Here is an in-depth, position-by-position breakdown of the draft prospects as they prepare for the 2009 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
It isn't a strong year for quarterbacks, especially when you consider that the top two candidates, Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez, are underclassmen under 6-foot-3, and each has a glaring weakness. Stafford had a career completion rate under 60 percent at Georgia, and Sanchez made just 16 starts at USC. There is plenty of risk for teams who are at the top of the draft and need a quarterback to build a franchise around over the next 10 years.
The third quarterback on most lists, Josh Freeman, also is a junior, and he might work his way into the bottom of the first round because of his strong arm and height (6-6), but he also has issues surrounding his game.
Running backs are coming out of school more NFL-ready because of the amount of passing in the college game. These backs understand protection schemes and have run more routes than backs did five years ago. The Eagles, Cardinals, Bengals, Broncos and Chargers are sure to pay attention when these guys work out.
Recently, fullbacks have been a bit of a dying breed in the NFL. However, the Ravens' success with their heavy package in 2008 might change teams' philosophy toward the position.
Physical issues surround three of the next four tight ends, so the medical segment of the combine should go a long way to clear up the tight end pecking order. Missouri's Chase Coffman has had foot issues for the past two years, but at 6-6 and 250 pounds, he could be a matchup nightmare in the NFL. Keep a close eye on Florida's Cornelius Ingram, who missed his senior season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and Wisconsin's Travis Beckum, who missed half of the 2008 season with a broken leg.
As is the case at running back, underclassmen strengthened the wide receiver position in the 2009 draft. At least six players left school early, a group led by Michael Crabtree. He caught 231 balls in two seasons at Texas Tech and has decided not to run at the combine. It remains to be seen how many of the other top wideouts follow suit and not run.
There are speed receivers (Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin and Darrius Heyward-Bey) who should all be close to dipping under 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash. There also are receivers who possess great size (Hakeem Nicks and Kenny Britt). Any team in need of a receiver will love the talent pool available in the first two rounds of the draft. The Ravens, Bears, Jets, Seahawks, Giants, Raiders, Chiefs and Titans all will have a shot at a good player.
Last year's draft was great for first-round talent at offensive tackle. This year's group isn't quite as deep, but by most standards, it's another excellent crop.
As many as four tackles could be taken in the top 10 picks of the draft, and the combine should be another step toward sorting out the group, which includes Eugene Monroe, Michael Oher, Jason Smith and Andre Smith. Closing in on the top four is Eben Britton, who shouldn't make it out of the first round. Another small wave of tackles could come off the board in the second round.
It's not a year for first-round guard talent, but it rarely ever is.
Because of the number of teams looking for 3-4 outside linebackers and 4-3 right defensive ends, combine position work is a critical component to separating the players in this group.
Finding a 4-3 left defensive end big enough to play the off-tackle run and skilled enough to rush the passer is becoming tougher every year. Tyson Jackson and Jarron Gilbert might be the leading candidates after the combine workouts. When it comes to 3-4 defensive ends, teams might look at defensive tackles instead.
Defensive tackle is such a position of need around the NFL that it will be critical to watch which players emerge at the combine. At least one other player will sneak into the bottom of the first round, and anyone who comes out of Indianapolis with a good height-weight-speed ratio and some solid agility in the drills will improve their stock.
This position is intermingled with the defensive ends because of schemes. There should be a buzz in Indianapolis when Aaron Curry works out. He skipped the Senior Bowl, but he told me he will compete in every event at the combine. He also told me his agent talked him out of playing in the Senior Bowl, so let's hope he doesn't do the same thing in Indianapolis.
There's four years of game tape and a solid Senior Bowl performance on Brian Cushing, so his combine workout will be a bit anticlimactic. However, there is plenty of interest in underclassman Aaron Maybin. He might have needed another year at Penn State, but he'll be in Indianapolis, where many teams will evaluate him.
Cornerbacks usually come into Indianapolis and light up the 40-yard dash and short shuttle. There should be a number of 4.3-second 40 times and a few guys dipping under the 4.0-second mark in the shuttle.
The 2009 safety pool will not go down as one of the richest in draft history. It's quite possible that no safety will come out of the combine with a first-round grade. However, there should be a solid run on strong and free safeties in the second round of the draft.