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Breaking Down The 2011 NFL Combine
UCLA LB Akeem Ayers
UCLA LB Akeem Ayers
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Feb 20, 2011


With the NFL Combine starting up this week, Richard Cirminiello breaks down the positions, the teams and states with the bragging rights for sending the most talent to Indianapolis. Which program really did have the most NFL talent? Which areas of the country are sending the most players to the next level? Check out the breakdown of this year's Combine.

2011 NFL Draft

Breaking Down The Combine
 

By Richard Cirminiello

- 2010 - Breaking Down The Combine
- 2009 - Breaking Down The Combine

As the NFL universe descends upon Indianapolis for that annual ritual known as the Combine, the nation’s premier college players are about to be poked, prodded, and psychoanalyzed for days...and dollars.

What may appear to be a carnival-like atmosphere is, in reality, a well-organized platform for more than 300 pro prospects to improve their professional draft status in front of future employers. It’s a job fair in cleats and tight clothing. The overwhelming majority of invitees will be drafted in April, but how high depends on everything from their speed and strength to their personality and body type. One-tenth of a second on a 40-yard sprint could be the difference between the first day and the final day, and a whole lot of money.

Exactly who comprises this next generation of pro players? Of course, it fluctuates every February, but that doesn’t mean trends are not developed over time. Geographic, institutional, and developmental tendencies will paint a mosaic of not just the athletes, but the schools that were their homes for as short as one and as long as five years.

The Positional Breakdown
Generally speaking, the number of players from each position doesn’t shift dramatically from one year to the next. Keep in mind that this is an invitation-only event, and NFL teams will only invite those players they believe have the best shot of making a roster. If you’ve got a friend on the Baltimore Raven staff, for instance, it won’t help you get to Indy. So, if there are 10 worthy quarterbacks or tight ends in a given year, that’s exactly how many will get through security at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The crop of interior linemen remains down from last year when 32 were guards and centers were in attendance. If you want to earn an invite to this event, it helps to be projected as a tackle. Defensive end will also be surprisingly thin, way down from 42 participants a year ago. On the flip side, competition will be especially intense at wide receiver, cornerback, and linebacker. Teams will have the luxury of waiting to draft a running back, a position that saw its number swell from 26 in 2010 to 34 in 2011.

The lone long snapper? That honor belongs to Virginia’s Danny Aiken, who was a special teams fixture for four years in Charlottesville. Charles Clay will be traveling from Tulsa to represent the H-backs.

Offense

QB … 18
RB … 34
FB … 5
WR … 46
H-Back ... 1
TE … 15
OT … 33
OG … 14
C … 8

Defense

DT … 27
DE … 30
LB … 34
CB … 35
FS … 9
SS … 10

Special Teams

P … 4
PK … 5
LS … 1

Bragging Rights (the states)
Okay, so you’re not completely blown away by the home states of this year’s 329 Combine invites. As anticipated, California, Florida, and Texas dominated, with the Golden State remaining on top for a second straight year and the top four slots going unchanged. On the positive side, the biggest surprise was the state of Washington, which soared from one participant in 2010 to a ninth place tie in 2011. Virginia, Louisiana, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey, on the other hand, plummeted, as their number of participants dropped by 50% or more. The Garden State is surprisingly quiet, sending three residents after 13 went last winter.

Eight states and the District of Columbia will have just a single representative; Idaho TE Daniel Hardy of Alaska, North Carolina DT Marvin Austin of D.C., Syracuse LB Derrell Smith of Delaware, Hawaii WR Kealoha Pilares of Hawaii, Oregon DT Brandon Bair of Idaho, Tennessee TE Luke Stocker of Kentucky, Montana State OT Mike Person of Montana, OT Rich Lapham of New Hampshire, and Iowa DT Karl Klug of Minnesota. Representing the rest of the world is Baylor OT Danny Watkins, a Canadian who didn’t even play football growing up in Kelowna, British Columbia.

