks. The arm of Philip Rivers will also be carefully diagnosed as the former NC State star could wrap up a top 15 selection here if he continues to build on a sensational Senior Bowl week. Most important for Rivers is how successfully he throws the deep out. Quarterbacks will each be given two shots to attempt this all-important pass to both sides of the field. It is a test that they must pass (excuse the pun). It was here where Joey Harrington went from a fringe top-ten pick to the third selection of the draft two-years ago and it was here where Dave Ragone salvaged his draft status last February.

When the running backs take the field, the question is not how fast they run but if they run at all. Last year's fiasco, when only 13 of the 34 running backs and fullbacks ran the forty, did not sit well with people. While we expect a better turnout this year, the bigger question may be answered back in the medical rooms where Greg Jones of Florida State will have his surgically repaired knee examined to test how sturdy it is.

Speed will count for the receivers, as Larry Fitzgerald, Reggie Williams and Rashaun Woods, along with Michael Clayton and Michael Jenkins all have a lot to gain. Who will ultimately run? We hear for most of them it will be a last minute decision.

The linemen on both sides of the ball have a lot to gain, as several spots are up for grabs. Kenechi Udeze could earn himself a top six selection with a good workout and Will Smith could well jump into the top 12 if he follows suit. Vince Wilfork has fallen significantly this season and once considered as the top pick in the whole draft the former Miami junior is struggling to stay in the top ten. A good performance in Indianapolis improves the feeling amongst scouts about Wilfork.

The top spot at guard is up for grabs, as are just about every slot at offensive tackle except for the top two. Hence, a lot will be finalized on the carpet of the RCA Dome.

Finally, it is shaping up to be a solid year for prospects in the defensive back seven. Next Monday could shape a lot of draft boards when both the linebackers and defensive backs workout.

Who will be the first linebacker selected? Jon Vilma or his college teammate D.J. Williams? And what of the cornerbacks? Stopwatches and scales don't lie and ultimately can dictate the final rankings for these positions.

Whatever happens, there will be plenty of surprises, both good and bad. It should be interesting to see not only how prospects perform, but also as is the case every February, which players partake period!

Starting tomorrow, the TFY Draft Preview along with the Insiders Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the combine, looking at it from every angle. As many as five Insiders writers and reporters will be on hand to provide the most up to date information on what's taking place at the RCA Dome. So, don't stray to far from your computer!

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