Breaking Down The 2009 NFL Combine


This weekend, the NFL will descend upon Indianapolis for that annual ritual known as the Combine, where many of last year’s best college players will be poked, prodded, and psychoanalyzed. Although it may appear to be a circus-like atmosphere, in reality, it’s a well-organized platform for more than 300 top prospects to improve their draft status. The overwhelming majority of invitees will be drafted in April, but how high depends on everything from their speed and strength to their personality and body type. One-tenth of a second could be the difference between the first day and the second day, and a whole lot of money.

Exactly who comprises this next generation of pro players? Of course, it changes every year, but that doesn’t mean that trends are not developed. Geographic, institutional, and developmental trends that paint a mosaic of not just the athletes, but the schools that were their homes for as long as five years.

The Positional Breakdown
Generally speaking, the number of players from each position doesn’t change that dramatically from year to year. Remember that this is an invitation-only event, and NFL teams will only invite those players that they believe have the best shot of making an NFL roster. If you’ve got a friend on the Minnesota Vikings staff, for instance, it’s not going to help you get to Indy. So, if there are 10 worthy quarterbacks or tight ends in a given year, that’s exactly how many will get through security at the RCA Dome.

Trends from 2008? There aren’t too many. The crop of running backs is way down compared to last February, when 32 were in attendance. Ditto wide receivers. The competition will be especially intense on the interior of the offensive line. Last year, there were just 15 centers and guards competing for the affections of NFL scouts. This year, there will be 32. On defense, scouts are indicating that it’s an average collection of linebackers, inviting just 27, or seven less than last winter.

QB … 21
RB … 22
FB … 6
WR … 45
TE … 21
OT … 27
OG … 19
C … 13

DT … 23
DE … 31
LB … 27
CB … 36
FS … 16
SS … 8

P … 7
PK … 4
LS … 2

Bragging Rights (the states)
Okay, so you’re not shocked by the home states of this year’s 332 Combine invitees. As expected, Texas and California dominated, with the Lone Star State standing alone at the top by the narrowest margin. For all the talk about the talent that comes out of Florida, it was a distant third along with Ohio. Surprises? How about the strong showings of a handful of East Coast states, like New York, New Jersey, and Maryland, which will all have at least eight natives in Indianapolis?

The 14 states not represented at the Combine are Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Delaware, Idaho, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, and West Virginia. Oklahoma and Oregon? Really? The Sooner and Duck staffs deserve a ton of credit and frequent flyer miles for amassing so much NFL-caliber talent outside the state border.

Texas … 45
California … 44
Florida … 23
Ohio … 23
Georgia … 18
Louisiana … 16
Alabama … 14
Maryland … 11
Pennsylvania … 11
Virginia … 11
New Jersey … 10
North Carolina … 9
New York … 8
South Carolina … 8
Illinois … 6
Michigan … 6
Mississippi … 6
Missouri … 6
Tennessee … 6
Arkansas … 5
Kentucky … 5
Wisconsin … 5
Colorado … 4
Hawaii … 4
Washington … 4
Connecticut … 3
Minnesota … 3
Utah … 3
Arizona … 2
Indiana … 2
Iowa … 2
Massachusetts … 2
Nebraska … 2
District of Columbia … 1
Kansas … 1
Montana … 1
Nevada … 1

Bragging Rights (the conferences)
Yes, this is going to be another infomercial for the SEC. In yet another example of their dominance in the FBS, the league will have 10 more alums in Indy than its nearest competition, the Big Ten. Predictably, the Big East came in last place among the BCS conference, though it should be noted that it also has the fewest members. The top non-BCS conference? Well, it isn’t the Mountain West, which was third behind the WAC and Conference USA.

The smallest school to be represented will be Division III Hartwick, which is sending QB Jason Boltus to the event.

