This week's NFL Scouting Combine is a week of medical checks, athleticism drills and interviews upon interviews. It's an information overload and a large piece of the process leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft in April.
Take a player like Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa, for instance. He's regarded by many as the top player in this year's draft. At Lucas Oil Stadium, he's going to get picked apart. Teams will probe him about missing the 2015 season opener after being suspended for a team violation. A sprained foot before last season that made him miss two weeks of workouts will be under evaluation. Was it just a sprain or did anything else happen in his foot? Teams will push around on it and X-Ray his foot looking for a definitive answer. And how about the timing drills? Will Bosa fit the athletic profile teams want in a defensive end? If not, will it hurt his draft stock?
If the draft's best player is going through that much scrutiny, imagine what will happen with the other 321 players attending. Bosa's story is one of many to follow at the combine this week. Here are a few more to note:
Important medical checkups
The combine was started so teams can get medical information on prospects, and it remains the key part of the week. The most important medicals teams are searching for this year are from linebackers Myles Jack of UCLA and Jaylon Smith of Notre Dame. Jack was lost for the season in September after tearing his meniscus. The only drill Jack will participate in is the bench press, but his medical situation could ultimately determine his draft stock. If teams are scared he could re-injure the knee, he could slide. The same can be said for Smith, who tore his ACL and UCL in Notre Dame's bowl game. Smith's medical check could be the difference in being a first-round pick and second-round pick.
A couple of running backs – Devontae Booker of Utah and Jonathan Williams of Arkansas – have to prove their injuries aren’t long-term issues, as well. Booker tore his meniscus in mid-November and Williams missed all of 2015 with a foot injury. Both can be difference-making backs if they’re healthy.
Southern California center Max Tuerk was considered the best player at his position early in the season, but was lost for the year in October with a torn knee ligament. Defensive backs Kendall Fuller and Karl Joseph will have to show they’re healthy, as well. Both are near the top of their position rankings if so.
Jared Goff measurement
For many, the Cal junior is regarded as the draft's top quarterback prospect. He's a smooth pocket mover with good accuracy, the brains of an NFL veteran and a good-enough level of athleticism. But he has a slight frame, which leaves some to question if he'll get knocked around in the NFL.
Goff added about 30 pounds in his three seasons at Cal, but NFL teams may want him bigger than the 215 pounds he was as a junior. Expect some type of uproar if Goff comes in shorter than the 6'4 he was listed or if his hand size is smaller than ideal.
The re-emergence of Paxton Lynch?
For some reason the race to be the first quarterback selected has turned into a two-man competition between Goff and Carson Wentz of North Dakota State. Somehow Lynch got lost in the shuffle. With Wentz, there may be a recency bias because he played in the Senior Bowl. But he and Lynch carry similar grades and have a similar skill set. If Lynch impresses in interviews, he could again be considered in the first tier of quarterback prospects.
Questioning Connor Cook
Much has been made about Cook not being named a captain despite being the starting quarterback for the Spartans. Does he have an attitude issue? Is he a team player? How can a senior starting quarterback of one of the nation's better programs not be a captain at any point in his career? (But at least he was an Eagle!)
Teams are going to press Cook this week to figure out where he is mentally. Cook recently said he skipped the Senior Bowl because he was rehabbing a shoulder injury. Will teams buy it? We're going to learn a lot about Cook this week, and exactly how the NFL views him.
More interviews of importance
One of the keys for prospects at the combine is interviewing with teams in an official capacity. That's key for players with character issues. Robert Nkemdiche is far from the only one. Wide receiver Duke Williams will have to explain why he was dismissed from Auburn's football team in October. He's a really talented receiver, but character red flags have torpedoed him. Eastern Kentucky pass rusher Noah Spence will get grilled about the ecstasy use that got him kicked out of Ohio State. Former LSU cornerback Rashard Robinson is a first-round talent, but didn't play last season after getting kicked off the team. Is he reliable enough to be worth a pick?
Look for Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones to get interviewed by just about every team needing a quarterback this year. Jones has minimal on-field experience, but an unbelievable level of talent. How Jones displays his football acumen will go a long way in determining where he gets picked.
The NFL knows the true sizes of the senior prospects in this year's draft, but don't know the size of Goff and other underclassmen. This is especially important for cornerbacks like Mackensie Alexander, Eli Apple and Vernon Hargreaves. It's possible that Apple could leapfrog Alexander and Hargreaves solely for being taller and having longer arms.
Will the defensive tackles differentiate themselves?
Defensive tackle is unquestionably the strongest position in the 2016 NFL Draft. There may not be a defensive tackle picked in the top 10, but several will get drafted in the first 64 picks. The catch is how they're slotted in the draft is completely up in the air. Nkemdiche of Ole Miss is perhaps the most talented of the lot, but he'll have to answer question about – no kidding – falling out of a window. Jarran Reed and A'Shawn Robinson of Alabama can be stars, but were they a product of Alabama's system? Sheldon Rankins of Louisville, Sheldon Day of Notre Dame and Jonathan Bullard of Florida are all smaller and quick defensive tackles, but they may not fit every system. Kenny Clark of UCLA, Austin Johnson of Penn State and Adolphus Washington of Ohio State are in the mix as well.
The big riser of the group could be Vernon Butler of Louisiana Tech. He's a fringe first-round pick who has spent much of his offseason improving his explosiveness. Doing that will show in agility drills, which could ultimately give him the slight edge over his peers at the position.
Will a running back break through?
Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott is the unquestioned top running back in the 2016 draft. The perception is that Alabama's Derrick Henry is next up. After them, it's all bunched up with players like Kenneth Dixon of Louisiana Tech, Alex Collins of Arkansas, Paul Perkins of UCLA along with Booker and Williams. Testing could be important for those players. Perkins could be the wild card.