The 2011 NFL Scouting Combine has come to a close and consequentially, players and team personnel will begin trickling out of Indianapolis this weekend. Now, as Nate Dunlevy reminds us, there is nothing left to do but wait (at least until the 2011 NFL Draft.) There was, of course, some good news for fans today in the ruling announced in the NFLPA's TV case, but we'll get into that later. First thing's first: we need to summarize the Combine.
As you know, Matt and I spent four days (Thursday through Sunday) covering the Combine. Joining us were VanRam of Turf Show Times, Kevin Ewoldt of Hogs Haven and JimmyK of Bleeding Green Nation. Matt, of course, wrote for both Stampede Blue and SB Nation Indiana, so you can all thank him on doubling up and providing some great coverage for both sites.
Matt said he was beat in his day four wrap-up, and I share that sentiment. It was an incredible experience, but man, it was exhausting. Lots of hurry-up-and-wait. Seemed like we would sit for a half-hour to an hour, have a sudden flurry of activity, sprint to ask questions and get quotes and then hurry back to hammer out a story. Rinse and repeat. I'm not complaining at all; I enjoyed every moment I was there. I'm just trying to convey the experience.
Another thought still sitting with me two days later is that covering the Combine was also a humbling experience. I generally feel like a knowledgeable NFL guy. I'm confident about my league awareness. But, man, until you're in a room of seasoned sportswriters, you don't realize how little you know. I mean, I felt like Matt knew ten times more than I did, so you can imagine how I felt sitting next to John Clayton on a few occasions.
I could go on and on about personal experiences, but you probably want to hear about the players, or news relevant to the Colts. So after the jump, we'll take a look at some Combine results and identify the weekend's winners and losers.
Draft Headquarters probably summarized it better than I could with their winners and losers. We'll break it down by position:
Rising: C Ryan Bartholomew (Syracuse), OT Nate Solder (Colorado), C Kris O'Dowd (USC), OT Anthony Castonzo (Boston College)
Falling: OT Jason Pinkston (Pittsburgh), OT Marcus Gilbert (Florida), TE Weslye Saunders (S. Carolina)
Rising: QB Ryan Mallett (Arkansas), QB Colin Kaepernick (Nevada), QB Christian Ponder (Florida State), WR A.J. Green (Georgia), WR Julio Jones (Alabama), WR Randall Cobb (Kentucky), WR Cecil Shorts (Mt. Union), WR Torrey Smth (Maryland)
Falling: QB Cam Newton (Auburn), WR Jonathan Baldwin (Pittsburgh), WR Vincent Brown (San Diego State), WR DeAndre Brown (Southern Miss)
Rising: DT Marvin Austin (N. Carolina), DE Robert Quinn (N. Carolina), LB Von Miller (Texas A&M), LB Chris Carter (Fresno State), DE Cameron Jordan (California), DE Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue), DT Phil Taylor (Baylor), DE Cheta Ozougwu (Rice), DT Stephen Paea (Oregon State)
Falling: DE Jeremy Beal (Oklahoma), DE Adrian Clayborn (Iowa), LB Justin Houston (Georgia)
Rising: CB Patrick Peterson (LSU), CB Prince Amukamara (Nebraska), CB Jimmy Smith (Colorado), CB Buster Skrine (Tennessee-Chattanooga), S Jaiquawn Jarrett (Temple)
Falling: S Robert Sands (W. Virgina), S Ahmad Black (Florida), CB Kendric Burney (N. Carolina)
Now, of course, that's one site's opinion. Many of them seem to match up with what I'd heard around the Combine, but I feel the need to make that statement.
I also want to say that, like Mike Mayock, I trust game film infinitely more than 40-yard dash times. Does that make the Combine useless? Absolutely not. It provides a decent baseline for gauging players' athleticism, change-of-direction skills, ball skills and character. Think of it as a first interview or the screening process for a job interview. It's not a make-or-break scenario, but it's a useful starting point. It guides the employer toward making the appropriate selection when identifying the best man for the job.
When I see guys like Clayborn or Burney "falling", then, I don't blow that out of proportion. It means they did little to improve their draft stock, but it doesn't mean that their game tape is invalidated. Similarly, just because Skrine ran the fastest 40-yard dash in the Combine does not mean hes automatically going to be some lockdown, playmaking corner. What it does mean, though, is that teams will now go back and take another look at his tape -- if they looked at the tape of the Tennessee-Chattanooga prospect in the first place -- because he managed to do something positive to stand out from the competition at the Combine.
That is the purpose of this event and those will likely be the results. Coaches, scouts and general managers will be guided toward examining or re-examining certain players, for better or worse.
As far as the Colts are concerned, we've said it a thousand times, but even with offensive tackle as arguably their top need, they'll only go tackle with their first pick if the player they intend to select can step in and start from day one. Castonzo has likely shot too far up the draft board to be there at 22, so realistically, that leaves the Colts with Derek Sherrod (Mississippi State) and Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin.) Sherrod is a left tackle, Carimi almost certainly a right tackle. A telling move could come in the next few days, when it's entirely possible that the Colts could release right tackle Ryan Diem. Should that happen, they would have a vacancy at right tackle (you could argue that they already do with Diem on the roster) and need to fill that through either the draft or free agency, unless Bill Polian truly believes Jeff Linkenbach to be the future of the position. Whichever way they go, those are the two guys most worth considering, with Castonzo out of reach and Solder and Tryon Smith likely too raw to be selected.
