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Fantasy explosion pumps up the combine

On the run: Former Miami receiver Phillip Dorsett runs the 40 in 4.24 seconds.
On the run: Former Miami receiver Phillip Dorsett runs the 40 in 4.24 seconds.
Published Feb. 22, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS — As many as 12 million viewers will tune into the scouting combine at some point to watch draft prospects do nothing more exciting than run sprints and lift weights.

Other than coaches, general managers and scouts, who makes time in the middle of the day to devote to projecting a kid's future?

The answer won't surprise anybody with a fantasy football team. For them, the combine has become must-see TV.

Ryan Satterlof, a fifth-grade Indianapolis math teacher and fantasy devotee, was among 600 fans watching Saturday's workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Select groups of fans have been invited to the combine workouts since 2012, and only about 1,000 will get the chance this year.

"The NFL handed out forms if we wanted to chart times and stuff," he said. "But I was just trying to take in the moment. … I won't make any serious judgments — even on players I saw here — until after the draft."

The combine and fantasy football were low-key endeavors when Satterlof, now 37, and a few buddies organized their first fantasy league in 1994. "We used to have to comb through newspapers and other publications to play back then," he said. "Now, everything is at your fingertips."

That's not a coincidence. The explosive growth in the audience for both has gone hand in hand. The combine has nearly doubled its audience since 2007. The number of fantasy competitors, meanwhile, is expected to top 30 million this year.

Tidbits: Alabama-Birmingham receiver J.J. Nelson had the combine's fastest overall 40-yard dash, 4.28 seconds, falling just shy of Chris Johnson's combine record of 4.24 in 2008. Miami's Phillip Dorsett was next at 4.33. West Virginia's Kevin White helped his case by running 4.35, while Alabama's Amari Cooper was clocked at 4.42. Heisman Trophy finalist Melvin Gordon had the fifth-fastest time among running backs at 4.52. Michigan State's Jeremy Langford was first at 4.42.

Homecoming king: Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler had quite the party in his hometown of Vicksburg, Miss., complete with a parade that had 70 entries, including floats, marching bands and two people in chicken costumes dancing alongside a Popeyes truck float. The 24-year-old had the winning, goal-line interception in the final minute for the Patriots in their Super Bowl victory over the Seahawks on Feb. 1. "I couldn't do it without my hometown," Butler said, smiling as he greeted fan after fan. "This is where it all started." Hundreds of people lined the main drag of the town of about 25,000 people. Several revelers set up smokers with chicken, sausage and pork on an unseasonably warm afternoon.