INDIANAPOLIS– The NFL Combine has evolved from a large, league-wide meeting to do medical exams on prospects to it’s own phenomenon with millions of fans and media becoming technique experts on the most minuscule drills. This annual gathering of nearly everyone in the sport is much more than bench presses and 40-yard dashes as deals are made during this weekend in Indy. We are going to keep you updated with some of the key issues of the NFL Combine as we go along.
Where’s Wallace Wind Up?
The Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the most explosive young offenses in football. Perhaps the biggest key to their ability to stretch the field is wide receiver Mike Wallace, who is a restricted free agent. Wallace caught 72 passes for nearly 1,200 yards with eight touchdowns in his 2011 Pro Bowl campaign.
The Steelers are likely to place a first-round tender on Wallace meaning that a potential employer would have to grant Pittsburgh a first-round pick if they’d like to sign Wallace. Normally, teams would be very hesitant to give up roughly $50 million in contract money and a top pick but Wallace is a difference maker.
“Having a great player like Mike Wallace isn’t a dilemma,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. “I’m sure he’ll be protected with a first-round tender at minimum. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure Mike Wallace remains a Pittsburgh Steeler.”
Here are two of the potential suitors:
New England Patriots- The Pats are as good of a candidate as any as they own multiple first-round picks. With a 35-year old Tom Brady and no wide receiver that strikes any semblance of fear in a defense, the window of opportunity for Bill Belichick is closing and adding Mike Wallace to the mix might allow Robert Kraft to add another Lombardi Trophy to the mantle.
Baltimore Ravens- The Ravens have the 29th pick in the draft and although they have a younger quarterback in Joe Flacco, they have an older core on defense. It’s likely that they’re going to commit financially to Flacco in the offseason and they must arm him with as many weapons as possible if they’re going to make that Super Bowl run that’s been eluding them.
WR’s on the Clock
Most of the elite NFL franchises in terms of scouting and drafting place a certain level of importance on the NFL Combine. Draft decisions are not solely based on 40 times and bench press numbers, but they are a valuable tool used to differentiate similarly graded players at the same position, running on the same tracks in controlled environments.
There is a deep crop of wide receivers in this draft but many of them have questions that hopefully the 40-yard dash can figure out. The possible leader in the clubhouse for the first wide receiver taken is Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon. The 6-foot-1, 215 pound wideout is projected by many to go in the Top 10 or even the Top 5, but there are certain questions about his speed.
If Baylor’s Kendall Wright can run a sub-4.4 40-yard dash, many see him as a more polished option at the position and he could potentially be the first receiver taken.
Another receiver whose body type and speed will be judged harshly is South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery was reportedly out of shape this offseason and some believe he will run in the 4.7’s. Alshon needs to measure in as fit as possible and run a respectable time to put himself back into first round consideration.
Value of Flynn
One of the biggest arguments of the offseason is what kind of quarterback will Packers free agent Matt Flynn will be. Flynn had one of the greatest games in NFL history in Green Bay’s season finale against Detroit as he completed 31 of 44 passes for 480 yards with six touchdowns and one interception in the Packers 45-41 victory.
As great as that particular game film looks, there isn’t much more to go on with Flynn. The Packers backup has just two career starts in four professional seasons.
“We’ll just watch the tape over and over again. You have to try to find the answers that way,” Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said.
Flynn is set to strike as the iron is hottest as he is expected to have several suitors in free agency. There is recent history for backups turned starters and getting big contracts, but the history is much better for the players checkbooks than the teams which signed them. Last year Kevin Kolb flamed out in Arizona while Matt Cassel hasn’t exactly turned heads in Kansas City.
Will Matt Flynn be the next installment of a right place, right time signal caller who’s surrounded by great weapons in a great system who doesn’t succeed out of it? Or is he more of “the real deal?”
“The quarterback is an important position on the offense and it’s an important position on the football team. You’ve go to have a player perform and have success at that position,” Dolphins new head coach Joe Philbin said.
With Flynn’s former offensive coordinator Joe Philbin getting the Miami Dolphins head coaching job and Miami in need of a quarterback, Philbin’s pursuit or non-pursuit of Flynn may tell us and the rest of the league all we need to know.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie