Senior College Football Columnist

Top 10: Compelling NFL Combine story lines

After a week in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine, there were a lot of interesting story lines to follow. Here are the 10 that most caught my eye:

1. The intrigue around Manti Te'o grows. But now it's growing about the merits of the former Notre Dame star's skills on the field. Yes, there was a lot of talk about Te'o off the field as folks were trying to get in his head, but it was his underwhelming measurables that will drive talk in NFL Draft circles for the next few months. Te'o, who had been listed by Notre Dame at 255 pounds, measured much smaller than expected at 241, and he clocked a 4.82 officially in the 40, making him one of the slowest linebackers in Indy. I spoke to four NFL personnel people who all felt Te'o was overhyped as a player in college. They each said he wasn't as bad as the player you'd see on tape from the Alabama game but that he doesn't look like a guy who'll be making many trips to the Pro Bowl either. "Good player... solid... very instinctive... not truly elite ... he's a two-down player ... he's not a 'match-up' player," were the comments. "Based on all those awards he won in college and all the hype he got you'd think he had Patrick Willis talent; he doesn't."

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Another one of the NFL guys who interviewed Te'o in Indy said, "I found him to be rehearsed and disingenuous." Aren't all the prospects answers rehearsed though? So I asked the coach if lying to NFL people about Te'o's "girlfriend" is a real issue or does it only really matter how good of a player he is at this point?

"Don't know. I'm just not sure he's good enough to offset the crap. It's a road I hope we don't go down. I'd rather find a better athlete."

A couple of the NFL Network analysts made an interesting Te'o comparison, bringing up the name of former Ohio State standout James Laurinaitis, whose numbers in Indy were very similar to the Notre Dame linebacker's. Laurinaitis was three pounds heavier and ran the exact same 40. He's proven to be a very solid, productive player for the Rams. He's never been a Pro Bowler but has piled up tackles and emerged as one of the better players on a nonplayoff team.

2. Star Status. Utah's all-American DT Star Lotulelei has been touted as a potential No. 1 overall pick, but that was before the news that he has a heart condition that was detected in NFL medical exams. Many scouts watch his tape and see an ideal 3-Technique. Now, there will be questions and much attention about whether subsequent exams determine if it's a chronic condition. His agent told colleague Jason La Canfora that Lotulelei will compete in all the physical tests at his pro day in March. A DT who everyone seemed to be falling in love with was Florida's Sharrif Floyd.

3. Eric Fisher's story is one to keep in mind every Signing Day. The Central Michigan offensive tackle, who is projected to go in the Top 15 by many draft analysts, on why he wasn't recruited heavily out of high school, when he was a 6-7 kid who also excelled on the basketball court: "I was a 230-pound offensive tackle," he said, adding that "it's just amazing watching my dream becoming reality slowly. It's surreal."

I asked him the other day if any Big Ten schools even talked to him about walking on. "The only Big Ten schools I talked to was Michigan State and Purdue, and neither of them really wanted anything to do with me," Fisher said. "So hey, it doesn't matter where you start, it's where you end up. That's a big thing I take to heart."

Another project who blossomed: Terron Armstead, a 6-4, 306-pound OT who ran a 4.71 40 and had folks trying to search the Ark-Pine Bluff website. Armstead, also a stellar shot putter, had interest from Big 12 schools coming out of Cahokia High School in Illinois but told reporters that he didn't take his ACT until after Signing Day and is one of those guys who falls through the cracks of big-time college football every year.

4. Matt Scott is the QB "sleeper" many scouts like. The former Arizona quarterback, who really only had one season as a full-time starter in college, is intriguing many personnel people and was the name I heard multiple times when I asked who was a sleeper to keep an eye on. Scott's arm is strong. He can really zip throws into tight windows and that impressed people during the week at the East-West Shrine Game. Scott also ran in the 4.6s and was bigger and more physical than many figured he'd be. With the increased QB run game in the NFL, Scott is the mobile QB to watch this offseason in this suspect QB class.

5. We now know why UConn fielded some formidable defenses. It's not surprising to see Bama and FSU and LSU players getting attention, but UConn is hardly viewed as a football factory. But the Huskies ranked No. 10 in the nation in total defense, No. 7 in rushing defense and No. 19 in sacks last season despite a 5-7 record. No question former Huskies defensive coordinator Don Brown deserves plenty of credit, but his former players created a lot of buzz in Indy. Trevardo Williams was the fastest DL; Sio Moore, an OLB, was one of the most impressive defensive players and DB Dwayne Gratz clocked a 4.35 40 unofficially and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, another DB, also looked good.