If the Colts are looking to go safety, this class is looking to be terribly thin at the position. Mayock called safety and tight end the weakest position in the 2011 NFL Draft, and it's hard to argue otherwise. Whereas the Colts might find quality rotation defensive tackles in the second and third days of the draft, any starting caliber safeties will be gone by the end of the second round. When talking safety in this draft, you're really just talking Rahim Moore (UCLA), Quinton Carter (Oklahoma), DeAndre McDaniel (Clemson) and Tyler Sash (Iowa.) Like any draft, there will be valuable guys available later on like Idaho's Shiloh Keo who won't be a starter his rookie year or maybe even three years from now, but who can be an extremely valuable special teams player and potentially a useful reserve defensive back, but it mostly seems to be a four-man field for impact safeties. If the Colts look to go starting safety in this draft, and you have to believe that completely hinges on their ability or desire to re-sign free agent safety Melvin Bullitt, then they're going to have to make a move in their first two picks.
Now by contrast, defensive tackle, another position of interest for the Colts, is proving to be absurdly deep. Nick Fairley (Auburn) and Marcell Dareus (Alabama) will be gone by the time the Colts pick, potentially Corey Liuget (Illinois) as well, but from there, Paea, Austin, Jarvis Jenkins (Clemson), Drake Nevis (LSU) and Christian Ballard (Iowa) should all be available in a window between the Colts' first two picks and from the third round forward, you're still looking at guys like Sione Fua (Stanford), Jurrell Casey (USC), Jerrell Powe (Mississippi), Ian Williams (Notre Dame) and Terrell McClain (S. Florida) being available. That gives the Colts a little flexibility. I still think it's imperative that the Colts re-sign Antonio Johnson, but if they do and if they feel comfortable with A. Johnson and Fili Moala starting (and I'm not saying they necessarily should), then they don't have to target that instant starter and can instead focus on a rotation guy who will certainly be available in rounds three through seven.
I'm not sure what the Combine did for the wide receiver position other than set J. Jones and Green apart from everyone else. After those two, it's still incredibly clustered. Baldwin and Leonard Hankerson (Miami-FL) largely bombed their drills, but if you trust game film, both should still be in that very late first to early second range. The Boise State receivers were practically invisible in Indianapolis and Titus Young (Boise State) in particular ran a very disappointing 40-yard dash. Still, both are looking like second round prospects -- they probably grade out closely but I would edge Young over Austin Pettis -- and may or may not be there when the Colts pick in the second round. An intriguing prospect who I thought had a great Combine is Troy's Jerrel Jernigan. He might have helped himself as much as any receiver at the Combine with some nice measurables and smooth receiving displays in drills. Is that reflected by game tape? I don't know; I can honestly say I didn't see Troy play in 2010.
The Colts' draft day strategy at receiver will largely depend on the health of their returning players. Is Austin Collie going to be cleared and a safe play going forward? Can we count on Anthony Gonzalez to stay healthy? Will Reggie Wayne's knee be a problem in 2011, and is he a part of the Colts' long-term plans? It's funny, you look at the Colts' roster and see Wayne, Gonzalez, Collie and Pierre Garcon at the position and probably think they're crazy to be thinking about taking a receiver in the first two days of the draft, but when you consider those questions, you see why they probably do have a few on their draft board. I think they likely go with a wideout at the position, a speed guy to compliment their many over-the-middle possession types. I asked Clayton for Garcon's 40-yard dash time and he quoted me 4.47, I believe, so I would use that as a benchmark in identifying the player the Colts are most likely to select if they do select a receiver. Probably going to be a sub-4.5 guy. Probably.
Finally, this Combine helped to sort out some potential special teams prospects. We already mentioned Keo, but we spoke with a few players likely to be chosen for their special teams skills. The most impressive, arguably, was Curtis Brown (Texas), who did a little bit of everything for the Longhorns. Brown flashed some natural ball skills in Combine drills, which makes sense given he returned kicks and punts at Texas, and generally appeared to fluid in coverage drills. Brown told us that he felt he was a strong man-to-man corner and given the direction the Colts are going, I wouldn't be surprised if they were looking at Brown to come in and play special teams to start, with the idea of utilizing his man coverage skills as he progresses as a player. If not Brown, then look for the Colts to do this with some cornerback prospect, as their roster is currently overloaded with zone corners in a scheme that seems to call for more man coverage every year.
Those are the areas where I feel the Colts will be guided as a result of the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine. I don't pretend to know what's going on in Polian's head, but based one everything I know about this team, I would use those Combine results and observations and general guidelines for drawing up the draft board.
And now, as Nate said, we wait. There will at least be an NFL Draft. Anything else is uncertain at this point.