Three months from tomorrow, the 2014 NFL season kicks into hype mode. It will be the time when one of the most recession-proof industries in the world stocks its shelves with what has been to date effectively free labor.
It’s the NFL draft and it’s must-see TV.
By the time we get to the draft, buffs become self-proclaimed experts. Players they couldn’t have picked out of a two-man lineup in January have suddenly become the fodder of insider information. It’s the circus aspect of the old-school NFL that has advanced with the advent of technology and the long vines that come out of NFL organizations in conducting background research. In a multi-billion-dollar annual industry, the draft is the billionaire welfare check. They make millionaires of college students.
At no point is there more of a disparity of reality in the cloak-and-dagger world of the NFL Combine. Housed annually in Indianapolis (how long until the NFL puts the Combine site up for bids?), the Combine is the most important week in the life of a budding NFL player.
They get poked and prodded. They get their physical and mental endurance tested. It’s NFL boot camp.
They come from the four corners of the country. The represent more than 100 schools. They are the combine invitees. Three months from now, you will know them better. For now, let’s just make some introductions. Here are the NFL Scouting Combine invitees:
Blake Bortles, Central Florida; Tajh Boyd, Clemson; Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville; Derek Carr, Fresno State; David Fales, San Jose State; Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois; Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois; Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M; AJ McCarron, Alabama; Zach Mettenberger, LSU
Stephen Morris, Miami (Fla.); Aaron Murray, Georgia; Tom Savage, Pittsburgh; Connor Shaw, South Carolina; Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech; Keith Wenning, Ball State.
Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky; Dri Archer, Kent State; George Atkinson, Notre Dame; Kapri Bibbs, Colorado State; Alfred Blue, LSU; Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona; J.C. Copeland (FB), LSU; Tim Cornett, UNLV; Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State; Timothy Flanders, Sam Houston State; David Fluellen, Toledo; Devonta Freeman, Florida State; Tyler Gaffney, Stanford; Marion Grice, Arizona State; Ryan Hewitt (FB), Stanford; Jeremy Hill, LSU; Carlos Hyde, Ohio State; Storm Johnson, Central Florida; Henry Josey, Missouri; Tre Mason, Auburn; Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern; Trey Millard (FB), Oklahoma; Adam Muema, San Diego State; LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State; Silas Redd, USC; Bishop Sankey, Washington; Lache Seastrunk, Baylor; Charles Sims, West Virginia; Jerome Smith, Syracuse; Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal Carolina; De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon; Terrance West, Towson; James White, Wisconsin; James Wilder, Florida State; Andre Williams, Boston College; Damien Williams, Oklahoma.
Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin; Davante Adams, Fresno State; Odell Beckham, LSU; Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State; Chris Boyd, Vanderbilt; Corey Brown, Ohio State; John Brown, Pittsburg State; Martavis Bryant, Clemson; Isaiah Burse, Fresno State; Michael Campanaro, Wake Forest; Brandon Coleman, Rutgers; Kain Colter, Northwestern; Brandin Cooks, Oregon State; Damian Copeland, Louisville; Mike Davis, Texas; Bruce Ellington, South Carolina; Quincy Enunwa, Nebraska; Mike Evans, Texas A&M; Shaq Evans, UCLA; Bennie Fowler, Michigan State; Austin Franklin, New Mexico State; Jeremy Gallon, Michigan; Ryan Grant, Tulane
Matt Hazel, Coastal Carolina; Robert Herron, Wyoming; Cody Hoffman, BYU; Josh Huff, Oregon; Allen Hurns, Miami (Fla.); Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley State; TJ Jones, Notre Dame; Jarvis Landry, LSU; Cody Latimer, Indiana; Marqise Lee, USC; Marcus Lucas, Missouri; Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt; Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss; Kevin Norwood, Alabama; Walt Powell, Murray State; Tevin Reese, Baylor; Paul Robinson, Colorado; Allen Robinson, Penn State; Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma; Willie Snead, Ball State; Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State; Devin Street, Pittsburgh; L'Damian Washington, Missouri; Sammy Watkins, Clemson; Albert Wilson, Georgia State.
Jace Amaro, Texas Tech; Rob Blanchflower, UMass; Trey Burton, Florida; Anthony Denham, Utah; Joe Don Duncan, Dixie State; Eric Ebron, North Carolina; C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa; Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State; Xavier Grimble, USC; Nic Jacobs, McNeese State; Marcel Jensen, Fresno State
Reggie Jordan, Missouri Western State; A.C. Leonard, Tennessee State; Colt Lyerla, Oregon; Arthur Lynch, Georgia; Jake Murphy, Utah; Jordan Najvar, Baylor; Troy Niklas, Notre Dame; Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin; Richard Rodgers, California; Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington; D.J. Tialavea, Utah State.
