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10 key story lines from the combine

Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, considered the top defensive back in this year’s draft, is headed for shoulder surgery soon after this week’s scouting combine and is one of several top prospects with medical concerns.

Associated Press

Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, considered the top defensive back in this year’s draft, is headed for shoulder surgery soon after this week’s scouting combine and is one of several top prospects with medical concerns.

INDIANAPOLIS — Who's the best athlete? The best quarterback? How about the emergence of the read-option and whether it will affect this year's draft and free agency? Here's a rundown of 10 story lines, none of them related to Manti Te'o, from the scouting combine, which ended Tuesday:

WHO'S NO. 1? Expect another shakeup atop the draft board after the combine craziness. Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei went home after being diagnosed with a heart condition, cornerback Dee Milliner is preparing for shoulder surgery and offensive tackle Eric Fisher appears to be closing the gap on offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, the presumptive No. 1 pick (hello, Kansas City?). Some analysts are moving guard Chance Warmack and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd into the top five.

MEDICAL EXAMS: Nothing is more important than passing a physical, and nothing can hurt a prospect's stock faster than a bad exam. Just ask Lotulelei, who has generally been ranked in the top three since the college season ended. After doctors diagnosed the Utah star with a heart condition, he was sent home to see a specialist. Before he even left town, some teams were saying he'd be off their draft board if he couldn't get cleared to play.

GOING DEEP: Teams looking for an Andrew Luck or a Robert Griffin III or even a Jake Long will be hard-pressed to find a franchise anchor at the top of the draft. That means the big winners will be the teams looking to fill in around Luck, Griffin or Cam Newton because this year's talent pool runs deep. And teams may find more value in dealing for Alex Smith or Matt Flynn than drafting Geno Smith or Matt Barkley, and those rumors are flying.

HOLD THE LINE: Coaches and general managers often talk about building teams around the line of scrimmage. This year they can show they mean it. Of the 333 players who attended the combine, 112 (33.6 percent) were either offensive or defensive linemen. Fans might want to start learning names such as Corey Lemonier (defensive end) and Eric Herman (offensive lineman).

CHECK IT OUT: This year's rookie class will keep background checkers busy. There are plenty of concerns that need to be sorted out, from drug use and alcohol abuse to academic woes and criminal allegations. Teams want some sort of certainty they won't risk too much by using a high pick on a talented player such as linebacker Alec Ogletree (DUI arrest on Feb. 16) and then have to contend with more problems.

BELIEVE YOUR EYES: Fans become enamored with things such as times in the 40-yard dash and the number of reps players have on the bench press. Scouts prefer to look at the tape. The reality is the workout warriors in shorts don't always meet the expectations in pads. Don't believe it? Here are the top five 40 times since 2000: Trindon Holliday, Jacoby Ford, Chris Johnson, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Demarcus Van Dyke.

FEEL-GOOD STORIES: Defensive lineman Walter Stewart and linebacker Jarvis Jones were told they would have to give up football in college after doctors discovered congenital spinal conditions. Both have been cleared to play. Defensive back D.J. Hayden tore a heart vein in a practice collision in November and was rushed into surgery. He now is on verge of fulfilling a lifelong dream.

QB QUANDARY: Though there is debate about who will be the first quarterback taken — Barkley, Mike Glennon, Smith or someone else — few analysts believe a top-10 quaraterback is available.

SEC RULES: No conference has been better at winning national championships over the past decade, and now the SEC's domination is carrying over to the NFL. The SEC easily had the most players at the combine (73) and could have the most first-round picks in April, too, in large part because of contingents from Alabama and LSU. The ACC had the second-most invites (43), with the Pac-12 third (38).

GOING GLOBAL: American football is becoming a hit overseas, too. Players at the combine were born or reared in the following countries: Australia, England, Estonia, Ghana, Germany, Japan, Liberia and Tonga. Not everyone believes American football is a great sport. But it's a start for a league that is trying to give its game a global spin.

10 key story lines from the combine 02/26/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 11:25pm]
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