JACKSONVILLE – This whole NFL Combine thing is big, big stuff these days.
Each year, the NFL gets bigger and bigger, and in lockstep, the NFL Draft gets bigger, too. The NFL Scouting Combine – the league's highest-profile pre-draft event – has grown accordingly. More media coverage each year. More fans watching each year. And now, in contrast to what often occurred as recently as a decade ago, just about every player participates.
Yes, combine is popular, high-profile and critical to the more than 300 players participating, but new Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell said the event at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind., that begins Wednesday and ends next Tuesday is in no way an end-all.
In terms of the scouting process, the combine is indeed a critical piece.
But it remains just that. A piece.
"It's definitely a place where we get unanswered questions answered," Caldwell said late last week as he and the Jaguars' scouts, coaches and personnel officials prepared to attend the combine.
"It's a system of checks and balances, but it's another piece in the process."
The combine, originally held in 1982 in Tampa, has grown in size and profile each year since. In recent seasons, since NFL Network began televising it 2005, interest has soared. Perhaps because of the presence of the television cameras, whereas agents often advised players to skip combine workouts in favor of on-campus Pro Days, more and more players participate in Indianapolis each year.
Still, despite its emergence as a television-oriented event – and despite public focus on on-field workouts Saturday through Tuesday – it remains at its core the best way for personnel officials to gather medical, physical and psychological data on draft-eligible players.
For players with off-field issues, combine interviews offer a chance to address issues. Most general managers will tell you that whatever a player runs at the combine, and however he performs in on-field drills, the best way to analyze a player is college video.
What makes the combine key for personnel people is the event's role in establishing official measurements that previously were estimates. For many juniors, the combine marks teams' first chance to gather extensive data in what in a sense is a truncated scouting process compared to players who play as seniors.
Jaguars.com again will be in Indianapolis Wednesday through Sunday, with Thursday through Sunday – the days players are available to the media – the primary days of coverage. We'll feature stories on the event, videos and daily O-Zones, and with J.P. Shadrick in tow this year, we'll be doing Inside the Jaguars "Video Version" daily. We'll also be Tweeting throughout the week.
So, as we head to Indianapolis, here's part one of jaguars.com's 2013 combine primer:
I'M A JAGUARS FAN – WHAT POSITIONS SHOULD I BE WATCHING?
Caldwell has said he'll draft based on needs, particularly early in the draft. He also said the Jaguars will scout and draft to their system, meaning they'll try to find players to fit Head Coach Gus Bradley's defense and Offensive Coordinator Jedd Fisch's offense.
What does that mean for the Jaguars this week?
Well, it probably doesn't narrow things much, because after a 2-14 record last season, the Jaguars have significant needs in a lot of places around the roster.
Still, the positions on most Jaguars observers' minds – outside quarterback, of course – entering the combine appear to be defensive end, cornerback, offensive line, defensive tackle and outside linebacker.
It's far too early to tell what direction the Jaguars will go in the draft, but as we enter the combine, we'll take a quick look today at the top five players at those five positions according to two prominent draft analysts, then take a look at the rest of the positions in part 2 of our combine primer Wednesday.
A look at defensive end, cornerback, offensive line, defensive tackle and outside linebacker:
*Rob Rang, NFLDraftScout.com – Bjoern Werner, Florida State; Damontre Moore, Texas A&M; Barkevious Mingo, Louisiana State; Ezekiel Ansah, Brigham Young; Datone Jones, UCLA.
*Mike Mayock, NFL Network – Werner; Moore; Ansah; Sam Montgomery, Louisiana State; Jones/Margus Hunt, Southern Methodist.
Analysis: This is considered a deep area, though the top draft analysts are mixed on the quality of the position. Analysts such as Mel Kiper, Jr., of ESPN consider it strong and put players such as Werner, Moore and Mingo – the latter of whom is projected by many as a 3-4 outside linebacker – in the Top 10. Other analysts such as Mayock put Moore and Mingo, for example, outside the Top 10.
