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Gathering in Indianapolis

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By John Oehser, jaguars.com senior writer

We continue today with jaguars.com's combine primer.

The 2012 NFL Scouting Combine will be held February 22-28 at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis, with the nation's top draft-eligible players going through a series of psychological, physical and medical evaluations.

With coaches, general managers, scouts and agents also gathered in Indy, it's also the center of the NFL universe all week.

So, as we prepare to begin jaguars.com's coverage, here's part two of jaguars.com's 2012 combine primer:

I'M A JAGUARS FAN – WHAT POSITIONS SHOULD I BE WATCHING?

Because Jaguars General Manager Smith is a best-available-player drafter, the reality is you can watch about any position group and have a chance at seeing a player who eventually will be with the Jaguars. But entering the combine, the positions on most Jaguars' fans minds are wide receiver, defensive end and cornerback.

Will the Jaguars draft any of those positions early?

The nature of the draft is that it's far too early to tell, but here's a quick look at the top players at those positions according to two prominent draft analysts:

* *

1)Wide receiver:

*Rob Rang, NFLDraftScout.com –Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State; Michael Floyd, Notre Dame;  Kendall Wright, Baylor; Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers; Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina.

*Mike Mayock, NFL Network –Blackmon; Wright; Floyd; Reuben Randle, LSU; Jeffery. Mayock: Said he doesn't have Jeffery in his top four, and doesn't consider him a first-round receiver.

2)Defensive end:

*Rang, NFLDraftScout.com –Quinton Coples, North Carolina; Nick Perry, Southern California; Whitney Mercilus, Illinois; Andre Branch, Clemson; Jared Crick, Nebraska.

*Mayock, NFL Network – Melvin Ingram, South Carolina; Coples; Branch; Mercilus; Perry; Vinny Curry, Marshall (tie with perry).

Mayock: "There aren't a whole lot of real strong defensive ends and linebackers in this draft."

3)Cornerback:

*Rang, NFLDraftScout.com –Morris Claiborne, LSU; Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama; Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama; Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska; Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina.

*Mayock, NFL Network – Claiborne; Kirkpatrick; Jenkins;  Trumaine Johnson, Montana; Leonard Johnson, Iowa State.

Mayock:"There are three corners everybody kind of thinks are first-round corners, then after that, it's kind of pick your flavor."

OVERALL, WHAT'S THE ASSESSMENT OF THE 2012 DRAFT CLASS?

For those analyzing the draft, the combine is a key time because it's the first chance to get real measurables – i.e., height and weight, 40 times, etc. For most prospects, that doesn't change draft status, but each year, there is a surprisingly slow or fast 40 time.

In that situation, a prospect can rise or fall a few slots accordingly.

Still, entering the combine, the general breakdown on the draft is that the overriding storyline nationally will be Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. Though Luck is expected to go to the Colts No. 1 overall – which will make him a particularly popular story in Indianapolis this week, particularly considering the uncertainty around Colts quarterback Peyton Manning – there is plenty of uncertainty and speculation around Griffin. The Rams at No. 2 don't need a quarterback, but there are reports that teams are trying to move up to No. 2 to take him. Those teams include Cleveland, which now holds the No. 4 selection:

Elsewhere, the early breakdown is as follows:

*Running back:It's a relatively light class at the position, which isn't unusual these days. The position has been deemphasized a bit, and most teams believe if a player is not exceptional it's best to wait until after the first round. This year's exceptional back: Trent Richardson of Alabama. He is considered a potential Top 10 selection.

*Offensive line:This is considered a big-time group, with three tackles – Matt Kalil of Southern California, Riley Reiff of Iowa and Jonathan Martin of Stanford – generally projected as potential Top 10 selections. Guard David DeCastro of Stanford also is considered a potential Top 10 selection, although that's high for the position. Beyond the first round, Mayock said it's a deep draft for the interior line. "For the first three rounds, I think you can get a lot of quality at center or guard," Mayock said.

*Tight end.It's a relatively weak year here, with Dwayne Allen of Clemson and Coby Fleener of Stanford possible first-rounders. But they're far from locks.

*Defensive tackle.When analysts talk of the 2012 class, they may not think much of the ends, but the opposite is true of the tackles. At least six are projected early as first-round possibilities, with Devon Still of Penn State projected as Top 10. Michael Brockers of LSU also has been moving up in the eyes of analysts lately. Mayock called defensive tackle the deepest position in this year's draft.

*Linebacker.This group's overall strength depends on where you put Melvin Ingram of South Carolina and Courtney Upshaw of Alabama. Some consider them ends; some linebackers. Ingram helped himself at the Senior Bowl, and some believe his future is as a pass rusher. Upshaw also is expected to go in the first round, and Luke Kuechly of Boston College is the top inside 'backer entering the combine. "He's the best inside linebacker in the draft, by far," Mayock said.

*Safety.Overall, it's considered a fairly weak year at the position, with Mark Barron of Alabama the only safety projected in most first rounds.

ON THE FIELD, WHAT ARE SCOUTS LOOKING FOR DURING THE COMBINE?

It depends on the position.

At some positions, speed is a huge, make-or-break factor, so how they run the 40 is a critical issue. That's true this year, for example, at the wide receiver position.

Mayock said that's because there are several "big-body guys" at the position, including Jeffery of South Carolina, Jeff Fuller from Texas A&M and Mohamed Sanu of Rutgers, who need to show they can run quickly enough to separate from NFL cornerbacks.

