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INDIANAPOLIS – Having the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft is never a lucky thing. Yet, Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly was feeling fortunate Sunday – smiling, even.
Now that the curtain is drawing to a close on the league's annual scouting combine, Casserly is just happy he's not reliving what the San Francisco 49ers went through last year. He won't be leaving the combine with more questions than answers. He won't be touring the country over the next few months, scouring and praying for just one gem to emerge. And he won't be scratching his head like so many teams were last offseason as they wondered where all the marquee players were in the draft. Instead, Casserly and the Texans are looking at an abundance of future stars.
That makes the Texans the biggest winner of this year's combine.
Houston is sitting on the No. 1 pick in a year when the draft is loaded with elite talent. And now that he's had a chance to study some of it, Casserly leaves Indianapolis knowing two important things: One, there might be as many as six or seven impact players in this draft, and two, that's going to make this year's top spot a hot commodity.
"Where this draft is much different than a year ago – there are clearly players at the top that are marquee players," Casserly said. "Players that are impact players. Players that are going to go to the Pro Bowl. Players that are going to sell tickets.
"We're going to get offers for this pick. We've already had some discussions with teams. I think there's value in our pick. I think when you look at, whether it's Reggie Bush, Vince Young, Matt Leinart – those three players are going to produce trade offers. (The NFL) didn't have that a year ago with the top pick. But we are definitely going to have some choices when it comes to draft day or even before."
Whether Casserly is looking to take Bush with the No. 1 pick, or squeeze a lucrative deal from a quarterback-needy team, he has leverage. That alone puts him in a win-win situation.
The combine had plenty of winners and losers. Here are some of the most prominent ones:
Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland – Davis produced the jaw-dropper moment of the combine, running a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash – a ridiculous feat for a guy who checked in at 6-foot-3 3/4 and 254 pounds. In terms of sheer shock, it rivaled Matt Jones' 4.38 time in the 40 last year. According to some scouts, Davis' physique was the most impressive, too. Davis did well in pass-receiving drills and actually looked dominant at times in pass-blocking drills. His 42-inch vertical jump amazed, and he won the broad jump for his position (10-8) by almost 10 inches over the next best effort. Davis likely pushed himself into the draft's top eight selections.
Manny Lawson, DE, North Carolina State – He's been overshadowed by Mario Williams, but he could be a spectacular 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL. Lawson, who may have moved himself into late first-round consideration, will have to make that move with his current size (6-5, 241). He played some linebacker as a freshman and sophomore for the Wolfpack, but after seeing his performance in Indy, Lawson might be a star in the making. He ran 4.43 seconds in the 40, had a vertical of 39½ and had great times in the shuttle and cone drills. Remember Lawson's name.
Ohio State and USC – While not all of their best players worked out, the Buckeyes and Trojans practically owned the combine with 26 total invitees (14 for USC and 12 for Ohio State). Most of those who did participate in drills were very impressive and also seemed to have scored high marks in team interviews. When it's all said and done, there could be as many as 10 first-round picks from these two schools.
Jay Cutler, QB, Vanderbilt – He had the potential to have a big week and really delivered. Cutler's passing drills weren't flawless, but they were very good. He showed he could make any pass asked of him and had the best arm. He finished second overall in ball speed (60 miles per hour), ran a 4.77-second 40 and then showed his competitive nature by volunteering for the weight lifting portion and putting up a very impressive 23 reps. With USC's Matt Leinart and Texas' Vince Young taking voluntary passes on workouts, Cutler walked out of the combine having delivered a great argument why he should be the draft's No. 1 quarterback.
Chad Jackson, WR, Florida – Jackson had to come in and run fast if he wanted to challenge for the draft's top receiver spot. He posted the fastest 40 time of the week (4.32) and had a good round of drills as well. It helps that Ohio State's Santonio Holmes skipped the workouts, giving Jackson the stage. It remains to be seen if he has supplanted Holmes as the No. 1 wideout, but the door is now wide open.
San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers won the coin toss with Oakland to determine the owner of the sixth overall selection. They should be in position to take the guy they covet – Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk.
