INDIANAPOLIS – The tricky aspect of the NFL Scouting Combine is that it takes some time to get going with these players.
Business kicks up in Indianapolis as early as Sunday, as the NFL Competition Committee and plenty of other groups hold annual meetings. But for those of us that are trying to evaluate players, we don't start to watch and speak with them until Thursday and Friday.
Obviously, that's not going to stop us from gathering information. So while we wait to get underway, I've been wandering around town putting together a notebook. Here are some thoughts from the early going of this year's trip:
· Even with the suspension of Randy Gregory, the defensive coaching staff was going to still look at depth for the line. From my early studies of the defensive linemen in this class, there is depth in this group. There are some quality players to be selected at tackle or end. I didn't get the sense that there was any panic or pressure to force a pick there.
· I was interested to hear Stephen Jones mention off the top of his head that safety was a draft need. I don't believe they're upset with Jeff Heath, but it's more of a concern with the overall depth of their current group. The names you're going to hear are Mississippi State's Johnathan Abram, Florida's Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Virginia Juan Thornhill and Fresno State's Mike Bell. I have no problem with these names because all would be good scheme fits, but this is an area I would like to see them address with a free agent to help the growth of Xavier Woods.
· The Combine is where the media scouts catch up with the team scouts when it comes to evaluating these players. A great example of this was when I asked about offensive tackle Jonah Williams from Alabama, who is the consensus top pick for the position. On three different occasions I had the team scouts correct me and say Jawaan Taylor from Florida was the best tackle. I personally like Williams myself, which is why I asked, but Taylor is not too far behind on my board. After this week in Indianapolis there will be plenty of adjustments on those media scouts' boards.
· I asked my co-host of "The Draft Show," Dane Brugler, this question: if you were the Cowboys, would you trade next year's first-round pick and a selection in this current draft for the opportunity to take Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson? Brugler said he would do it -- and to be honest, so would I. Hockenson is one of the most complete players that I've scouted, regardless of the position. Run, catch and block -- this guy can do it all. In a draft, you're looking for difference makers and he's that. It's a huge investment to stomach but one I think would be worth the cost.
· A sneaky need for the Cowboys in the draft is cornerback. The position might appear solid right now, but Stephen Jones knows that after this season he has several of his guys up for contract extensions. If I'm a betting man, I think Jones is looking at this current draft class for some potential replacements. A couple of guys to keep an eye on this week are: Michigan State's Justin Layne, Auburn's Jamal Dean and Houston's Isaiah Johnson. All of these corners have the height and reach that Kris Richard covets.
· This will be an important Combine for Stanford running back Bryce Love from a medical standpoint. Love is a super talented player who, instead of coming out after his junior season, went back to Stanford for his final year and proceeded to tear his ACL in a game against California. If Love had come out early, he would have likely been a second-round selection. Now, his future is very much in doubt. The team that drafts Love will likely have to wait until 2020 to see their investment on the field, but there is going to be a point in this draft where Bryce Love has some nice value. The Cowboys have a history of taking players with potential value and putting them away for future use. With Ezekiel Elliott's future contract extension potentially in question, drafting a guy like Bryce Love would make a lot of sense. How the Cowboys' medical staff view his repaired knee will determine that course of action.