Evan Silva

NFL Draft Preview

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Scouting Combine Preview

Friday, February 15, 2008

On Wednesday, February 20, the NFL will convene for its annual Scouting Combine. The showcase, held at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, lasts six full days. Players participate by invitation only, and will be running around clad in skin-tight Under Armour as coaches, personnel departments, and medical people look on and evaluate.

There's a feeling in the NFL scouting community that the Combine, while still useful for certain things, usurps the work area scouts have done for the past four to five years. Coaches and GMs don't dive into the draft process until after their teams' seasons have concluded. They immediately turn their attention to the college bowl games, Senior Bowl, and the Combine. Since coaches and GMs have the real pull in their organizations, scouts' work can be put on the back burner when those with "more say" fall in love with certain players.

Nevertheless, it's an entertaining affair and certainly has an impact on where players will be drafted. Let's explore a few topics of note and what to look for.

McFadden Backing Down?

Arkansas RB Darren McFadden is wavering on whether to run the 40-yard dash. McFadden dropping out would be comparable to post-Buster Douglas Mike Tyson, when intimidation was his best asset, refusing to show up to the pre-fight weigh in. McFadden's most defining attribute, which was to separate him from the strong field of underclassmen backs and make him a top-three lock, is his 4.4 long speed.

The gamebreaker lit up the SEC for three straight seasons, showing next to no weakness while playing against quite possibly the most NFL-like competition college football offers. He held off Felix Jones, who would've topped the depth chart for 100+ other Division I schools, to be a clear-cut starter in all three seasons. However, McFadden's stock, at least in the media's eye, has taken a recent tumble, and his decision to withdraw from the forty wouldn't help. You can bet that NFL teams would frown upon this approach.

Four With Much At Stake

1. Texas WR Limas Sweed

Sweed missed seven games in 2007 after undergoing wrist surgery. He was forced to drop out of the Senior Bowl after aggravating the injury. The early word is that Sweed may not be able to take part in the Combine's receiving drills, but he should have no problems running the forty. As with all big wideouts (Sweed is 6'4/212), speed is a question mark. If he doesn't run, it won't look good.

2. West Virginia RB Steve Slaton

Slaton was a human highlight reel early in his college career, but finished up with an injury plagued junior year before declaring for the NFL. He seemed to lack the burst in 2007 that he showed as a freshman. In a draft rich with scatbacks, the 5'10/190-pounder may need to do something special just to be taken on the first day.

3. Oklahoma State WR Adarius Bowman

Bowman couldn't catch a cold at the Senior Bowl, but no one can question his physical skills. The 6'3/220-pound Andre Johnson lookalike must atone for the drops with a confident Combine week. Bowman is a certain first-day draft pick and future NFL starter when things are going well.

4. Virginia DE Chris Long

Long could probably turn in an average week and still be a top five selection. His game is so nasty and relentless, his ability to be an every-down end so valuable, and lineage as Howie's son so reassuring that each team (if any) that passes on Long will likely second guess the decision at some point. Long played end in UVA's 3-4 under Al Groh, a Bill Parcells disciple. However, at 6'4/278 he's a bit undersized for an NFL 30 front. If Long can show the speed, explosiveness, and hip fluidity to be a drop or rush linebacker in the Mike Vrabel or Terrell Suggs mold, he'll be hard for Parcells to pass up. A strong week would make Long the clear favorite to go No. 1.

I Feel the Need

The 40-yard dash is the most publicized portion of the Combine. Here are five players with something to gain from exceptional timing.

1. Illinois RB Rashard Mendenhall

With McFadden potentially dropping out, this is Mendenhall's chance to solidify himself among the top two draft-eligible running backs, and possibly lay claim to the premier spot. One reputable analyst is already calling Mendenhall No. 1. The only concerns with his game are his pass protection and long speed, although Mendenhall proved against USC in the Rose Bowl that he can run away from elite defenders. With only one season of film on this mack truck-built back, NFL brass will be intently examining everything Mendenhall does. A time in the low 4.5s could lock him into the top 16 picks. A dash in the 4.4s could make Mendenhall top-ten material.

2. Kansas State WR Jordy Nelson

6'3/215, white, and muscle bound, Nelson resembles former Broncos stud Ed McCaffrey. The proven senior has a chance to be a top-50 pick if he can show 4.4 speed. Even if Nelson runs in the 4.5s, he'll always have this absolute torching of possible first-round Kansas corner Aqib Talib to hang his hat on.

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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
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