In the ever-fluid process of talent hyperbole and evaluation, NFL coaches this week finally will have some specific numbers to analyze.
Heights, weights, 40 times, bench presses, cone drills, vertical jumps, et al, ad nauseum.
More than 300 players, a mix of prospects who have completed their eligibility and underclassmen who gave up their remaining college years, have begun gathering in Indianapolis for the annual NFL scouting combine. They’ll first be weighed and measured, then examined by doctors and interviewed by head coaches.
Starting Saturday, incoming rookies will begin the meat of the combine — drills to test their athleticism, strength and agility.
Even though opinions are evolving, there are some draft certainties already established coming into Indianapolis.
If South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was eligible for the draft, he’d be the first player selected.
There is no for-certain consensus No. 1 choice — think an Andrew Luck or a Cam Newton — as there has been in past years. Instead, more than a half-dozen names, including Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, have been mentioned for the top spot. Kansas City owns the selection and with the league’s worst record has a variety of position needs.
Other popular names that have been mentioned for No. 1? Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, Alabama offensive lineman Chance Warmack, North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper and Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher. Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones may be in the mix for the top spot. So is West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith.
Another certainty is the first round is talent heavy with heavy bodies. Tackles, both offensive and defensive, are grading out higher than any other position. Mike Mayock, the chief draft analyst for the NFL Network, has 12 tackles, split evenly between offense and defense, with first-round grades. ESPN’s Todd McShay’s latest mock draft has linemen selected with seven of the top 11 picks.
The draft also is rich with safeties — Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro is the top prospect — but only one cornerback could be selected in the first round.
But while there are plenty of blockers, conversely, there is maybe one quarterback (West Virginia’s Smith) and one running back (Alabama’s Eddie Lacy) currently slotted for the first round.
Earlier this month, the chatter centered around two players in College Station and whether Joeckel and teammate Damontre Moore would be selected one and two in the draft. Both gave up their final season of eligibility after All-American junior years. The last time college teammates were the top two picks came in 2000, with Penn State’s LaVar Arrington (Washington Redskins) and Courtney Brown (Cleveland Browns) were drafted one and two.
It also happened in 1984, with Nebraska’s Irving Fryar and Dean Steinkuhler leading the first round.
Joeckel, who won the Outland Award last fall as the nation’s top lineman, still is a hot name. ESPN’s Mel Kiper called Joeckel “a lock to be the first tackle taken.”
To demonstrate how the draft hyperbole works, Moore’s stock has dropped dramatically, depending on which super scout is doing the evaluation. Kiper still has Moore as the No. 2 player, but Mayock isn’t as impressed. Yet scouts haven’t seen Moorein action of any kind since the Cotton Bowl.
“He (Moore) does everything pretty well in the pass game,” Mayock said in a pre-combine teleconference. “But I don’t see that elite quick-twitch burst. And I also don’t see a great run defender. I think he’s average against the run, at best. … I like (Moore) but I like (Moore) later in the first round, not in the top 10.”
Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson did well blocking Moore in the Cotton Bowl, which now has elevated the Sooner in the eyes of the scouts who are scrutinizing first-round talent.
Smith, who had an inconsistent year playing for the first time against Big 12 competition, also is a hot name coming into the combine. He didn’t participate in January’s Senior Bowl, which is considered a mini combine. But he plans on throwing for the scouts, Sunday. He’s substantially ahead of Oklahoma’s Landry Jones and USC’s Matt Barkley, two quarterbacks who stayed in school despite being projected as first rounders in last year’s draft.
Smith could be vying for the top pick if all goes well in his workouts.
TWELVE TO WATCH
Twelve players from the Big 12 and around the state who are generating the most NFL draft buzz, heading into the NFL scouting combine:
Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M: There are mixed views on his status. Could go as high as No. 2 overall … or fall out of the top 10.
Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Enters the combine as the top quarterback available, and might end up being the lone QB taken in the first round.
Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma: This year’s draft is heavy with offensive tackles, but he’s considered a possible top-10 pick.
Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas: The draft’s top safety probably will be gone by the middle of the first round.
Alex Okafor, DE, Texas: While not an elite end, it’s possible he could slip into the first round.
Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: Had a first-round grade —- in 2012, had he left school early. Now he’s projected to be a second rounder.
Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia: Scouts are fascinated by his multi-dimensional skills, but he’s slotted as a second-rounder.
Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor: The projected second rounder impressed scouts with terrific Senior Bowl workouts.
Arthur Brown, OLB, Kansas State: He’s got first-round talent, but second-round size. Second round wins.
Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State: The Big 12’s leading rusher is considered the third best running back prospect in the draft.
Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma: The Sooners’ leading tackler is slotted for the third round.
Other Big 12 combine invitees
BAYLOR — WR Lanear Sampson
IOWA STATE — LB A.J. Klein, LB Jake Knott
KANSAS — OL Tanner Hawkinson, DB Bradley McDougald
KANSAS STATE — K Anthony Cantele, WR Chris Harper, QB Collin Klein, FB Braden Wilson
OKLAHOMA — DT Stacy McGee, WR Kenny Stills, LB Tom Wort
OKLAHOMA STATE — WR Tracy Moore, K Quinn Sharp
TCU — WR Josh Boyce, DE Stansly Maponga, RB Matthew Tucker
TEXAS — WR Marquise Goodwin
WEST VIRGINIA — WR Stedman Bailey, C Joe Madsen
Note: Other Texas A&M invitees — RB Christine Michael, LB Sean Porter, LB Jonathan Stewart, WR Ryan Swope