*Rang, NFLDraftScout.com – Jarvis Jones, Georgia; Alec Ogletree, Georgia; Arthur Brown, Kansas State; Khaseem Greene, Rutgers; Sean Porter, Texas A&M.
*Mayock, NFL Network – Dion Jordan, Oregon; Jones; Greene; Mingo; Brown.
Analysis: This area is made strong by the presence of Jones, projected by many as a Top 5 selection. With more teams moving to the 3-4, these players have increased in value, and with the Jaguars moving to the 3-4 over the next few seasons, it's an area of focus for the franchise.
*Rang, NFLDraftScout.com – Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M; Eric Fisher, Central Michigan; Lane Johnson, Oklahoma; D.J. Fluker, Alabama; Dallas Thomas, Tennessee.
*Mayock, NFL Network – Joeckel; Fisher; Johnson; Fluker; Menelik Watson, Florida State/Justin Pugh, Syracuse.
Analysis: This is a deep, talented area. Mayock has six tackles with first-round grades. Many believe Joeckel could go No. 1 overall, and at the same time, many believe there may not be much difference between him and Fisher, whose stock is rising in the offseason.
*Rang, NFLDraftScout.com – Dee Milliner, Alabama; Xavier Rhodes, Florida State; Desmond Trufant, Washington; Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State; Logan Ryan, Rutgers.
*Mayock, NFL Network – Milliner; Rhodes; Banks; Trufant; Jordan Poyer, Oregon State.
Analysis: Mayock said this is not a deep draft for corner, with the pool considered so shallow at the top that he rates Milliner as the lone first-round corner.
*Rang, NFLDraftScout.com – Star Lotulelei, Utah; Sheldon Richardson, Missouri; Sharrif Floyd, Florida; Jesse Williams, Alabama; Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State.
*Mayock, NFL Network – Floyd; Lotulelei; Richardson; Sylvester Williams, North Carolina; Kawann Short, Purdue/Hankins.
Analysis: This is another deep area, with Floyd rising rapidly enough that some now rate him as the draft's top tackle. Mayock says he has six defensive tackles with first-round grades, and Floyd and Lotulelei each could go in the Top 5.
WHERE DOES THE COMBINE FIT IN THE PREDRAFT PROCESS?
The combine is in a very real sense a step in the road to the NFL Draft.
The scouting process begins in the fall with on-field evaluation and area scouts covering college campuses and games nationwide, then continues with January all-star games. The combine is the latest step, and will be followed by "Pro Days," with college players working out on their campuses for scouts, coaches and general managers.
Pro Days begin March 1, with key dates including March 12 (Florida), March 13 (Alabama), March 14 (West Virginia), March 19 (Florida State), March 20 (North Carolina State, Tennessee), March 21 (Georgia) and March 27 (Louisiana State, South Carolina, Southern California).
After the Pro Days, much of the first three weeks of April are spent with teams finalizing their draft boards, and during that month, teams often will fly prospects to their facilities for final pre-draft interviews.
The draft this year will be held April 25-27 in New York and the first round will be in prime time for a fourth consecutive year.
HOW ARE PLAYERS SELECTED FOR THE COMBINE
From the NFL Scouting Combine web site: "Participants are determined annually by a Selection Committee. The Directors of both National and BLESTO scouting services, which combined represent twenty-five NFL teams, are joined by members of various NFL player personnel departments to form the committee. The participating NFL executives can rotate on a yearly basis, and remain anonymous. ALL eligible players are reviewed and voted on by the committee members. Each athlete receiving the necessary number of votes, by position, is then extended an invitation. While it is not a perfect science, the goal of the committee is to invite every player that will be drafted in the ensuing NFL Draft.
A full list can be found here.
The combine is more than pre-draft talk. With coaches, general managers and agents spending all week in Indianapolis, it's the NFL headquarters all week, and although free agency doesn't begin until March 12, the combine serves in a sense as the unofficial start of the offseason.
Combine week in a sense began Monday, the first day teams could apply the franchise tag. Teams have two weeks to apply the tag, with March 4 being the last day to apply the tag.
WHAT'S NEXT Part 2 of jaguars.com's combine primer will run Wednesday.