Matt Armstrong (C), Grand Valley State; Joel Bitonio (OT), Nevada; Russell Bodine (C), North Carolina; Conor Boffeli (G), Iowa; Justin Britt (OT), Missouri; Dakota Dozier (OT), Furman; Kadeem Edwards (G), Tennessee State; Matt Feiler (OT), Bloomsburg; Cameron Fleming (OT), Stanford; Zach Fulton (G), Tennessee; Ryan Groy (G), Wisconsin; Jon Halapio (G), Florida; Jonotthan Harrison (C), Florida; Seantrel Henderson (OT), Miami (Fla.); James Hurst (OT), North Carolina; Gabe Ikard (C), Oklahoma; Gabe Jackson (G), Mississippi State; Ja'wuan James (OT), Tennessee; Wesley Johnson (OT), Vanderbilt; Cyrus Kouandjio (OT), Alabama; Tyler Larsen (C), Utah State; Charles Leno (OT), Boise State
Taylor Lewan (OT), Michigan; Brandon Linder (G), Miami (Fla.); Corey Linsley (C), Ohio State; Spencer Long (G), Nebraska; Luke Lucas (OT), Kansas State; Marcus Martin (C), USC; Zack Martin (OT), Notre Dame; Jake Matthews (OT), Texas A&M; Jack Mewhort (OT), Ohio State; Morgan Moses (OT), Virginia; Matt Paradis (C), Boise State; Matt Patchan (OT), Boston College; Antonio Richardson (OT), Tennessee; Cyril Richardson (G), Baylor; Weston Richburg (C), Colorado State; Greg Robinson (OT), Auburn; Michael Schofield (OT), Michigan; Anthony Steen (G), Alabama
James Stone (C), Tennessee; Bryan Stork (C), Florida State; Xavier Su'a-Filo (G), UCLA; Travis Swanson (C), Arkansas; Brandon Thomas (OT), Clemson; Trai Turner (G), LSU; Billy Turner (OT), North Dakota State; John Urschel (G), Penn State; Chris Watt (G), Notre Dame; David Yankey (G), Stanford.
Jay Bromley (DT), Syracuse; Ryan Carrethers (DT), Arkansas State; Will Clarke (DE), West Virginia; Jadeveon Clowney (DE), South Carolina; DeAndre Coleman (DT), California; Scott Crichton (DE), Oregon State; Aaron Donald (DT), Pittsburgh; Kony Ealy (DE), Missouri; Dominique Easley (DT), Florida; Kasim Edebali (DE), Boston College; Justin Ellis (DT), Louisiana Tech; I.K. Enemkpali (DE), Louisiana Tech; Ego Ferguson (DT), LSU; Dee Ford (DE), Auburn; James Gayle (DE), Virginia Tech; Ra'Shede Hageman (DT), Minnesota; Taylor Hart (DE), Oregon; Kerry Hyder (DT), Texas Tech; Jackson Jeffcoat (DE), Texas; Timmy Jernigan (DT), Florida State; Anthony Johnson (DT), LSU; DaQuan Jones (DT), Penn State; Howard Jones (DE), Shephard; Zach Kerr (DT), Delaware; Demarcus Lawrence (DE), Boise State; Aaron Lynch (DE), South Florida; Eathyn Manumaleuna (DE), BYU; Cassius Marsh (DE), UCLA; Kareem Martin (DE), North Carolina; Josh Mauro (DE), Stanford; Daniel McCullers (DT), Tennessee; Tevin Mims (DE), South Florida; Zach Moore (DE), Concordia (Minn.); Jonathan Newsome (DE), Ball State; Louis Nix III (DT), Notre Dame; Jeoffrey Pagan (DE), Alabama; Tenny Palepoi (DT), Utah; Mike Pennel (DT), Colorado State-Pueblo; Kelcy Quarles (DT), South Carolina; Kaleb Ramsey (DE), Boston College; Caraun Reid (DT), Princeton; Michael Sam (DE), Missouri; Chris Smith (DE), Arkansas; Marcus Smith (DE), Louisville; Shamar Stephen (DT), U-Conn; Ed Stinson (DE), Alabama; Will Sutton (DT), Arizona State; Robert Thomas (DT), Arkansas; Khyri Thornton (DT), Southern Mississippi; Stephon Tuitt (DE), Notre Dame; George Uko (DE), USC; Brent Urban (DT), Virginia; Larry Webster (DE), Bloomsburg; Ethan Westbrooks (DE), West Texas A&M; Chris Whaley (DT), Texas; Kerry Wynn (DT), Richmond.
