INDIANAPOLIS — The attention was unrelenting from the moment they walked into the room. First, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, the favorite to be the first quarterback off the board. Then came Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, a trendy first-round candidate over the last five weeks. They each took a podium, 10 feet apart. And then the questions flooded. “Mitch, what teams have you met with?”
Trubisky paused. “Am I allowed to answer that?”
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When he was assured by an NFL official, the list trickled out. “I have a meeting scheduled with the Bills. The Chiefs, Saints, Bears, 49ers, Cardinals, Chargers… did I mention the Bills?”
All the while, Mahomes weathered a similar flurry. “I have not met with the Giants but have it scheduled.”
“The Jets? I have that scheduled, too.” Then Mahomes, too, named nearly a dozen NFL teams. Forgive him if he forgot a few. It might have been a more fruitful exercise to determine if any teams didn’t care to speak to two of the top quarterbacks here.
NFL evaluators believe 2017 could be a special draft class. The defensive back, running back and tight end groups are historically deep. Myles Garrett headlines a handful of impact pass-rushers. The later rounds are full of promise. Earlier in the week, a scout told me he expects most teams to find Day 1 starters on the draft’s third day. “Honestly, it’d be hard not to,” he said. “It’s a very talented bottom half year.”
But the attention all week long seems to center on quarterbacks. As Jenny Vrentas wrote on Wednesday, league-wide thirst for signal-callers is especially high. Quarterbacks may be among the least impressive position groups here, but they will receive a disproportionate amount of focus and scrutiny—from media and teams alike.
Trubisky and Mahomes seemed to say all of the right things. Trubisky declared himself a film junkie and said he will be happy “wherever I go.” Mahomes called his comparisons to Jay Cutler “awesome” because “he’s a great quarterback” and said if he were drafted by the Saints, learning from Drew Brees would also be “great.” When their 15-minute sessions were over, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson held court. After reciting his own who’s who list of quarterback-needy franchises, he again clarified that his comments about being wanting to be selected by the Cowboys was a good-natured joke, and politely laughed off Dabo Swinney’s declaration that not drafting Watson is like passing on Michael Jordan. “Of course it’s a compliment,” Watson said.
Trubisky oozed confidence in declaring he would like to be the first quarterback off the board. Mahomes stayed true to personality by flashing a smile while working his mob. Watson didn’t seem fazed by any inquiry—then again, he’s addressed the Cowboys and MJ topics a few times already. It’s not surprising these players aced their mass interviews. Evaluators in Indianapolis may not be swooning over the tape, but seem to be in agreement that all of the top quarterbacks are high-character. Evaluators also seem to agree on this: Even though no quarterback seems overly worthy of a first-round pick, four or five of them could be off the board by the time round two rolls around. And most of the 32 teams seem to be in play.
• Leonard Fournette weighed in at 240, a bit heavier than scouts expected. The running back attributed that number to “water weight.” However, on Friday, he more than quashed weight concerns when he blazed through the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds, the fastest time by a running back weighing more than 240 pounds since 2006. Earlier in the day, there was mumbling about Fournette’s other testing numbers—his vertical jump was 28.5 inches, mediocre (by comparison, Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara jumped 39.5 inches). However, when I texted a scout I know to ask if he was concerned about Fournette’s vertical numbers, the response was: “Lol. Absolutely not.”
• One of the most intriguing players here is Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers. There’s no doubt he’s an amazing talent; the question is, at what position? Although Peppers is often listed as a linebacker, most scouts I have talked to over the year believe he’s best-suited at safety in the NFL. “He should go in the first round,” one scout told me. “As long as that team drafts him with an idea of how they want to use him.” Peppers will have a unique combine experience. He will work out with the linebackers on Sunday, and then again on Monday with the defensive backs.
• There was some pre-combine scuttlebutt about how tall, exactly, Trubisky was. Everyone knew his UNC-listed height of 6' 3″ was generous, but how generous? Turns out, not much. Trubisky measured in at 6' 2 1⁄8 “, and by NFL evaluator standards, that’s tall enough. (49ers GM John Lynch said Trubisky “made himself some money” with the measurement.) In fact all of the top quarterbacks cleared that threshold. Watson is 6' 2 1⁄2 “, Mahomes is 6' 2” and DeShone Kizer stands tallest at 6' 4 1⁄4 “. Kizer also tied with Nate Peterman with the biggest hands, at 9 7⁄8 inches.
• The NFL can turn anything into a spectacle, example No. 2,924: Nearly 100 fans gathered in a set of bleachers at the convention center on Friday afternoon, fixated on a stage featuring Minnesota GM Rick Spielman, Eagles EVP Howie Roseman and NFL Network’s Andrew Siciliano. Camera phones dangled in the air. Siciliano, on a microphone, revved up the crowd as if he were hosting a boxing match. What’s the occasion, you may ask? A coin flip. This is how the NFL would determine a tiebreak for the No. 14 and No. 15 picks. The Eagles won, meaning they’ll go No. 14. Remember, this is the first year the NFL opened drills to fans. If you film it, they will come.
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On the docket
We’ve heard the quarterbacks talk, now let’s watch them throw. Trubisky, Watson et. al will work out tomorrow, as will wide receivers and tight ends. While throwing sessions are not as valuable as game tape, expect much attention for Watson (who battles questions about his accuracy) and Mahomes (mechanics).