The eight states not represented at the Combine this year are Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, West Virginia, and New Mexico. More than half of last year’s BCS bowl teams, Arkansas, Oregon, Auburn, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Connecticut, deserve extra credit and frequent flyer miles for making it to January without a lot of home-grown veteran talent. None of those six schools reside in states sending more than six players to the Combine.

California ...48
Florida ...44
Texas ... 31
Georgia ... 26
North Carolina...15
Ohio...13
Pennsylvania...10
South Carolina...9
Washington... 8
Virginia ...8
Mississippi...8
Arizona...7
Michigan...7
Louisiana... 6
Illinois...6
Alabama...6
Connecticut...5
Tennessee...5
Indiana...5
Maryland...5
Arkansas...5
Missouri...5
Wisconsin...5
Utah...4
Iowa... 4
Nebraska ... 4
New Jersey... 3
New York...3
Oklahoma... 3
Nevada...3
Oregon...2
Colorado...2
Kansas...2
Massachusetts...2
Kentucky...1
Hawaii...1
Minnesota...1
District of Columbia...1
Alaska ...1
New Hampshire ...1
Montana ...1
Idaho ... 1
Delaware ... 1
Canada ... 1

Bragging Rights (the conferences)
For starters, it needs to be noted that conference affiliation is based on where a school was a member in 2010. In other words, Nebraska players count toward the Big 12 and Utah the Mountain West. The big news this year is that the SEC almost relinquished its kung fu grip on the category to … the ACC. Say what you will about the league’s inability to produce a national champion, but it’s always been a fertile pipeline to the NFL. While the ACC added nine players this year, the SEC lost 11, explaining the tightening at the top. The beleaguered Big East also had a strong showing, increasing its total by nine to 30, a solid number for a conference with just eight members. The Big 12 ranks a disappointing fourth, and last among BCS conferences with only three invitees per member. Tops among non-AQ leagues? How about the WAC, which had a 50% increase over 2010 to blow past the Mountain West and Conference USA?

The NFL continues to display its willingness to aggressively mine the lower divisions for next-level talent. The FCS has 17 representatives, up from 15 in 2010, and Division II boasts eight former players, up from five last February. Carrying the banners for the most obscure schools are WR Cecil Shorts of Division III powerhouse Mt. Union and WR Joe Morgan, an Illinois transfer, of the NAIA’s Walsh University.

SEC … 53
ACC … 50
Big Ten … 41
Big 12 … 36
Pac-10 … 35
Big East … 30
WAC … 21
Mountain West … 12
C-USA … 11
MAC … 5
Sun Belt … 5
Southern (FCS) ... 5
Colonial (FCS) ... 4
Independents … 3
Big Sky (FCS) ... 3
Lone Star (Div. II) … 2
Missouri Valley (FCS) … 2
PSAC (Div. II) … 2
Great Lakes (Div. II) … 1
Southland (FCS) ... 1
Gulf South (Div. II) … 1
MEAC (FCS) … 1
SIAC (Div. II) … 1
MIAA (Div. II) … 1
Patriot (FCS) … 1
Ohio Athletic (Div. III) ... 1
MSFA (NAIA) … 1

Bragging Rights (the programs)
In one of the shockers of this analysis, North Carolina has more alums at the Combine than any other program. Heck, no other school even reaches double-digits. Unfortunately for the Heels, many didn’t play a full season because of either suspensions or injuries. Powerhouses, like USC, Florida, and LSU, are well-represented, but not with nearly the same prominence as in the past.

Having a roster that’s littered with next-level players guarantees ... err, not as much as you might assume. A glance at this year’s 15 most represented programs in Indianapolis reveals a who’s who of disappointments. Miami, Iowa, USC, Georgia, Florida, Clemson, and Pittsburgh all fell short of expectations despite harboring the requisite talent on both sides of the ball.