"What they run is going to be important," Mayock said. "Alshon Jeffery does not separate. He struggles getting off the line of scrimmage against quality press corners – same with Mohamed Sanu. What those kinds of guys run is important."

Of Jeffery, "He needs to run somewhere in those mid-4.5s – worst-case scenario. You start seeing 4.6-4.65, it's going to be a problem."

Blackmon, generally projected as the draft's top wide receiver prospect, isn't expected to run a particularly fast 40 – Mayock projects him in the 4.5-4.52 range.

"And I think you have to say that's OK," Mayock said. "He's big. He's physical and has tremendous ball skills. I don't think you're going to see a guy who wows you with vertical speed, but his body control, hands and ability to catch the football are exceptional."

At other positions, scouts will look closely at other drills. While the Senior Bowl, for example, is important because scouts and personnel people can see offensive and defensive linemen work one on one in full-pad situations, at the combine, scouts watch those positions for athleticism and other attributes.

"It's a great opportunity to see the dancing bears without their pads on, what kind of shape they're in," Mayock said. "You want to see especially their ability to bend and their initial quickness. We're worried about explosion and quickness with defensive linemen. Some of those cone drills and the football drills, especially, are exceptionally good to watch offensive and defensive linemen."

FREE AGENCY UPDATE

This is from the in-case-you-missed it category and it's not about what's going on on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium, but with the combine approaching we're also approaching the time when free agency news starts becoming more pertinent. As of February 20, teams were allowed to place the franchise tag on players, something they can do through March 5. With wide receiver and defensive end the two perceived greatest need areas for the Jaguars, we'll take a look at where things stand with the high-profile potential free agents at each spot, focusing on wide receiver first:

*Wes Welker, New England.He is scheduled to become a free agent, but he almost certainly will be franchised if he doesn't agree to an extension..

*Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh.He is a restricted free agent, and the cap-strapped Steelers are in danger of losing him. The Steelers therefore can extend a tender offer to Wallace that would require a team signing him to give up a first-round selection. Because Wallace is restricted, the Steelers also will have the chance to keep him by matching any offer. The Steelers also could franchise Wallace.

*Vincent Jackson, San Diego. The Chargers aren't expected to franchise Jackson, and it appears the high-profile receiver most likely to be available March 13. But with just over three weeks remaining before free agency, a lot can happen and there will undoubtedly be reports and speculation throughout the coming days and weeks around the player many now consider the top available receiver.

*Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City. The Chiefs' signing of free-agent cornerback Stanford Routt seems to indicate that Kansas City will allow cornerback Brandon Carr to leave as a free agent. That would allow them to use the franchise tag if necessary on Bowe.

*Marques Colston, New Orleans.Colston could get the franchise tag, but with the Saints negotiating with Drew Brees, it may not be available. If he is free, the lack of availability of other names on this list could increase the demand for Colston.

*Brandon Lloyd, St. Louis Rams.The much-traveled Lloyd has talked about possibly re-joining Josh McDaniels in New England, and reports are the Rams won't franchise him. He was available at mid-season last season and the Jaguars opted to not pursue him.

*Stevie Johnson, Buffalo.Johnson and the Bills exchanged contract offers, according to a recent report [in the Buffalo News. ](http://blogs.buffalonews.com/billboard/2012/02/source-bills-johnson-exchange-proposals.html?utmsource=feedburner&utmmedium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed: typepad/buffalonews/billboard (BillBoard))The sides are considered far apart, and are expected to talk this week at the combine. Johnson also reportedly doesn't expect Buffalo to use the tag, though many observers believe otherwise.

*DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia. According to Jeff McClane of Philly.com, the Eagles will franchise Jackson. That will remove from the market the player who might be free agency's most explosive – and most expensive deep threat – but Jackson struggled with inconsistency last season in the wake of contract issues, making him a risky free-agent option.

*Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis.The five-time Pro Bowl selection isn't likely to be retained by Indianapolis, and although he is 33, the lack of availability of other receivers likely will increase his demand.

*Robert Meacham, New Orleans.Meacham almost certainly would command a smaller contract than Colston, and like a lot of players lower on this list, his value could increase as more high-profile players disappear from the market.

*Pierre Garcon, Indianapolis.Garcon started opposite Wayne the past three seasons, and although Colts Owner Jim Irsay has said Garcon is an off-season priority, he has yet to be re-signed and could be available.

*Mario Manningham, New York Giants.He was a hero in the Super Bowl, but Manningham could be available with the Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks emerging as the team's go-to receivers .

At defensive end, here's the update:

*Mario Williams, Houston.The Texans aren't expected to franchise Williams because the projected cap number – nearly $22 million by some reports – would be too high. There are those who question how well Williams fits in the Texans' 3-4 scheme. The Houston defense also played well in his absence this past season, but reports out of Houston are that the Texans want to re-sign him.

*Cliff Avril, Detroit.Avril has said he hopes the Lions don't tag him, and indicated he would consider holding out if they do so.

*Robert Mathis, Indianapolis.Mathis is not expected to be franchised as the Colts rebuild, and if Avril and Williams aren't available, he is the top pass rusher on the market.

The bottom line on free agency as the combine opens is the same as many seasons. How the market appeared at the end of the season isn't close to how it will appear when free agency actually begins. As  each day passes, more players will re-sign or be franchised, and although that will be great news for players who become free, it will make the coming weeks and early days of free agency stressful for teams with glaring needs.

It also means the news from the combine about who is franchised and who likely will be re-signed could be as critical for many teams – including the Jaguars – as what's going on in the interview rooms and on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.

It's all part of the complex fabric of the combine. Stay tuned.

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