- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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A star (Utah DT Star Lotulelei) may be one of the top prospects in the 2013 draft, but NFL scouts, coaches and general managers aren't expecting a star-studded group when they converge on Indianapolis this week.
This year's scouting combine lacks offensive sizzle. The quarterbacks don't have top ratings. The receiving talent may not produce many first-round selections, and the same is true of the running backs.
But drafts are the best way to build rosters in these tight salary-cap days, and this year's draft is deep in offensive linemen and good for defensive talent. The 333 players who are invited to the combine have a chance to put on a show.
More and more players are working out for teams, and this year's combine might be the most important. There is no solid top pick in this draft, and many believe it may not be great at the top. But workouts and interviews could cause more players to rise and fall than in normal combines.
Players start arriving Wednesday to prepare for workouts that begin Saturday and end Tuesday.
Here are the top five things to watch for at the combine:
1. Quarterbacks will try to put on a show: Normally, agents instruct the top quarterbacks at a combine to wait until their pro days to throw. Agents prefer that their top quarterbacks have more control over their auditions. Throwing at his own school to his college receivers gives the quarterback the best opportunity to shine. But the quarterback class of 2013 doesn't have that luxury. These quarterbacks keep hearing that their ratings may not merit first-round selection. This group is smart, though. Most of the 16 quarterbacks are thinking about doing all the drills. Geno Smith of West Virginia and Ryan Nassib of Syracuse have said they will throw Sunday. They need to do that. Matt Barkley of Southern California, who won't throw, couldn't play in the Senior Bowl because of a shoulder injury, but the quarterbacks did so poorly at the Senior Bowl that Mel Kiper thought Barkley's stock improved the most. Yes, the others played that poorly. Smith didn't help himself by not attending the Senior Bowl, but he has a chance to shoot up the draft boards if he can wow teams. Mike Glennon of North Carolina State and Tyler Wilson of Arkansas need to be more consistent to persuade teams to take them in the first round. Last year, most of the top quarterbacks didn't work out at the combine, giving Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins the chance to do well. Wilson made the Pro Bowl and was a star. Cousins proved to be a good backup for the Washington Redskins. It has been interesting to see how teams are handling the quarterback position this offseason. In the past week, the Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills -- two teams expected to make changes at quarterback -- opted to bring back their signal-callers. That doesn't take the Bills and Eagles out of the market of drafting quarterbacks, but it tells you Doug Marrone and Chip Kelly aren't planning to take a rookie quarterback and put him at the front of the rotation.
2. The combine will look like an SEC convention: The SEC has been the dominant conference in college football for years, and the SEC will dominate this combine. Of the 333 players invited to the combine, 73 are from the SEC. LSU will have 13 players in Indianapolis, which isn't a surprise because 11 Tigers underclassmen declared for the draft in January. Alabama has 10 invitations. Georgia has 11. Florida has 10. South Carolina has seven. Texas A&M has six. Some draft experts believe as many as 16 first-rounders could come out of the SEC, and seven SEC players could go in the top 10. The SEC does a great job of assembling talented offensive lines and great athletic defensive players. Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M, an offensive tackle, is a candidate to be the first pick of the draft. Georgia could get linebacker Jarvis Jones in the top 10; linebacker Alec Ogletree and defensive tackle John Jenkins could go in the first round. Cornerback Dee Milliner from Alabama could be the first defensive back taken. LSU has first-round prospects in defensive end Barkevious Mingo, defensive end Sam Montgomery and linebacker Kevin Minter. They might as well put an SEC banner outside Lucas Oil Stadium.
3. How deep is the offensive line pool? Some teams believe the depth of solid offensive linemen could go into the third, fourth and fifth rounds. Although that might not be exciting for NFL fans who follow skill players for their fantasy teams, coaches and general managers love drafts like these, particularly in an era of flat salary caps. Seven starting left tackles are unrestricted free agents. Re-signing them is expensive, sometimes costing more than $10 million a year. This draft is loaded with tackles and could give teams the chance to draft a starter and let an expensive veteran sign with another team. Joeckel, Eric Fisher of Central Michigan and Lane Johnson of Oklahoma are top-10 tackle prospects. Chance Warmack of Alabama is one of the highest-ranked guards to enter the league in years. Teams also are looking for potential starting guards and centers in Rounds 2 through 5. The combine opens with 25 offensive linemen graded to go in the top five rounds, including 14 tackles.
4. The Manti Te'o news conference: Last year, Robert Griffin III held the most impressive combine news conference I've witnessed in 23 years of covering the combine. He was engaging, personable and smart. Griffin showed great poise in answering questions and handled football questions intelligently. Te'o will be holding one of the most important news conferences in combine history. During Notre Dame's undefeated regular season, Te'o often discussed the death of his girlfriend. But it turns out she never existed. Te'o now describes it as an online-only relationship and says he was the victim of a hoax. He will have to answer the national media's questions about what happened and address it with every team in interviews. Most people believe his draft stock won't drop because of the incident, but that could change if he doesn't handle the combine well.
5. Setting the negotiating stage for free agency: Most combines occur within days of the start of free agency. This year is different. Free agency doesn't begin until March 12. Because of that gap, most agents don't think a lot of re-signings will happen during this year's combine. That won't stop teams from trying to get deals done. General managers and negotiators will be busy. Teams can start designating franchise players this week. Negotiations will be conducted to get teams under the cap. Players will be released. Trades can't be formalized until March 12, but deals can be discussed to set up potential trades.
21hMel Kiper Jr.
2dEric D. Williams