More than 330 of the top draft prospects and scores of stopwatch-toting NFL scouts, coaches and general managers will converge on Indianapolis this weekend for the annual NFL Scouting Combine, which runs through Tuesday.
And while most of the players will undergo extensive running, agility and lifting workouts, the bigger tests to determine their draft stock may come in the form of physicals and interviews.
Separated by position groups, the players started arriving Wednesday as the offensive linemen, tight ends, kickers and other specialists went through medical pre-exams, X-rays, orientation and the start of their 15-minute, rapid-fire interviews with each of the 32 NFL teams.
Those players will have their official medical exams along with media and more team interviews today before beginning on-field workouts Friday. They will be followed through the process by the other position groups, with the defensive backs arriving last.
That position group will get a lot of attention from the Bengals, who are likely to go after a strong safety with their first-round pick (21st overall) in April’s NFL Draft.
Here are a few storylines to keep an eye on this weekend:
Te’o talks: No one expects Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o to be drafted first overall, but his Saturday press conference likely will draw the biggest crowd in wake of the fake dead girlfriend story that broke last month.
Claiming to be the victim of a hoax in an online-only relationship, Te’o is sure to face a barrage of questions from reporters and each of the 32 NFL teams, forcing him to relive over and over again what he claims to be an embarrassing and humiliating experience.
How he handles those questions could tell more about his NFL future than his 40 time.
Rise and fall: Unlike most years, there is no clear cut favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick, which means players could see their stock climb or plummet drastically based on how they perform physically and mentally over the next few days.
Players such as Manti Te’o and Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree (recent DUI arrest), both of whom are projected first-round picks, will have a lot to prove off the field, while a guy like South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, who suffered a gruesome knee injury in October, can climb the draft boards with a strong performance in drills.
QB quandary: Just as quarterbacks get most of the attention during the season, they also are the focus at the Combine. But this year’s class has been widely regarded as underwhelming, which could result in no quarterback being selected in the first round for the first time since 1996.
Geno Smith (West Virginia), Matt Barkley (USC), Landry Jones (Oklahoma) and the other quarterbacks will arrive today intent on improving their stock, although Barkley already has said he will not work out until his pro day March 27.
Local connections: Six players from Ohio State, four from Cincinnati and one from Miami are scheduled to attend.
RedHawks quarterback Zac Dysert, who is recovering from a hamstring injury, won’t work out but will take part in interviews and psychological testing.
Representing the Buckeyes will be running back Zach Boren, offensive lineman Reid Fragel, tight end Jake Stoneburner, linebacker Etienne Sabino and defensive linemen Johnathan Hankins and John Simon, while the Bearcats contingent will include tight end Travis Kelce, defensive lineman Walt Stewart, wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins and running back George Winn.
• PK/ST/OL/TE measurements, medical exams, media, interviews
• QB/WR/RB medical pre-exam and X-rays, orientation, interviews
• PK/ST workout; PK/ST/OL/TE bench press, psychological testing, interviews
• QB/WR/RB measurements, medical exams, media, interviews
• DL/LB medical pre-exam and X-rays, orientation, interviews