The average fan may not notice much of a difference as the NFL scouting combine kicks off this week in Indianapolis.
TV ratings show that while most things the NFL touches turn to gold, watching a bunch of guys run 40-yard dashes in shorts remains more of a niche attraction — fewer than 1% of households watched the Saturday morning/afternoon window of the combine last year (67% watched the Super Bowl).
To try to entice a larger audience (and hence, more advertising dollars), the league is making some drastic changes to the format, the most extreme of which is moving all of the workouts to the evening, from Thursday through March 1, all on the league’s own network.
That will change the entire flavor of the event, which has long been eagerly anticipated throughout the league as something of weeklong social gathering for everyone in the NFL in a relaxed setting, with bars and restaurants filling up at night.
Now, team interviews with players — which usually happened in the early evening — will be held during the day before the workouts, with the hope that 40-yard dashes held in prime time might attract a few more eyeballs (every player will also still be given a medical exam, generally regarded as maybe the most important aspect of the whole event).
But all of what usually happens at the combine may be overshadowed this year by the uncertainty over the league’s collective-bargaining agreement. There had been hope — at least on the league’s side — that the players would vote to accept a new proposal that would start immediately and last for 10 years as soon as Friday.
Instead, the NFL Players Association executive committee decided Friday to ask to meet Tuesday in Indianapolis with owners and to discuss whether to forward the proposal to the rest of the players for a general vote. If so, then the CBA could be approved within a few days and the combine could take on even more of a celebratory tone.
If not, then the league could lapse into a period of uncertainty, with the league saying if the current proposal isn’t approved that there will be no more talks and the 2020 season will be played under the current CBA.
One way or another expect the news of the CBA to dominate.
As the Seahawks and the 31 other teams head to Indy, here’s more of what to watch:
Will another future Seahawk steal the show?
The past two years, Seattle ended up drafting a player who made as much of a stir at the combine as anyone – Shaquem Griffin in 2018 and DK Metcalf a year ago.
Each flashed with their dash, Griffin running a 4.38 40, the fastest of any linebacker; and Metcalf a 4.33, the fastest of anyone.
Not that anyone knew at the time they’d become Seahawks (although there was always a strong thought they wanted Griffin if they could get him to join twin Shaquill.)
But in Metcalf’s case, the 40 time helped soothe any lingering worries about his health after a neck injury that ended his final season of college at Ole Miss and undoubtedly helped pave the way for him to find his way to Seattle.
Will the Seahawks again make news during a player interview?
Another change with the combine is that teams are now limited to 45 15-minute interviews with players instead of the 60 of years past, which helps ease the new schedule.
One apparent rationale is that teams weren’t always using all 60 anyway. And teams can talk to players at a bunch of other times, such as the Senior Bowl, pro days and private visits.
And as the numbers indicate, teams interview far more players than they draft.
Two players Seattle did draft, though, were subject of two of the more notable interviews by the team in recent years. In 2018, the Seahawks famously asked punter Michael Dickson to engage in a staring contest; and last year, Carroll greeted Metcalf by taking off his shirt, an homage to a picture Metcalf had posted earlier that went viral on social media.
Will the receiver class live up to the hype?
As the combine nears, the one position that seems to be getting the most buzz is receiver, due in part to a bold prediction made earlier this week by ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. during a conference call with media.
“It may he historic,’’ Kiper said. “There is going to be at least 25 receivers taken in the first three rounds. About 18-20 in the first three, and if you extend that to round four, there’s probably 25 receivers taken.’’
Many have compared this class to the famed 2014 group which has been considered the best in the past 20 years or so (which included the likes of Mike Evans, Odell Beckham, Davante Adams and Jarvis Landry).
Kiper said he thought 13 could be taken in the first two rounds, and among those who would be likely to go high are Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs of Alabama, Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and Tee Higgins of Clemson.
Seattle could use a third receiver to complement Tyler Lockett and Metcalf and with three picks in the top 64 could well again look to take one despite drafting three a year ago.
Can Jacob Eason or any of the other nine in-state players improve their stock?
Among the 337 players who will take part in the Combine (and recall that there are only 256 draft slots) are nine who played at either Washington or Washington State.
That includes seven Huskies led by quarterback Jacob Eason, who this week was projected by Kiper to be drafted by the Patriots in the first round at number 23 overall as a potential heir apparent to Tom Brady.
Eason’s big day will come Thursday when quarterbacks will go through on-field drills, which is often the highlight of the Combine and figures to be again this year with all of the buzz already surrounding LSU’s Joe Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert.
Joining Eason in those drills is Washington State’s Anthony Gordon, one of two WSU players invited.
The other six Huskies who will take part are: OL Trey Adams, RB Salvon Ahmed, TE Hunter Bryant, DB Myles Bryant, WR Aaron Fuller and OL Nick Harris. The other WSU player participating is WR Dezmon Patmon.
And finally, watch the rumor mill get rolling
In the land of the Indy 500, what will get truly rolling this week are all the rumors about what player is going where, especially if the CBA gets approved. Teams have undoubtedly been holding off on a lot of moves until an agreement is in place, or until they know one won’t be by the time the new league year rolls around March 18.
What also sparks activity are media sessions for coaches and general managers, many of whom haven’t talked to the media since the end of the season.
Seattle’s Pete Carroll and John Schneider are scheduled to meet the media Tuesday, the same day the league could find out if a CBA has a chance at passing in time for the 2020 season.