Watching the defensive backs run their 40-yard dashes and do their drills continues to convince me that no change is needed at the Indianapolis combine.
All but six of the 60 defensive backs ran the 40. For scouts, general managers and coaches, it doesn't get any better than that. Dee Milliner of Alabama prioritized his performance at the combine and considered it so important that he ran his 40 with a torn labrum that is going to require surgery.
As smart as he is fast, Milliner ran a 4.37 40 and can now have his shoulder surgery March 12 with the confident feeling he locked up being the top cornerback in the draft and a possible top-five pick.
Some NFL people would like to push back the calendar and move the combine into March and start free agency in April, but that won't happen. In reference to the combine, the timing in late February is just right.
Players have enough time to train for the combine. Delaying that would be too costly to the agents who have to assist in covering training expenses. Pushing back the combine would also interfere with pro days. Why should a delayed combine for 333 players prevent coaches, general managers and scouts from going to the pro days to see more players who might be drafted?
Prospects embrace the current combine and have helped to make it a major success. Don't change that.
Here is what we learned from the 2013 combine:
1. As expected, Manti Te'o was the biggest story of the combine. As it turned out, the Notre Dame linebacker passed his interview test but failed on the field, possibly costing himself a chance to go in the first round. Saturday's 14-minute, 35-second news conference may not have answered all of the questions by the reporters, but it was solid enough not to drop his draft stock. What hurt him more was his 4.82 40 time. Going into the combine, I feared he would be coached more for the interviews than trained for the workout. It's hard for a team to justify using a first-round pick on a linebacker who runs slower than 4.7. Teams can't be sure if he can handle the speed of receivers and tight ends in pass coverage. Two-down players usually don't go in the first round. No one doubts that Te'o will have a nice career. He may not be Ray Lewis, but he could be James Laurinaitis, a second-round choice of the St. Louis Rams who has had a solid career. This creates an interesting question: Will Te'o go to the draft in New York knowing there is a possibility he might not be taken on the first day?
2. The second-biggest story was Star Lotulelei. The Utah defensive tackle came to the combine as a star. Mel Kiper had him in the top five. He was considered the best defensive tackle in the draft. But an echocardiogram determined that his left ventricle was pumping only at 44 percent, so doctors wouldn't let him work out. He is trying to find out if this is a serious heart problem or just the byproduct of losing about 10 pounds in three days. Still, his uncertainty caused a panic toward the top of the draft. The hope is that he can get a clean bill of health and then work out for teams at Utah next month. The good news is that doctors found a problem that he wouldn't have known about had he not been tested at the combine. College football teams don't provide echocardiograms because of the cost. NFL teams spare no expense to check out prospects.
3. The draft class of quarterbacks has enhanced the value of veterans. The winner of Sunday's throwing session of draftable quarterbacks was the San Francisco 49ers, who saw Alex Smith's trade value increase. No one dazzled. While Geno Smith of West Virginia might have done the best among the QBs, teams left Lucas Oil Stadium with more questions than answers. Geno Smith, Mike Glennon and maybe Matt Barkley or Tyler Wilson could go in the first round, but the safer bet might be trading a draft choice for Alex Smith or for Seattle Seahawks backup Matt Flynn. The Kansas City Chiefs are expected to be the first team to make the move and very well might be the team to trade for Smith. The Arizona Cardinals may not be as lucky if San Francisco and Seattle don't want to trade within the NFC West. The Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets and Cleveland Browns still haven't shown whether they are in or out on bidding for veteran quarterbacks. As much as the 49ers say they won't cut Smith, it's still hard to think they would guarantee his $7.5 million salary when they are up against the cap. Expect a Smith trade reasonably soon.
4. The winner of the 2013 running back class might be Reggie Bush and other veterans. There seems to be a growing chance a running back won't go in the first round. Eddie Lacy of Alabama may have a chance because he was injured and couldn't run. At the combine, this group of backs proved to be average as far as speed. Montee Ball of Wisconsin was clocked at 4.66 in the 40. Giovani Bernard of North Carolina did a 4.53. Joseph Randle of Oklahoma State ran a 4.63. I count about 10 teams in the market for running backs. Steven Jackson, now that he's voiding his contract, could go to the Atlanta Falcons. The Detroit Lions could be among the options for Bush.
5. Clearly, there is no true No. 1 pick. The combine confirmed the initial feeling. There are a lot of good players at the top of the draft but not a lot of great players. There are no Andrew Lucks or RG IIIs. Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel could end up being the first pick and go to the Chiefs, but he didn't wow scouts with his speed. He ran a lumbering 5.3 40. Some consider Alabama guard Chance Warmack the best player in the draft. Everyone knows he can dominate at the line of scrimmage. But his 5.41 40 didn't make him look like a great athlete. Still, he's considered one of the highest-rated guards to enter the league in the past few years. Up top, it still looks good for blockers. Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher and Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson looked great. As mentioned, Alabama's Milliner might have moved into the top five with his 40 time. Defensive ends Ziggy Ansah of Brigham Young, Barkevious Mingo of LSU and Dion Jordan of Oregon improved their stock. So did defensive tackles Sheldon Richardson of Missouri and Margus Hunt of SMU.