Thumbs have been tested, batteries charged. The clicks of a stopwatch will become benefits or boulders over the next several days in Indianapolis.
The NFL combine – a central testing ground of brains and brawn for NFL hopefuls – begins Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Players will run, shuffle, jump, throw, snap and kick for four days. They also will be asked various questions about their past, as teams try to dissect them.
It’s the start of the league’s assessment and projection season that runs from Thursday until the NFL draft from May 8-10. At the combine, local and national topics will fill the discussions.
Two Washington Huskies who left early for the draft will be there. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins finished his junior year with Washington as the holder of almost every tight end receiving record at the school. He comes to the combine as a bit of a curiosity to the NFL.
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Seferian-Jenkins’ speed is the top thing questioned by scouts. A swift 40-yard dash time could
elevate the Gig Harbor High graduate’s draft position. Several draft experts expect Seferian-Jenkins to be drafted toward the end of the first round, often listing him as the top or second-best tight end available in the draft. He’ll also have to rehash the cause and result of his DUI arrest last spring. His size and catching ability are not in dispute.
Huskies running back Bishop Sankey left along with his tight end teammate. To think Sankey was not slated to be the starter in 2012 prior to Jesse Callier’s injury and is now entering the draft early is surprising. He has the attention of at least one draft assessor.
“I really like the tailback from Washington, Sankey,” the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said on a conference call. “He’s a great combination of make-you-miss and north-south runner. ... I really like his upside.”
Like Seferian-Jenkins, Sankey’s straight-line speed will be a key. Scouts also want to see Sankey’s catching ability out of the backfield. He was seldom used as a receiver during his time with the Huskies. Sankey averaged 30.5 catches and 9.2 yards per catch during his two full seasons with Washington.
Tacoma’s Scott Crichton left Oregon State after putting down quarterbacks 16.5 times the past two seasons from his defensive end spot. Beavers coach Mike Riley told The Oregonian that the 6-foot-3, 265-pound Foss High grad would fit in a 4-3 defensive scheme.
The roster of the world champion Seattle Seahawks proves just how hard it is to properly project players’ ability, and that starts with the combine.
Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin was a combine star. He stunned in 2012 with a 4.41 second 40-yard dash, a compelling speed for a 245-pound man. It helped make him the surprise pick of the first round that season when the Seahawks selected him No. 15 overall. Irvin is still trying to find his niche on the Seahawks’ defense after being moved to linebacker this season and seeing his playing time dwindle as the season went on.
The year before, Richard Sherman finished 25th in the 40-yard dash among cornerbacks. Only eight others at the position were slower. As everyone knows now, Sherman wasn’t selected until the fifth round by the Seahawks when it’s clear he should have been a higher pick.
Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith wasn’t even invited to the combine when he came out of USC the same season. He was picked in the seventh round by Seattle, in large part because he previously knew and played for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
The list goes on with Kam Chancellor (fifth round), Russell Wilson (third round), K.J. Wright (fourth round), Byron Maxwell (sixth round), plus others.
“Learning, dedication, passion, those are things that can’t be measured,” Smith said.
Saturday will be Michael Sam Day. The defensive end from Missouri will be the most scrutinized player at the combine after announcing he is gay. Sam could become the first openly gay player in the NFL.
Sam’s announcement not only prompted a social discussion, but also one about how his coming out would affect his draft spot. Most projected the SEC co-defensive player of the year as a third- to fifth-round pick before his announcement. Sam’s speed and size are in question, as is his locker room fit in the at-times Neanderthal-inspired culture of the NFL.
Like many, he’ll get a major test at the combine which will influence his draft spot.