Teams with top-10 picks – Unlike last year, there is a wealth of "elite" players at the top of this draft. It's also a very diverse group of both defensive and offensive players. There is at least one dominant player from almost everywhere on the field – quarterback, defensive line, offensive line, linebacker, tight end and the secondary. There is a lot of help waiting for needy NFL teams.
Second-tier quarterbacks – With Clemson's Charlie Whitehurst deciding to throw (and looking very sharp), there now appears to be three second-tier quarterbacks who could be very worthwhile projects. Along with Whitehurst, Alabama's Brodie Croyle and Bowling Green's Omar Jacobs looked like guys who have the skills to be quality investments in Rounds 2, 3 and 4.
Tight ends – Davis wasn't the only impressive tight end. Personnel people say this is the best tight end class they have seen in several years, and as many as three could be drafted in the first round: Maryland's Davis, Georgia's Leonard Pope and USC's Dominique Byrd.
Offensive linemen – There is always one position that stands out as having the combine's best group of characters. This year, it was the offensive line. Virginia's D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Auburn's Marcus McNeill were two of the best interviews, while several others had media members buzzing with their charisma.
Tamba Hali, DE, Penn State – His escape from war-torn Liberia and struggle to get his mother out of that country captivated everyone when he interviewed with the media. But it didn't end there. Several personnel people said they walked out of their individual talks with Hali simply amazed.
Broderick Bunkley, DT, Florida State – Bunkley's physique had a lot of coaches buzzing about the athletic-looking tackle. Then he pumped out 44 reps at 225 pounds and ran a 4.95 in the 40. In a relatively weak defensive tackle class, he secured himself in the first round.
NFL Network – The network was a winner for the second straight year, even though the festivities lacked the Maurice Clarett drama. While 26 hours of live coverage seemed excessive, it actually came off well. The analysts, player interviews and news updates kept the shows from being too bland, and the on-field cameras during drills gave fans a chance to hear what the coaches were teaching. One suggestion for next year, though: a handful of Hollywood-style feature stories – like those on typical pregame shows during the regular season. They would definitely add to the entertainment value.
Running backs – This looks like a deeper position than originally thought with the quality times posted by LSU's Joseph Addai, UCLA's Maurice Drew and several others. Addai (4.4 seconds in the 40) may sneak into the first round, but if he ends up in the second round, someone may have found a steal. Drew (4.39) – who has the most muscular lower body of all the running backs – could be another one who surprises. More than likely, we'll see another productive NFL running back plucked after the first round.
Vince Young and Major Adams – Hardly anything positive came out of this week for Young, who skipped workouts and then had a plethora of personnel people question his ability to fit in a conventional offense. But the real blow came when his Wonderlic test issues got leaked out. Not only did almost 48 hours pass before Adams (Young's agent) started damage control, but it highlighted what has seemed to be utter mismanagement of one of the draft's elite players. No matter what Young's score is revealed to be, he clearly wasn't prepared for the test – which is unfathomable. Everybody is saying something different, and nobody knows who's telling the truth. This will rank as one of the worst public relations jobs ever for a top-five pick at the combine.
National Scouting – Wonderlic test results always fall into the hands of the media, but those typically get leaked through team channels a few days after the combine concludes. Because of the environment of rumor-mongering at the combine, it's a disaster when scores get out before the combine is finished. And having Young's testing issues become news this week – no matter what those issues really were – is a black eye for the scouting service that runs the combine.
Quarterbacks moving to receiver – There are at least three quarterbacks that are going to be forced to wide receiver because of accuracy issues: Texas A&M's Reggie McNeal, Penn State's Michael Robinson and Missouri's Brad Smith. But none of those guys took reps at the position, despite being encouraged to do so by coaches. Robinson didn't even work out, severely agitating a number of teams. These passers may not like the reality that they can't be NFL quarterbacks, but that's exactly what it is – reality.
Marcus Vick, QB, Virginia Tech – Vick ran fast, but a handful of team sources said he failed to put his character issues to bed in individual interviews. While his physical talents will get him a look in the draft, he needed to come off as a saint when he met with teams. Apparently that didn't happen.
New York Jets coach Eric Mangini – He was by far the most boring interview. If you could bottle what Mangini was dishing out, you could cure insomnia worldwide. You don't have to puke personnel information, but at least say something when you have a national platform. After all, your fans are watching.