The NFL Scouting Combine hits Indianapolis this week, with prospective players set to be poked, prodded and pressured on and off the field, all in a grand effort for scouts and general managers to get some validation for what they see on game film before drafting some of these guys come April.
Is a player worth a first-round pick, or do his measurables not meet the standard? Can he run fast? What’s his 40 time? Is he agile? How are his hips? Are they tight? Is his wingspan sufficient? How big are his hands?
These are the very important bits of information teams are looking for this week, in addition to how the prospects answer tough personal questions and whether they display professional-level football savvy. The science of football is on display at an event that has become so popular the whole shebang is televised. The on-field drills and interviews, at least.
Why would people want to give up their weekend to watch at a glorified fun-and-fitness day? Here’s the deal, and there’s not a single one of you who will disagree with me on this: NFL fans LOVE to sound smart about the NFL Draft. Being right about a guy is almost as satisfying as your team making a solid pick.
Most Steelers fans never watched a single game in Bud Dupree’s college career at Kentucky, but by the time the 2015 Draft rolled around those same fans sounded like experts on the rigidity of his hips, the fluidity of his footwork and the impressive spring in his leap — 138.0 inches in the broad jump, if you forgot — like they coached him since his Pop Warner days.
There is more information than ever about these prospects, and the NFL Combine, for many, is the start of what will be an intense 55 days of football. Yes, I’m talking about the fans.
The NFL breaks each session down by position group, so it’s very easy for Steelers fans to pop in and track the players you’ve been convinced the team needs to draft. There are also a few local prospects at the Combine, so here’s a quick viewer’s guide to when everything goes down.
The NFL posts a list of invited players each year. Not all of them will perform, especially those who expect to be taken high in the first round. A quarterback may do interviews and get measured, but many, historically, don’t throw. A running back or receiver may do all the field drills, but if he’s not at his fastest, he might not run the 40 at the Combine, instead waiting for his personal Pro Day at his school, where the stop watches might be a little more favorable.
Corey Davis of Western Michigan, one of the top receiver prospects in this draft class, won’t run this week, but the Steelers aren’t going to get him anyway.
They might, however, need to draft a quarterbacks in the early rounds, as Ben Roethlisberger’s post-season waffling and the lack of a viable back-up should have the team looking QB earlier than they had expected this season. This year is a little like last season for the quarterbacks, as Mitch Trubisky of UNC, Deshaun Watson of Clemson and other top quarterbacks have said they will throw, all in hopes of being the first quarterback taken in April, perhaps first overall.
There are six players from Pittsburgh at the 2017 Scouting Combine.
Offensive lineman Adam Bisnowaty will participate in Group 1 and will wear number OL04 for those interested in tracking his progress during the on-field drills. Bisnowaty’s offensive line group will be on the field Friday, along with the special teamers.
Running back James Conner, the ACC Player of the Year, will be in Group 3, working out Friday. Conner isn’t expected to go early in the NFL Draft, but he’s the type of player who could have his stock rise in both the interview and on-field drills this weekend. His 40 time will be one to watch leading into April. He will be wearing RB04.
Dorian Johnson will be working out in Group 2 with the offensive line. He will be wearing OL24 and will also be on the field Friday.
Tight End Scott Orndoff will be in Group 6, working out alongside the receivers and quarterbacks Saturday. He will be wearing TE13.
Pitt star Nathan Peterman will be one of those quarterbacks, as the signal caller hopes to stand out in a crowded but not spectacular QB field this season. He’ll be in Group 5 and will wear QB11.
Ejuan Price is the final Pitt player on the invite list. The defensive lineman will be in Group 8, wearing number DL38, working out Sunday.
There are only two Penn State players at the Combine this season. Wide Receiver Chris Godwin will be in Group 4 wearing WO18. He works out Saturday. Defensive End Garrett Sickels will be in Group 8, wearing DL 43. His group performs Sunday.
Small schools are often represented at the Combine and local(ish) players will be representing a few this weekend. Lorenzo Jerome, a strong safety from St. Francis University, will be working out in Indianapolis. He’s slated for Group 10, on the field Monday, and will wear DB24. Ethan Cooper from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, will be in Group 1, working out with the offensive linemen, wearing OL10.
The full rundown of players invited to the Combine, and their group and assigned numbers, is listed here.
Steelers fan’s watch list
- Friday on field drills: Offensive linemen, running backs, specialists
- Saturday: Quarterbacks and receivers, tight ends
- Sunday: Defensive linemen, linebackers
- Monday: Defensive backs
What do the Steelers need — other than to figure out a way to beat the Patriots in the playoffs? They need help in the secondary for sure, and no, that does not mean signing Darrelle Revis (Right? They can’t actually … right!?), but it may not mean taking another top pick in the secondary again this year.
That’s why the defensive back groups — Groups 10 and 11 — are crucial to watch. They go through interviews and testing Sunday and have their on-field workouts Monday. Get your live stream going, or maybe call in sick and pull a three-day weekend. Depth is going to be key to the Steelers’ defense for the next few years, and knowing something about those mid-to-late round secondary picks will be important come April.
The more pressing need for the Steelers’ defense may be the pass rush. 2016 was pretty simple on defense, as the Steelers started winning when the front seven started getting to the quarterback. Cam Heyward is spending his off-season rehabbing a torn pectoral and writing for The Players’ Tribune. Sure, they just re-signed James Harrison for two years, but the simple fact the Steelers felt they had to re-sign a 39-year old for two years illustrates the need to get younger, and frankly better, at outside linebacker and defensive end in their 3-4 scheme.
The linebackers and defensive ends work out Sunday. Expect to hear NFL Network’s Mike Mayock say the term “tweener” about 5,000 times. Those “tweeners” — guys maybe not big enough to play defensive end in the NFL but maybe not fast enough to be a traditional outside linebacker — could be the type of player the Steelers are looking for in the mid-to-late rounds.
The one position the Steelers don’t need is receiver — hello, Antonio — but the pass catchers work out with the quarterbacks, and the Steelers have to draft a quarterback, regardless of how serious they take Roethlisberger’s potential retirement comments. If they’re spooked he might actually walk away soon, the higher the likelihood they may take a chance on someone in the early rounds. There are a lot of good “depth-level” quarterbacks in this draft, but finding one who can become a star will be the challenge. They’re on the field Saturday.
The NFL Combine on-field drills are a full four days of drills that, in the grand scheme of things, may not make that much difference come April’s NFL Draft. But people love it. And yet, the league knows it’s hard to showcase everyone, so it caters to the draftniks by putting all the measurables, and even some video highlights, up on their Combine tracker page. Because who doesn’t love watching a 340-pound lineman in spandex run the 40 on tape delay?