SEC … 55
Big Ten … 45
Pac-10 … 43
ACC … 42
Big 12 … 41
Big East … 25
FCS … 19
WAC … 16
C-USA … 15
MWC … 12
MAC … 7
Division II … 7
Sun Belt … 2
Independents … 2
Division III … 1

Bragging Rights (the programs)
If you’re looking for tangible proof that USC has more talent than any school in the country, tune in to the NFL Network. A dozen Trojans will be on display, two more than any other program. LSU, Oklahoma, Georgia, Ohio State, and Penn State followed Troy, a testament to their outstanding recruiting year after year.

Clemson and Maryland led the ACC, yet Virginia Tech, with only Victor Harris and Orion Martin in Indianapolis, won the league championship. Miami has just a single representative, Bruce Johnson, further evidence of how far it’s fallen. Ditto UCLA with Kahlil Bell and Notre Dame with David Bruton, who might feel a little lonely at the hotel. In fact, Division II Abilene Christian is sending more players to the Combine than the ‘Canes, Bruins, or Irish.

The top non-BCS school isn’t Utah, BYU, TCU, or Boise State. Care to guess? How about San Jose State, which has four players, Jarron Gilbert, Christopher Owens, Coye Francies, and David Richmond, looking to impress the scouts.

Florida must need a fleet of air buses to transport the Gators to the RCA Dome, right? Think again. Just four members of the defending champs are participating. In other words, most of last year’s 13-1 squad is still in Gainesville. Uh-oh.

USC … 12
LSU …10
Oklahoma … 8
Georgia … 8
Ohio State … 8
Penn State … 8
Wisconsin … 7
Oregon … 7
Ole Miss … 6
South Carolina … 6
Tennessee … 6
Cal … 6
Clemson … 6
Maryland … 6
Missouri … 6
Nebraska … 6
Texas … 6
Cincinnati … 6

Bragging Rights (by position)

Most likely to produce a Combine quarterback? The Big 12 and the state of Texas
Most likely to produce a Combine running back? The Big Ten, the SEC, and the state of California
Most likely to produce a Combine wide receiver? The Big Ten, the Big 12, and the state of Texas
Most likely to produce a Combine tight end? The ACC and the state of Texas
Most likely to produce a Combine offensive lineman? The SEC and the state of California
Most likely to produce a Combine defensive lineman? The SEC and the state of Texas
Most likely to produce a Combine linebacker? The Pac-10 and the state of California
Most likely to produce a Combine defensive back? The SEC and the state of California

Wishing On a Star
Naturally, sizing up high school recruits is an inexact science, but you might be shocked to learn just how imprecise the process has become. And just how many of this year’s Combine invites were scrambling just to get a scholie a few years back. More than 10%, or 44 upstarts, were completely off the radar and often forced to take an alternate route, such as walking on or building a resume at a junior college. More than half of this year’s brightest NFL talent couldn’t get beyond two stars, which is usually considered a middling recruit that may or may not even crack the starting lineup at some point.

At least in terms of this year, the positions most likely to produce surprises are cornerback and the offensive line. The least likely is quarterback, running back, defensive tackle, and linebacker.

In part out of necessity, some schools will perennially take marginal high school talent and coach it into a product that appeals to the pros. The staffs at Cincinnati, Oregon State, Arizona State, Oregon, Connecticut, and San Jose State have been particularly good at this. The Bearcats lead the Big East in Combine invitations, yet just one of their six representatives left high school with a grade higher than two stars. Brian Kelly and his predecessor Mark Dantonio ought to take a bow for that turnaround.

Texas and California aren’t all about the 5-star blue-chippers, like Matt Stafford and Rey Maualuga. No, those two states tied for the most rags-to-riches stories with two dozen apiece.

5-star … 20
4-star … 47
3-star … 88
2-star … 98
1-star … 35

Doing Their Homework
Of the 46 underclassmen granted special eligibility for the 2009 NFL Draft, just two, Michigan TE Carson Butler and Arkansas TE Andrew Davie, have not been invited to the Combine. No, that doesn’t mean all of the decisions were sound ones, but at a minimum, the overwhelming number of early entries will get their chance to show they belong in the most important pre-draft event. Maybe the NFL advisory committee isn’t doing such a bad job after all.