INDIANAPOLIS - The World's Largest Meat Market, also known as the NFL Scouting Combine, is about to open.
Hundreds of NFL executives, coaches, scouts and medical staff from all 32 teams are descending on this Midwestern city to get a first-hand look at 328 college players, the cream of this year's crop.
Starting Thursday, those prospective NFLers are going to be grilled, inspected and tested six ways to next Tuesday -- the six ways being:
• A complete physical;
• Thorough psychological testing;
• Rigorous interviews with interested teams;
• Interviews with media (the easy part);
• And, finally, the on-field workouts, which consist of speed drills, agility drills and position-specific skill drills.
"Teams that do the best drafting on a consistent basis understand the correct blend between all the factors, and don't get carried away with the measurables," says NFL Network's Mike Mayock, arguably the pre-eminent talent evaluator around. "What the Combine should be is a cross-check of what you've seen on tape.
"What I always say is fast guys run fast, and slow guys run slow. It's not a story when that happens. But when a fast guy runs slow or a slow guy runs fast, now you've got to figure out why. (The trap is) we start to fall in love with all the numbers."
You can bet those 300-odd former Big Men on Campus have never experienced anything like this grinder. Even the elite of the elite have to jump through all the hoops -- well, with the exception of a few projected to go early on the first day of the draft who eschew the skill drills. Why? Because some feel they have nothing more to prove.
That can be a big mistake.
"I think guys are crazy not to," Mayock says. "Not because I work for the NFL, but I look at it like a former player."
Players are divvied into position groups at the Combine, and they participate in staggered four-day periods, starting with offensive linemen, kickers and punters on Thursday.
Friday is glamour day -- when the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers meet the press.
Quarterbacks include Andrew Luck of Stanford, expected to be taken first overall by the Indianapolis Colts no matter what happens with Peyton Manning.
The other big-buzz QB is Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Alabama's Trent Richardson is regarded by Mayock and others as the best running back to come out of college since Adrian Peterson in 2007 -- he's that dazzling. After him, however, there's a big dropoff at that position.
Justin Blackmon on Oklahoma State leads a bevy of tall, muscular, athletic wide receivers. He's a class above because of his ability to dominate at the college level, and because of his speed.
On the defensive side of the ball, this draft class appears super deep at defensive tackle, bereft of good pass-rushing ends, and thin at cornerback after the first three -- Morris Claiborne of LSU, Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama and Janoris Jenkins of North Alabama. The top safety is yet another 'Bama grad, Mark Barron.
After the Combine, most of these prospects -- plus a slew of their college-grad teammates who weren't invited to Indianapolis -- will take part in "pro days" from March 1 to April 6 at their former college campuses. These sessions allow players to perform the speed, agility and skill drills on familiar turf. Some prospects perform better at 'home,' and NFL teams want to see them at their best.
"If I was playing today and I was a positional player," Mayock says, "I would train my tail off to get ready for the 40 at the Combine ... so I could get rid of the all those non-football drills (and) just concentrate on football for my pro day."
The draft is April 26-28 in New York City.
Try as they do to make their evaluations infallible, NFL clubs are still guessing in a lot of cases. Some 15% of these players won't be drafted.
Gee. All that Meat Market poking and prodding for nothing.