With rookie quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson leading their respective NFL teams to the playoffs last season and fellow first-year standout Luke Kuechly leading the league in tackles, it is more obvious than ever the immediate impact that rookies can make in today's NFL.
The first (and best) opportunity that NFL teams, media and the public will have to see the best of the 2013 draft class kicks off in less than two weeks with the annual Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
Inside the walls of Lucas Oil Stadium, the 333 college prospects ranked highest by league scouts will be poked, prodded, tested and questioned, helping teams set their draft boards in preparation for the April draft.
Going position by position until the Combine formally begins Feb. 21, NFLDraftScout.com explores the top storylines.
|By answering tough questions on and off the field, Tyler Bray could gain the most among QBs. (USA Today Sports Images)|
For the quarterback position, the Scouting Combine is less about 40-yard-dash times and more about their arm talent, along with the one-on-one interviews and in-depth medical evaluations. Most of the quarterbacks in attendance will run the 40 and participate in other agility drills, possibly even the bench press. But where the quarterbacks have the opportunity to improve their draft stock is with the on-field throwing drills.
With most evaluations near complete, the Combine, like the Senior Bowl and other all-star events, isn't the be-all, end-all to a quarterback's draft stock. However, it is important. And with all the quarterbacks expected to compete, Lucas Oil will be a great setting to see each quarterback on the same field.
Most to gain in Indianapolis
Logic says the players who put forth the most impressive workout results have the most to gain at the Combine each year. That isn't necessarily the case. In most cases, the elite athletes are already well known by scouts. The players who actually boost their grades during the athletic drills at the Combine are those who show better-than-expected athleticism or help their cause through interviews.
Teams have already spent countless hours evaluating and scouting this group of quarterbacks, but there is always something to gain with a positive performance in Indianapolis. And Tennessee's Tyler Bray, the only junior at the position invited to this year's Combine, might have the most to gain.
Blessed with top-shelf height and arm strength, Bray's collegiate career was marred by mistakes and inconsistency. And while he is a frustrating passer at times, he was also productive with 34 passing scores and 3,612 yards through the air in 2012, impressing scouts with his NFL arm to deliver to every level of the field. Bray has some maturity concerns, but the upside is intriguing. With a positive showing next week at Lucas Oil Stadium, Bray's draft arrow could be pointing north.
Despite an average performance during Senior Bowl week, Syracuse's Ryan Nassib is still a top-three quarterback in this class for many around the league. An undervalued athlete, he should impress in the agility and strength drills. With a strong showing as a passer, he might be able to push his draft stock even higher.
Players have the option of passing on workouts at the Combine, but every one of the 333 players invited will be subjected to a battery of medical evaluations that range from blood tests to x-rays to psychological testing. Some players have bumps and bruises that plagued them throughout the season while others are more serious.
Widely believed to be No. 1 overall pick last summer, USC's Matt Barkley struggled to take his game to the next level in 2012 and had a disappointing senior season. But it went from bad to worse during the loss to UCLA, when Barkley injured his throwing shoulder and was sidelined for the remainder of the season, keeping him out of the Senior Bowl. He is expected to be at full health for the Combine and participate in drills, but the status of his shoulder will be crucial.
A substantial reason for Duke's success this past season was Sean Renfree, its three-year starting quarterback. He is a smart, poised passer with next-level skills, but he suffered a serious injury late in the bowl game. Renfree underwent successful surgery to repair his torn right pectoralis muscle and is expected to make a full recovery, but the progress of his road back will be vital to his draft standing.
Tale of the tape
With scouts having seen most of the top prospects "on the hoof" over the fall and getting a second look at them on the "catwalk" before senior all-star games, the official measuring of heights, weight, hand and arms conducted during the Combine is only occasionally newsworthy ... except when it comes to underclassmen, whom scouts often haven't seen up close yet.
With only one junior quarterback invited to this year's Combine, scouts will have a fairly accurate idea of the measureables for most of the quarterbacks in attendance. The one underclassman at the position? Tyler Bray.
Although he has imposing height (6-foot-6), Bray has a string-bean body frame with very lean limbs and questionable growth potential. On Tennessee's roster, he's listed at 215 pounds and it will be important for him to match or exceed that number when he tips the scale.
Just like any interview you might have gone through, the players invited to the Combine are there to try to get a job. They have to impress their potential employers with intelligence and dedication.
Each NFL team is allowed 60 formal player interviews. Each interview can last up to 15 minutes. The topics of conversation can fluctuate wildly from team to team and from player to player.
While it is still unknown if the Chiefs are considering West Virginia's Geno Smith for the No. 1 overall pick, he is widely believed to be the top quarterback on most teams' boards. But his interviews will be important for him to keep that distinction, answering for West Virginia's 2012 collapse (losing six of the final eight games) and why he decided not to compete in the Senior Bowl.
Although his name has been mentioned a few times prior in this write-up, Bray's interview process will be incredibly important to his NFL Draft grade. Teams know he has the arm strength to compete at a high level, but does he have the smarts? Bray will need to answer for numerous off-field incidents as well and prove he has the maturity and substance to start for and lead a NFL team.
While the medicals, weigh-ins and interviews all play more critical roles in a player's overall grade than his performance during athletic testing at the Combine, there is no doubt that the extraordinary athleticism demonstrated during drills can leave scouts (and the media) buzzing. This hype has helped push players up draft boards, and it will continue to do so in 2013.
While most of Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel's issues are mental and in regards to his decision-making, he is an outstanding athlete for his size (6-foot-4, 237) with quick feet to evade pressure and the long-striding speed to out-run defenders downfield. He should perform well in the 40 and other drills.
Although Arizona's Matt Scott likely won't hear his name called until the third day, he is one of the more intriguing developmental quarterback prospects in this draft. Originally thought to be miscast in Rich Rodriguez's read-option offense, Scott impressed not only with his arm but with his legs, rushing for 506 yards in 2012. He is one of the more athletic quarterbacks this class has to offer.