The annual National Football League Combine is a make-it-or-break-it time for many college players with hopes of being drafted later in the spring. It's a February ritual where all 32 NFL teams interview players, gather medical history, put players through medical exams, and test those players in areas ranging from strength and speed to position skill. If a player does well, it's very likely that his draft stock will rise. If he does poorly, it will likely fall -- sometimes to the point where he's not drafted at all.
No matter how you describe it, the NFL Combine has developed into the first major event of every off-season.
Last year, the Combine helped Central Michigan's Eric Fisher vault up draft boards and ultimately become the first Mid-American Conference player ever selected first overall in an NFL draft. Is it possible that it could happen again? If you listen to the experts, the answer is yes. For example, Mike Mayock of NFL Network said on Friday that, if it were up to him, he would select Mack first overall.
Khalil Mack of the Buffalo Bulls has been talked about as a top-ten pick for months now, but the linebacker seems to be growing ever more popular, much like Fisher did last year. With superior combine numbers, he could help his stock even more.
Of course, there are nine other MAC players who will participate in this year's combine. Jimmie Ward (Northern Illinois), Dri Archer (Kent State) and Rob Blanchflower (Massachusetts) all appear to have very high chances of being picked. Ward and Archer, in particular, could be off the board on the second day. The others, including Jordan Lynch (Northern Illinois), David Fluellen (Toledo), and Travis Carrie (Ohio), all have hopes of being drafted but will likely have to wait until late in the third day to find out their fate.
We can't forget about the trio of Ball State Cardinals. Could the group from Muncie all get drafted? A lot will depend on the next several days, but Keith Wenning, Willie Snead and Jonathan Newsome are as good a group from one team as the MAC has sent to the Combine in a long time.
So, we've got you interested in the Combine, but you're wondering how to follow it all, right? Don't worry, we've got you covered.
The team interviews, medical exams, bench press, and psychological testing began on Wednesday and will continue through the end of the event. However, the on-field drills will all take place over the next four days, and they're broken up by position groups.
Here's a breakdown of when the MAC players will have their on-field drills:
Saturday, February 22 -- Offensive Linemen and Tight Ends
Rob Blanchflower (Massachusetts, TE02)
Sunday, February 23 -- Quarterbacks, Wide Receivers and Running Backs
Jordan Lynch (Northern Illinois, QB07), Keith Wenning (Ball State, QB19), Willie Snead (Ball State, WO43), David Fluellen (Toledo, RB11), Dri Archer (Kent State, RB02)
Monday, February 24 -- Defensive Linemen and Linebackers
Jonathan Newsome (Ball State, DL34), Khalil Mack (Buffalo, LB18)
Tuesday, February 25 -- Defensive Backs
Travis Carrie (Ohio, DB11), Jimmie Ward (Northern Illinois, DB56)
(NOTE: The letters and numbers after each player's school is their Combine position and number; it's what they'll be wearing on their jersey during workouts.)
As you can see, half of the MAC's contingent will compete on Sunday. However, there will be MAC participation on each of the four days.
We'll have reports after each day of the Combine that will provide complete workout results for each of the MAC participants and attempt to break down what those results mean in the context of how they stack up against other players. We'll also have a full wrap-up of the Combine once all the workouts are complete.
If that's not enough coverage for you, NFL Network will televise the on-field workouts live on each of the four days. Lynch and Wenning should get some air time on Sunday, and you can be sure that Mack will get plenty of discussion on Monday.
If you want to track results in real-time, you can keep up with those at NFL.com. As always, if any big news comes up -- such as Dri Archer running the fastest 40 time in Combine history -- we'll tweet that out for you right away.