Five years ago when I came to my first combine, all of us media/team types were jammed into Lucas Oil Stadium’s West Club and radio row was about eight to 10 tables in the lobby. I thought it was impressive how many people were actually in that room, but over the next few years, I remember thinking “man, it’s CRAMPED in here!” Over the past two years, though, things have changed. We moved over to the Indiana Convention Center. The bench press is open to the public. Eight podiums fill up one end, while tables for as far as you can see make up radio row on the other side. It makes for a truly fun week, so here are my observations from Indianapolis.
1. Watching the prospects do the bench press is actually more fun than it sounds. The crowd starts to get into it when the players struggle a bit and the players start pulling for one another. I remember going nuts in the weight room for my teammates on max day WAY back in the day, but this is a whole different animal and it’s really cool to see the brotherhood among these future NFL players.
2. Went to dinner on Wednesday night, as we had our table for five right by the window at our favorite spot in Indy. The adjacent table? Andy Reid, head coach of the Chiefs. Frank Reich, head coach of the Colts. Zac Taylor, newly named head coach of the Bengals. John Fox, former head coach of the Broncos/Bears. Mike Tirico of NBC Sports pulled up a chair at a table behind us. It’s not as surreal as it used to be to me to see so many heavy NFL hitters in one spot, but still really cool.
3. On Thursday, Marc Vandermeer and I did our weekly cooler talk and we wanted to give everyone watching a lay of the land, if you will. As I turned to look at the crowd filing out after watching the running backs bench press, I saw Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and said as such on the show. Quinn looked over and gave us a thumbs up and my day, no, my WEEK, was made. Thanks, coach.
4. On Thursday night, Marc, Tyler Suddarth (video artist extraordinaire) and I went to the Indiana Pacers-Minnesota T-Wolves game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. I love watching sports of any kind and different arenas/stadiums. It was one of the more intimate venues that I’ve seen. Perhaps Timberwolves star Karl Anthony-Towns felt the same way as well because he had 29 points... by halftime (then lost the game).
5. Seeing these future players up close is one of the best things to do in an evaluation period. Two players, both 6-3, 300 lb., might look completely different, which can matter more than it would appear. I think it’s that way every year, but it was really evident to me with the offensive linemen this year.
6. Oklahoma offensive tackle/guard Cody Ford might have the biggest trunk and legs of anyone not named Daylon Mack (Texas A&M interior defensive lineman) in this city. He’s a mountain of a man, that’s for sure. Honestly though, I shouldn’t even put tackle in that description. He’s a guard and the NFL already knows it.
7. Alabama offensive tackle Jonah Williams looked out of place amongst the behemoths on the field. Put the pads on him and he can play, but the combine didn’t do him any favors this week from a height/weight/speed standpoint. Speaking of being a guard, that could perhaps be the future NFL home for Williams as well.
8. NC State center Garrett Bradbury may have found himself in the first round after the day that he had in Indianapolis. His on-field drills were silky smooth and his testing was sensational as well. He posted a 31-inch vertical jump and a 4.92 40-yard dash. He threw up 34 reps of 225-lb on the bench press as well. Full. Package. In my opinion, he’s going to be the first true center off the board and, most importantly, he has the nasty game to match this athleticism.
9. Texas A&M center Erik McCoy also had a brilliant day on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf. He ran a combine-best 4.89 at 6-4, 303 lb. Like Bradbury, he posted a 31-inch vertical jump as well. I said last offseason that I wouldn’t be surprised to see McCoy as one of the top three centers in this draft and that’s become more than apparent, especially after Friday.
10. Washington offensive tackle Kaleb McGary is cut from a different cloth. As I watched him on the field, I immediately flashed back to last year and how much he reminded me of Colts star rookie right tackle Braden Smith. I was floored. Both built like defensive edge rushers, not offensive edge protectors. Little body fat. And, testing-wise, McGary was solid at 6-7, 317 lb. He posted a 33.5-inch vertical jump and ran a 5.1 in the 40. He also posted a 9-3 broad jump.
11. His Apple Cup foe Washington State left tackle Andre Dillard cemented himself as a first-round pick and the potential first tackle off the board. At 315 lb., Dillard ran a 4.96 in the 40-yard dash, posted a 29-inch vertical jump and had an offensive line-best 9-10 broad jump. Money. Made.
12. Marc and I saw Dillard in the airport and immediately told him that we were taking him with us on our flight to Houston, keeping him for the foreseeable future. But, he’s bigger than us so that wouldn’t work very well.
13. When Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray measured early on Thursday morning, the result reverberated throughout the Convention Center. “Hey, you see Kyler’s 5-10 1/8th?” Everyone knew when he was stepping onto the stage to get measured and when that news broke, it was intriguing to see it filter throughout radio row, with the subsequent reaction to it.
14. The other measurement we anxiously awaited was Houston defensive star Ed Oliver. I walked back behind the weigh-in room on my way to the stadium to see the 40s/on field drills so I knew his measurement, no matter what, would post soon. I checked Twitter repeatedly until I saw 6-1 7/8th and 287 lb. Now, I can almost guarantee you that Ed has never played at that weight, but if he tests as many expect at that weight, he might just lock up a top five spot that wasn’t there just a week ago.
15. When Ole Miss receiver D.K. Metcalf threw up 27 reps on the bench press, I looked over to Marc, who typically couldn’t care less about bench press reps. He said “I don’t get how that it is compelling,but that really was.” See, y’all DO understand why I love this thing so much. It’s really hard to quit watching, especially when a young beast like Metcalf did THAT.
16. Props to N’Keal Harry, Arizona State receiver, who also put up 27 bench press reps. My god, what is coming to the NFL? I mean, there have been some strong receivers that have entered this league, but what’s coming is STRONG and then some. Shoot, SLOT receivers are even 6-1, 225, 6-0, 215. It’s really getting insane.
17. A few days ago, my pal Lance Zierlein of NFL.com asked me who I liked in the running back crop. I knew what he meant too - not the top guys, but the value guys. The first name that I mentioned was Miami’s Travis Homer. As a junior, when he became the starter, I loved how physical he was. Just a hammerhead on the ground but also in pass protection. On Friday, he lit up the combine. He ran 4.48 in the 40-yard dash, posted a 39.5-inch vertical jump, 10-10 broad jump and a 7.07 3-cone drill. It was just a fabulous day
18. I can’t say that I was totally shocked at the running backs’ lack of dominant long speed in the 40. What stood out to me so much more on Thursday was how big and strong this class is. There’s no Saquon Barkley (Giants) in this class. Ironically, it was his backup Miles Sanders who rose to the occasion and tested extremely well. He ran 4.49 in the 40-yard dash with a 36-inch vertical jump, a 10-4 broad jump and an outstanding 6.89 3-cone drill. I loved watching him and this will certainly help his prospects throughout the league. Oh, I nearly forgot his 20 bench reps of 225-lb as well. Stud.
It was a productive and eventful week, but I’m glad to be coming home to Houston. Plus, the draft is coming, and that’s a great thing.
Check out shots of current Texans players from previous NFL combines. (Photos via AP Images)