The on-field workouts at the 2014 NFL scouting combine begin Saturday, Feb. 22, but Wednesday marks the first day players will begin to arrive in Indianapolis as they embark upon a critical step in the pre-draft process.
We won’t be far behind them, as ESPNBoston.com is scheduled to touch down in Indy Wednesday evening.
With the event looming, here’s the rundown of what we’re hoping to learn this year.
1. Who measures up? Ultimately, the combine is known most for the physical testing and drills that will take place from the 22nd to the 25th. We’ll keep a close eye on standout performers, players who struggle, fast risers, fast fallers, and anything else in between. The combine is just a part of the process in evaluating draft prospects, but it can provide extremely important information. One area that the New England Patriots were able to reinforce about top choice Jamie Collins last year was his explosiveness. He set the record for best broad jump in combine history at 11 feet 7 inches.
2. Targeting tight ends. Things can change before the draft (free agency plays a big part in this), but our current feeling is tight end is the Patriots' biggest positional need. This year’s crop of tight ends is considered deep and talented, with North Carolina’s Eric Ebron leading the way, followed by Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro. Meeting and learning more about the prospects at the position is a top priority for us.
3. Offseason update. Teams are not required to, but nearly every NFL team provides either its head coach or general manager for a question-and-answer period in the media room during the combine. The Patriots announced that they won't be talking, but in case that changes, it’ll be interesting to hear what either Bill Belichick or Nick Caserio say about the team’s current state.
4. League-wide Patriots perception. Even if Belichick and Caserio don't speak, we’ll pick the brain of the available personnel for their take on areas that the Patriots can improve upon and other franchise-related thoughts.
5. Game of tag? Speaking of franchise, the combine falls in the middle of the current franchise-tag window, and we’ll continue to keep a close eye on any possible movement on that front, both for the Patriots and around the league.
6. Quarterback crop. Quarterback obviously isn’t a top need for the Patriots, though Ryan Mallett does enter the final year of his contract this season. But the position typically headlines the event, with several prominent prospects this year. We’ll look forward to hearing from some of the top players such as Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, and also to see which players opt to throw at the combine.
7. Other notable prospects. During last year’s combine, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o drew what some believed was the largest audience for a player interview in combine history. There are prospects this year who are expected to draw robust crowds, with Manziel and Missouri defensive end Michael Sam topping the list. Sam recently announced he is gay.
8. Players with local ties. We'll aim to track down some of the local area players, as there is a host of combine invitees from New England schools, as well as four players who hail from Massachusetts.
9. Expecting the unexpected. You never know what is going to happen at the combine, which is one reason it’s a particularly unique event. On our way to Lucas Oil Stadium during the first day of the event last year, team ESPNBoston.com crossed paths with former Patriots long-snapper Lonie Paxton, who was in town to promote a product line. We’re counting on more of the same unexpectedness this year.