The 2014 NFL Draft is still a few months away, but draft season is about to swing into high gear with the commencement of yet another NFL Scouting Combine this week in Indianapolis. General managers, coaches and scouts will take a close look at hundreds of prospects, including top talents Sammy Watkins, Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel. Beginning Thursday, NFL Network and NFL.com will have extensive, exclusive coverage of the event, including live broadcasts of on-field workouts from Saturday, Feb. 22 through Tuesday, Feb. 25.
As these prospects prepare to take the next step in their respective football careers, which athlete are you most looking forward to seeing perform at Lucas Oil Stadium this year?
Can't wait to watch Jadeveon Clowney in actionThis is a no-brainer for me: South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. After studying him for the past three years, I'm well aware of his freakish combination of size, explosiveness and strength. However, I'm eager to see real numbers assigned to these traits. Just how tall is he? How long are his arms? How high can he jump? What will be his 10-yard split in the 40-yard dash? Will he destroy the shuttle drills?
Defensive linemen are scheduled to work out on Monday, Feb. 24; by that evening, we'll know the answers to all of these questions.
Sammy Watkins will dazzle with his blazing speedThis one is actually easy: Sammy Watkins. Maybe the Clemson product ends up lost in the shuffle, what with the hype surrounding the quarterbacks heading to Indy. But Watkins has "star, impact receiver" written all over him. He's going to run at Lucas Oil Stadium and show off his blazing speed.
Watkins is going to be a top-five pick in the 2014 NFL Draft; in fact, provided he has the right workout and interviews well, Watkins could go at No. 2 overall to the St. Louis Rams, who are a perfect fit.
Aaron Lynch can make his mark against top competitionOne of the players I'm looking forward to seeing perform is Aaron Lynch, from the University of South Florida. The defensive end, who transferred from Notre Dame following his freshman year and subsequently sat out the 2012 campaign, earned first-team all-conference honors in the American Athletic Conference after notching six sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss in his first and only season playing for the Bulls.
Lynch has been highly touted since his high school days. It will be nice to see him "on the hoof" and competing with the top names at his position. He has very good measurables in height (6-foot-6) and weight (244 pounds). Will he leap off the screen to everyone watching? We shall soon find out ...
What can the quarterbacks show me?Though I generally do not put much stock in what quarterbacks do at the combine, I would like to see the top talents at the position throw. Why? Unlike, say, accuracy -- which one cannot get a true sense of at the combine, given the lack of practice quarterbacks have with their receivers -- arm strength, ball spin and quickness of release cannot be judged via game tape; these important traits must be evaluated live.
The top three quarterback prospects, Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles, are all rated close together. I know that, at this point, Manziel is not expected to throw, but I hope that Bridgewater and Bortles do. The race to be the first overall pick is wide open, in my opinion (though the Houston Texans might have another take, and that, of course, is the only one that counts).
Drama goes beyond the workoutsThere's three things I'm looking forward to, and none of them is a workout.
That's right; workouts, schmurkouts. Here's what I want to know: Is Johnny Manziel going to impress scouts and coaches with his football acumen and show he's maturing and wants to be a leader? Or will top teams walk away from Indianapolis talking up Blake Bortles instead? Jadeveon Clowney, meanwhile, is going to post all sorts of crazy workout numbers. While everyone watching surely will be blown away by his physical abilities, Clowney still has some convincing to do on the topic of his desire to be a great NFL player. Is there a risk that Clowney will coast after making it to the league and getting paid? He could be the Shaquille O'Neal of the NFL -- but he could also be the next Aundray Bruce. And how about Michael Sam? I know ahead of time the consensus is going to be that team representatives will come away raving about their conversations with the young man, but how many squads will move him up their draft boards for May?
If the NFL draft is the "getting hired" portion of employment for players, then the combine is the "job interview" part for these three -- and I can't wait to see how they do.