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Sunday, February 24, 2013
Quick-hit wrap-up from Indy

By Field Yates

INDIANAPOLIS -- From a media perspective, the 2013 NFL Combine player availability is in the books, and the ESPN Boston team will head back to headquarters tomorrow morning and turn the page toward free agency and more draft preparations.

But first, here are a few thoughts on what we learned while we were here in Indianapolis.

Depth over star power. The Patriots don't pick until 29th in the first round, and they probably don't envy those teams near the top of the draft board. There's a lack of elite players in consideration for top picks. This stands in stark contrast to 2012, when the Redskins offered up a sizable package of assets for the right to draft Robert Griffin III at No. 2 overall. Will there be star players to come from this draft class? Yes, but they're more difficult to identify at this juncture.

It comes down to the film. The role of analytics in football evaluation is growing, with sites such as Pro Football Focus providing an alternative view on scouting. While general managers and head coaches spoke openly about the use of analytics and acknowledged they can assist in evaluation, Giants GM Jerry Reese summarized the feelings of many coaches and scouts: "We always try to get an edge, but for the New York Giants, just old-fashioned scouting is what we hang our hat on. We try to put the numbers in and see what the numbers say, but we put our eyes on players and see what our eyes say. I think we depend on that more than anything else," Reese said.

Speed still a draw. With the defensive backs yet to run their 40s, it's too soon to crown the "fastest man at the combine," although it's clear that this draft class has players with unique speed. Texas wide receiver Marquise Goodwin is the leader in the clubhouse with a time of 4.27, and Tavon Austin of West Virginia turned heads with his 4.34, as did Auburn running back Onterio McCalebb with a 4.34. But it wasn't just skill position players who ran well, as Arkansas Pine-Bluff offensive tackle Terron Armstead ran the fastest 40 from an offensive lineman in the history of the event at 4.71. Is speed a critical factor in offensive-line evaluation? No, but there's been no shortage of impressive athleticism on display here in Indy.

Former Patriots around. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio opted not to address the media this week, but it wasn't hard to find people associated with the Patriots. Numerous former players, be it in media, coaching or other roles, have been spotted in Indianapolis, as well as former VP of player personnel Scott Pioli, who has transitioned smoothly to the media while doing work with both Sirius XM radio and NFL Network.

Needs can change between now and April. If the draft were held today, we'd have a feel for what the Patriots' top needs would be, with cornerback and wide receiver as positions that come to mind. But it's important to remember that even teams' coaches don't know what their primary needs will be in two months when the draft kicks off, as free agency will fill holes and potentially create more holes due to cap casualties. That sentiment was frequently stressed in conversations with NFL contacts, who urged that it's difficult to make projections at this juncture.

Gronkowskis could have company soon. Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant said during a press conference that he wasn't sure when the last time was that three brothers played in the NFL at the same time. That'll be the case when he is drafted, as he'd join brothers Isaiah (Jets) and Marcus (Seahawks) among the NFL ranks. But there's another trio of brothers in the NFL right now: the Gronkowskis (Rob, Dan and Chris). Desmond also said he's the most vocal of the Trufant brothers. He seems to share that with Rob Gronkowski, the youngest of that family trio.