Over the course of the next five days teams will poke, prod, interview, workout and examine every detail of these players with the hopes of finding small bits of information that will ultimately shape their final decisions on draft weekend.
So what are the top considerations and questions being discussed as coaches, scouts and players enter the RCA Dome starting Friday?
While many will debate forty-times as the quarterbacks finish their workouts on Sunday the real battle begins when the stopwatches are put away. Prospects will be put through a battery of passing drills to prove that they can, )or in some instances can't) throw the deep outs, timing patterns or crossing routes. This is the make or break point for the top signal callers and will dictate whether the Houston Texans use the first pick of the draft on Fresno State's David Carr or try and trade that choice. It will also go a long way in determining if Oregon's Joey Harrington is worthy of a top ten selection.
On the other hand speed at Indy will dictate the final pecking order at running back and receiver as the underclassmen finally get their chance to perform in front of scouts.
The battle for the top spot at running back is up for grabs as both TJ Duckett and William Green are running neck-and-neck. If Duckett, a Michigan State product, turns in a solid time in the forty-yard dash (a low 4.5 clocking) he could move ahead of Boston College's William Green, who is expected to blister over the indoor carpet. Whatever the outcome, teams will come away from this weekend with a good idea as to who the top man at this position is.
Much the same can be said for the receivers as underclassmen Antonio Bryant of Pittsburgh, Florida's Jabar Gaffney and Tennessee Volunteer Donte' Stallworth, as well as Michigan senior Marquis Walker, could all see their draft stock sway as much as ten slots in the first round depending on how fast they run.
One prospect seemingly on the rise is Hawaii junior Ashley Lelie. There is no questioning his ability to run fast but a pencil-thin build has scouts worrying about his abilities to handle the rigorous nature of the NFL and there is concern about the consistency of his hands. Though an unusual occurrence for a receiver, Lelie's strength test on the bench press will dictate whether or not he moves into the top twenty picks of round one.
A pair of defensive linemen may have their draft rankings decided on the examination tables of the RCA Dome. Both John Henderson and Kalimba Edwards carried high grades coming into the season but have seen their stock plummet thanks in part to injuries. Henderson, the Tennessee defender many thought would be the first pick of the draft, suffered mightily with an ankle sprain as a senior and questions are know arising about the health of his back. Edwards injured his knee at the end of the season, knocking him out of South Carolina's final two contests as well as the Senior Bowl. A passing grade on the physical exam coupled with good workouts will push both prospects into the early part of the first frame but should either be red-flagged medically it could mean disaster.
As is the case every year several highly ranked prospects were left off the list of invitees, leading many to scratch their heads.
This year scouts are wondering why Richard Williams, a small-school offensive lineman from Gardner-Webb, is not one of the participants in Indianapolis. Known for mythological strength (he reportedly pushed-up 52 repetitions of 225-pounds on the bench press earlier this year), Williams performed well at the Blue-Gray Game on Christmas Day and briefly stood out at the Senior Bowl. Many were looking forward to watching him at the Combine but must now wait until late-March when Williams will privately workout for the league.
And as is the case every year the talk this weekend will not only be of those who worked out well but of those who actually worked out period. The combine is rife with names of players favoring individual workouts that take place at the friendly confines of their university as opposed to participating at the RCA Dome.
Earlier this year the NFLPA sent out letters encouraging prospects to take part in all the workouts at the RCA Dome trying to put to rest the reputation it has as a "slow track," when in fact the facility is conducive to speed.
Whatever the end result, collectively this will be the largest gathering of scouts, coaches, general managers and prospective NFL players of the year as we head into the homestretch towards the draft. For many, it is the final opportunity to impress the decision makers for each team and earn a nice sized contract for themselves in six weeks.
As was the case last year, the TFY Draft Preview will be live at the Combine filing reports from the workouts and the happenings in Indianapolis. As with the Senior Bowl stories will be posted in both free and premium forms and we hope to be actively working the message board.