6. Margus Hunt is a officially a Freak. The Estonian track star-turned SMU D-lineman, as expected, wowed scouts by clocking an eye-popping 4.60 40 at 6-8, 277 pounds and did 38 reps on the bench at 225. He also broad jumped 10-1 and had a vertical of 38 inches. Last spring when I did the annual Freaks list, Hunt's mentor, SMU track coach Dave Wollman, predicted Hunt would run a 4.60, which is exactly what the guy ran. The real question for Hunt is can he play with leverage to be more than a kick-blocking specialist in the NFL? (He blocked an NCAA record 10 field goals.) Hunt continued to develop at SMU and did have a career-high 11.5 TFLs and eight sacks as a senior. Stay tuned.

7. 0-12 teams still can have big-time talent. Jamie Collins, a DE/OLB at Southern Miss, was high on the radar of several NFL scouts and coaches I spoke to. And then Collins backed up his "freak" rep, broad jumping 11-7 -- almost a foot longer than any other LB. The 6-3, 250-pounder also had a 41.5-inch vertical. An NFL source I talked to said it's hard to find guys who are 6-2-plus and 240 who can really play, adding that "the size paradigm for NFL LBs is changing because it forces the personnel folks and coaches to project college DEs to be stand-up off the ball LBs." Collins, though, sure looked like he could be one of those guys.

8. Damontre Moore's stock is sliding: It figures to be if you were one of those draft observers who had the Texas A&M DE/OLB as a top-five pick. Moore made a lot of plays in 2012 and benefited from the Aggies' coaching change as much as anyone. He played the Joker spot before last season but really thrived in A&M's new scheme. He learned to become more of an effort guy. But his performance in Indy -- running a terrible 4.95 40 and only getting 11 reps on the bench -- will scare a lot of people projecting him as a linebacker with concerns he's too stiff to play well in space to justify a very high pick. Moore said his slow time was due to a tight hammy. It'd better loosen up by A&M's Pro Day on March 8.

9. (tie) Tavon Austin is the most dynamic player in the draft. Yes, the WVU WR is tiny, measuring at 5-8 1/2 and 174, but he ran a blazing 4.34 40 to back up his dazzling film. Of course, there are going to be questions about his durability. For all of the comparisons people have tried to make to Percy Harvin, Austin is 20 pounds smaller. "It's hard to say just how tough he is because he never gets hit," WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson told me last week. "I know he has no fear. His two greatest attributes are his field vision and his body control. You can't make all the moves like he does in the open field without the great field vision and body control."

9. (tie) Da'Rick Rogers passed a whole lot of tests. The former blue-chip WR, who had all sorts of issues at Tennessee before finally getting booted and ended up at Tennessee Tech, told me he was drug tested 10 times while at Tech and says he came up clean each time. At 6-2, 217 and clocking a 4.52 40 with a 39.5-inch vertical, Rogers has the measurables to turn heads, but he's had a litany of problems that included positive drug tests and clashes with coaches at UT. Asked why he bombed out in Knoxville, Rogers said, "Simple. I was immature. I had to take full responsibility, look in the mirror at who I was and what I was doing wrong. I did those things when I went to Tennessee Tech, and it humbled me a lot.

"I play with an edge, and I had to learn to control that edge off the field also. I had to learn how to fix my flaws, and life got easier."

Has he really learned, though? A source told me that Rogers's attitude bothered some of his coaches at Tech, too, and they were skeptical about just how much he really had matured.

10. The Clowney Watch is on in the NFL. I had plenty of media brethren asking about Jadeveon Clowney, the early favorite to be the top pick in the 2014 NFL draft. I asked Devin Taylor, Clowney's old teammate at South Carolina, his thoughts on whether there was anything to the speculation that the Gamecock star might actually sit out next season to avoid any injuries that could hinder his NFL future and what he'd say to Clowney as a teammate about that decision.

"I think he'll play this year," Taylor said. "I would tell him, 'This is a team sport. You could help us possibly win a national championship. Not playing would be a selfish act.'"

 
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