IRVING, Texas – Somehow, the next step on the long road to the NFL draft is upon us.
It still feels like just a blink of an eye since the 2013 regular season finished, but the Senior Bowl ended roughly a month ago, and the 2014 NFL Combine begins this week in Indianapolis, Ind. Now, the field expands dramatically from the Senior Bowl rosters to the 335 invited participants – both seniors and declared underclassmen.
Cowboys executives and members of the DallasCowboys.com depart for Lucas Oil Stadium on Wednesday, with player measurements and media availability beginning Thursday. On field workouts are set to begin Saturday morning.
The increased field of participants from January’s Senior Bowl festivities is sure to provide plenty of highlights in the coming days. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said in a conference call Tuesday that the 2014 draft is one of the deepest he has seen in years, and equated a top 20 pick in this spring’s draft to a top 10 pick last year.
With that in mind, we should all finally get an up close look at players we’ve been talking about, but haven’t seen, not to mention another look at familiar names from the Senior Bowl. The Cowboys will also determine their first round draft position after a coin flip with Baltimore on Wednesday.
In other words, the draft is finally starting to take shape.
The Combine will offer a first look at a slew of players that have thusfar been linked to the Cowboys in this draft, but have not had a chance to show their skills publicly.
Not surprisingly, a number of those players ply their trade on the defensive side of the ball. Last week, we listed six different players that major mock drafts projected the Cowboys to take in the first round. Of those six players, four of them – defensive tackles Louis Nix and Timmy Jernigan, defensive end Kony Ealy and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix – will showcase their stuff for the first time this week.
Mayock, in his conference call, said Jernigan was one of the top two defensive tackle prospects in this draft class. Ealy has been projected as one of the draft’s top pass rushers since the offseason began.
Indianapolis will also offer the opportunity to evaluate the likes of Dominique Easley. The Florida product is highly thought of, but the ACL injury he suffered in September means he’s faced injury in both knees already at this stage in his career. The chance to check the defensive tackles health could determine a lot about his draft status.
The NFL community will also get a look at plenty of other potential targets, such as Notre Dame defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt, Louisville safety Calvin Pryor and South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles.
With the full list of 335 players going through workouts and interviews at Lucas Oil Stadium, plenty of eyes will be on how some of last month’s Senior Bowl standouts measure up.
Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald was one of the darlings of the Senior Bowl – certainly on this site. Given that he’s slightly undersized for an NFL defensive tackle, that’s bound to draw some added scrutiny on the larger stage at the Combine.
Overcoming doubters isn’t anything new for the Pitt standout, who rose from an unheralded recruit to one of the school’s most decorated players.
“At the end of the day, I proved a lot of people wrong, and I’ll continue to grow as a football player and as a man,” said Donald at the Senior Bowl.
The same things can be said for plenty of other Senior Bowl participants. This week will provide another look at the likes of Auburn defensive end Dee Ford, Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, Baylor guard Cyril Richardson, Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin and Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward.