Indianapolis will be full of Wolverines this week. Fourteen former Michigan players have been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine this year, which begins Tuesday.
The combine has grown over the years. It began because NFL teams wanted to gather all the top prospects in one place and make sure they were getting the same medical and basic workout information. Indianapolis was chosen because it’s centrally located in the country, making for easy access for all teams. The combine has turned into a spectacle that is televised, hyper-analyzed and includes daily on-site fan activities.
Reporters used to gather in the lobby of Indy’s Crowne Plaza hotel and freely talk with players, coaches, team and league officials. Those days are long gone.
Don’t let that dissuade you from thinking the combine is not important. It is very important in the scouting and drafting process for every team, although it’s not the be-all, end-all the hype would lead you to believe. The most important parts of the combine for players and teams are two portions fans and media never get to see: the medical testing and the interview sessions.
A few numbers from last year's NFL Combine to remember:
35.2% – Combine invites who went undrafted
15.0% – Draft picks who were non-Combine
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 15, 2017
The NFL has invited 330 players to this year’s combine. Michigan has four more invitees than the next-highest programs, Alabama and LSU. National champion Clemson has nine players invited, the same as Miami and Texas A&M. Ohio State, which had 14 players at the combine last year, has eight this year.
Here’s the list of Michigan players invited to the combine and five questions about them.
Who has the most to prove?
The Heisman finalist and Swiss Army knife for the Wolverines is listed among linebackers for combine workouts but probably fits better as a safety in the NFL. Teams must figure out how to fit Peppers into their scheme, or if he fits into their scheme at all. His production and skill level at Michigan make him a first-round pick, but NFL teams set up their individual scouting boards on more than college production. They project, based on their experiences, what a player will be three or four years down the road more than what they see from him today.
Who has the most to gain?
The tight end won’t be able to participate in any on-field activities, but teams want to know how his right knee is doing after a second torn ACL in three years, suffered in the Orange Bowl against Florida State. His medical evaluation and his interviews could secure him as a second-day pick. A bad medical evaluation drops his value.
Who has the most to lose?
The biggest drawback to Lewis is his size (5-11, 186). Again, it’s all about how a team projects a player down the road in its scheme. Different schemes value different traits, and different roster makeups allow for different projections. Lewis must show teams that any questions they have about his size are more than offset by his ball skills, on-field recognition and athletic abilities. He should be chosen in the first two rounds, but every year players slide down from projections for one reason or another. Lewis can solidify his standing with teams with good workouts and interviews at the combine.
Who’s the hottest name heading into the combine?
Charlton has the size (6-foot-6, 272 pounds) that NFL teams love from edge pass rushers, which is why he’s a consensus first-round pick in mock drafts. Some analysts have him being chosen in the top 10, others lower. Always remember that the NFL is a passing league. Teams want a top quarterback on their roster, first and foremost. After that, they want to protect the quarterback and rush the quarterback. Charlton has the physical ability to pressure the quarterback, and his frame allows for further physical development.
Who could be the biggest surprise?
He’s not the flashiest wide receiver in the class this year, but he’s got good size (6-2, 215) and had consistent production for the Wolverines. That is evidenced by his streak of catching at least one pass in 33 consecutive games to close out his Michigan career. Darboh is being projected as a third- or fourth-round pick.