Jerry Attaochu (OLB), Georgia Tech; Anthony Barr (OLB), UCLA; Lamin Barrow (OLB), LSU; Chris Borland (ILB), Wisconsin; Carl Bradford (OLB), Arizona State; Jonathan Brown (ILB), Illinois; Preston Brown (ILB), Louisville; Max Bullough (ILB), Michigan State; Khairi Fortt (ILB), California; Jeremiah George (ILB), Iowa State; Anthony Hitchens (OLB), Iowa; Adrian Hubbard (OLB), Alabama; Andrew Jackson (ILB), Western Kentucky; Christian Jones (ILB), Florida State; Devon Kennard (OLB), USC; Chris Kirksey (OLB), Iowa; Boseko Lokombo (OLB), Oregon; Khalil Mack (OLB), Buffalo; James Morris (ILB), Iowa; C.J. Mosley (ILB), Alabama; Trent Murphy (OLB), Stanford; Kevin Pierre-Louis (OLB), Boston College; Ronald Powell (OLB), Florida; Trevor Reilly (OLB), Utah; Ryan Shazier (OLB), Ohio State; Prince Shembo (OLB), Notre Dame; Shayne Skov (ILB), Stanford; Yawin Smallwood (OLB), U-Conn; Telvin Smith (ILB), Florida State; Tyler Starr (OLB), South Dakota; Jordan Tripp (OLB), Montana; Uani Unga (ILB), BYU; Kyle Van Noy (OLB), BYU; Avery Williamson (ILB), Kentucky; Jordan Zumwalt (ILB), UCLA.
Mo Alexander (SS), Utah State; Ricardo Allen (CB), Purdue; Dion Bailey (SS), USC; Deion Belue (CB), Alabama; Bene Benwikere (CB), San Jose State; Nat Berhe (SS), San Diego State; Tre Boston (SS), North Carolina; Bashaud Breeland (CB), Clemson; Terrence Brooks (FS), Florida State; Deone Bucannon (SS), Washington State; Travis Carrie (CB), Ohio; Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (FS), Alabama; Ross Cockrell (CB), Duke; Aaron Colvin (CB), Oklahoma; Chris Davis (CB), Auburn; Darqueze Dennard (CB), Michigan State; Pierre Desir (CB), Lindenwood; Ahmad Dixon (SS), Baylor; Brandon Dixon (CB), Northwest Missouri State; Jonathan Dowling (SS), Western Kentucky; Antone Exum (CB), Virginia Tech; Kyle Fuller (CB), Virginia Tech; E.J. Gaines (CB), Missouri; Phillip Gaines (CB), Rice; Justin Gilbert (CB), Oklahoma State; Demetri Goodson (CB), Baylor; Dre Hal (CB), Vanderbilt; Victor Hampton (CB), South Carolina; Marqueston Huff (FS), Wyoming; Bennett Jackson (CB), Notre Dame; Kendall James (CB), Maine
Stanley Jean-Baptiste (CB), Nebraska; Dontae Johnson (CB), North Carolina State; LaMarcus Joyner (CB), Florida State; Kenny Ladler (FS), Vanderbilt; Nevin Lawson (CB), Utah State; Isaiah Lewis (SS), Michigan State; Craig Loston (SS), LSU; Dexter McDougle (CB), Maryland; Keith McGill (CB), Utah; Terrance Mitchell (CB), Oregon; Jabari Price (CB), North Carolina; Calvin Pryor (FS), Louisville; Loucheiz Purifoy (CB), Florida; Keith Reaser (CB), Florida Atlantic; Ed Reynolds (FS), Stanford; Rashaad Reynolds (CB), Oregon State; Marcus Roberson (CB), Florida; Bradley Roby (CB), Ohio State; Daniel Sorensen (FS), BYU; Dez Southward (FS), Wisconsin; Vinnie Sunseri (SS), Alabama; Jemea Thomas (CB), Georgia Tech; Brock Vereen (FS), Minnesota; Jason Verrett (CB), TCU; Jimmie Ward (SS), Northern Illinois; Todd Washington (CB), Southeastern Louisiana; Jaylen Watkins (CB), Florida; Lavelle Westbrooks (CB), Georgia Southern.
Chris Boswell (K), Rice; Steven Clark (P), Auburn; Anthony Fera (K), Texas; Zach Hocker (K), Arkansas; Tom Hornsey (P), Memphis; Richie Leone (P), Houston; Cody Mandell (P), Alabama; Pat O'Donnell (P), Miami (Fla.); Cairo Santos (K), Tulane; Marcus Heit (LS), Kansas State.
These are the names that, to most fans, are more unknown than known. However, three months from tomorrow (and the two days that follow), these will be the players that will energize franchises that 2014 is their year.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.