This year’s national championship game participants, Auburn and Oregon, are only represented by eight players combined, which could bode well for the future. Ditto Oklahoma, which was topped by Oklahoma State and has just four Sooners at the pre-draft event. Of West Virginia’s six kids, four hail from Florida and not one from within the state borders. All six of Connecticut’s kids were two-star recruits coming out of high school. That’s neither a misprint nor a coincidence.

Predictably, Boise State, TCU, and Utah set the pace among the non-AQ schools with five players in attendance. Following close behind with four are Fresno State and Nevada. No surprises there. Among, FCS programs, Appalachian State boasts three Mountaineers, Daniel Kilgore, Mark Legree, and DJ Smith, which equals Notre Dame, Oregon, and Missouri, and beats Tennessee, Texas A&M, Penn State and Michigan ... ironically.

North Carolina … 12
Nebraska … 9
Miami ...9
Ohio State … 9
Iowa ...9
LSU …8
USC … 8
Georgia … 8
Florida ... 7
Clemson … 7
Wisconsin … 7
Connecticut … 6
South Carolina … 6
West Virginia … 6
Pittsburgh … 6

Bragging Rights (by position)

Most likely to produce a Combine quarterback? The SEC or ACC and the state of Texas
Most likely to produce a Combine running back? The ACC and the state of Florida
Most likely to produce a Combine wide receiver? The SEC and the state of California
Most likely to produce a Combine tight end? The Big Ten and the state of California
Most likely to produce a Combine offensive lineman? The SEC and the state of Georgia
Most likely to produce a Combine defensive lineman? The SEC and the state of Florida
Most likely to produce a Combine linebacker? The Big East, Big Ten, and ACC, and the state of California
Most likely to produce a Combine defensive back? The ACC and the state of Florida

Wishing On a Star
Naturally, sizing up high school recruits is an imperfect science, but you might be shocked to learn just how imprecise the process has become. And just how many of this year’s Combine invites were scrambling just to get a free ride a few years back. Well over 10%, or 45 late bloomers, were completely off the grid and often forced to take an alternate route, such as walking on or building a resume at a junior college. Another 89 players were rated two-stars, the equivalent of a future backup or part-time starter, by Scout.com when their prep careers ended. Hey, it’s not where you begin this journey, but where you end it, that matters most.

At least in terms of this year, the positions most likely to produce surprises are offensive tackles and wide receivers, a common occurrence since speed has no particular allegiance. The state? California, and it wasn’t even close. The school? Connecticut, with six, which explains why it’s been so hard for the Huskies to say goodbye to head coach Randy Edsall. The conference? Get a load of the WAC with a nation’s-high 18 and the Big East with 16 rags-to-riches stories.

The somewhat off-the-radar high school quarterbacks looking to improve their draft grade include Wisconsin’s Scott Tolzien, TCU’s Andy Dalton, Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick, Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi, Idaho’s Nathan Enderle, Fresno State’s Ryan Colburn, and Florida Atlantic’s Jeff Van Camp.

Of the 33 former five-star high school recruits, five hailed from Florida, four from Texas and California, and three from South Carolina.

5-star … 33
4-star … 80
3-star … 82
2-star … 89
Unrated… 45

High school rankings are courtesy of Scout.com

Doing Their Homework
Only four of the record number of sophomores and juniors declaring early for the 2011 NFL Draft have not been invited to Indianapolis, Georgia Tech OT Nick Claytor, Stanford LB Thomas Keiser, Oregon DB Javes Lewis, and Virginia DE Zane Parr. No, that does not mean that all of the decisions were sound ones, but at a minimum, the overwhelming number of early entries will get their chance to show they belong in the most important pre-draft event. Maybe the NFL advisory committee isn’t doing such a bad job after all.

JUCO or not JUCO
Of the 329 participants in this week’s event, 20 have done an apprenticeship at one of the nation’s junior-colleges, breeding grounds for quick fixes and future stars. Of course, no one leveraged the two-year schools better than Auburn. The Tigers signed QB Cam Newton out of Blinn College (Tex.) in 2010 and DT Nick Fairley out of Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Community College in 2009, two of the cornerstones of last year’s national championship.