NFL Combine stories to watch: Here's 7, starting with Broncos, of course

Posted at 4:12 PM, Feb 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-28 18:21:16-05

INDIANAPOLIS -- The sweatsuit gave him away. Standing at baggage claim after Tuesday's flight on Southwest Airlines, receiver Jalen Robinette stood tall in his Air Force gear. Sticking out remains the goal of the 330 players attending the NFL Combine this week at Lucas Oil Stadium. 

"I have been balancing school and training," said the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder who averaged 27.4 yards per catch last season. "I am excited to get out there."

Robinette represents one of nine local players attending, including four from the University of Colorado. The combine attracts executives, coaches, scouts and media, allowing for a personal look at players to see if the measurables reconcile with the game film. Teams can conduct 15-minute interviews with prospects to glean more about their character and work ethic. Max Garcia wowed the Broncos, leading to his selection two years ago. And don't forget about the medicals. This is where players stand to lose money if concerns surface about a recovery or the severity of an existing injury. 

In the end, simplicity returns. Teams need players. The draft provides them. In his seventh go-around, this might be general manager John Elway's most important selection process. The Broncos own 10 picks and are looking to address multiple needs. Let's start there as I tackle the top Denver7 storylines of the combine.

1) Where should Broncos go with 20th overall selection?

Depending how free agency shakes out, the Broncos could go with an offensive tackle -- possibly two depending on if they decide to keep Donald Stephenson. Given his low salary of $4 million, he might survive, though there is no guarantee. This draft, frankly, is not stocked with plug-and-play tackles. As NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said this week, "A bunch of offensive tackles the last six-to-seven years have been busts or struggled." Wisconsin's Ryan Ramczyk is a power blocker, but his health is a question. Utah's Garrett Bolles features freakish athleticism, though it cannot mask his raw technique. Elway's best picks share a common thread: they were the best players available. Could that be versatile Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, Florida defensive end Caleb Brantley or tight end O.J. Howard this year? The Broncos need impact from their first pick after their top two picks a year ago provided little boost. I wouldn't mind linebacker Zach Cunningham as a sleeper pick in the second or third round. 

2) Who is the top quarterback?

Clemson's Deshaun Watson brings experience and a national championship. There was a time that is all a top quarterback needed. Spread offenses have changed everything, leaving teams worried about the transition to the NFL. The Broncos lived it last season with Paxton Lynch, who became a developmental project from his footwork to huddling and calling plays. DeShone Kizer is an elite talent, but lacks experience. North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky looks the part, however, the NFL is traditionally unkind to one-year college starters. The sleeper? Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes. 

3) Cornering the market

The draft bursts with defensive talent. And if there is a safe pick, cornerback could be it. No one will be surprised if three starters go in the first round, beginning with Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore, Florida's Teez Tabor, Alabama's Marlon Humphrey and Sidney Jones of Washington. It is a passing league. Covering premium receivers remains paramount.

4) Run for cover

McCaffrey creates buzz every time is name is mentioned in connection with the Broncos. Is he a reach at 20th overall? If not used as a Swiss Army knife, yes. After teams drafted zero running backs in the first round in 2013 and 2014, the trend changed. Over the last two years Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott went early and paid off. This season includes Leonard Fournette, the LSU bruiser, Florida State's Dalvin Cook and McCaffrey. I believe all three will go on the draft's first day. 

5) Tight fit

This represents a good draft for the Broncos to land another tight end. A battery of potential candidates exists. If Howard is not the choice in round one, Denver could find a fit with Miami's David Njoku and Mississippi's Evan Engram.  

6) 40 Shades of Speed

Speed never has a bad day. It creates space, separation, and let's be honest, it's fun to watch guys eat up chunks of ground. Legendary Cleveland Browns coach Paul Brown is considered the first to use the 40-yard distance as a barometer to measure players on punt coverage in the 1940s and 1950s. The Dallas Cowboys made the test more valuable in 1960 under general manager Tex Schramm and personnel chief Gil Brandt. The Browns used the test on players on their roster. 

"We used it before we got the player," Brandt told me. "We were trying to make a better draft pick."

Running back Chris Johnson turned in the fastest official combine time with a 4.24 in 2008. Hall of Famer Deion Sanders clocked a 4.27 without stretching after walking from a limo into the stadium. 

7) Sleeper pick

The combine offers a chance for a player to rush up the draft board. It's not as common as before; teams are no longer fooled by combine stars like pass rusher Mike Mamula, who was better in drills than games for the Eagles. Still, the opportunity exists to open eyes, just as defensive back Byron Jones did when he turned in a 44.5-inch vertical leap. 


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Want Broncos news? Denver7 Broncos insider Troy E. Renck is your source. He talks to the players, covers the games and reports scoops on Denver7 and the Denver7 app. He is a CU grad who has covered pro sports in Colorado since 1996, including 14 years at The Denver Post. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and’s Broncos page. Troy welcomes most of your emails at