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Previewing The 2013 NFL Combine

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Over the last three or four years, they’ve been scouted and studied. This past season, that scrutiny was turned up another level and this weekend, they’ll be poked, prodded and dissected like never before. Oh, and for some of these soon-to-be NFLers, there are millions of dollars to be made or lost.

Welcome to the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.

Let me start by saying I love watching the combine, at least the football-specific drills.

My DVR will probably fill up around Sunday afternoon, then I’ll have some tough choices to make—like whether to delete that drill where the offensive linemen shuffle back and forth against another offensive lineman pretending to pass rush in order to make room for the drill where the wide receivers run in a straight line and catch passes coming at them from both directions. Decisions, decisions.

Even though I’ll nerd-out for hours on end over the next few days, I hate how much value is placed on the combine.

Years of game film is far more telling than a few days draped in Under Armour, unless you are Vontze Burfict, who might still be running his 40 from last year’s event.

But with the exception of a few guys completely balling out and others falling flat on their faces, the only real takeaway any team should have from the weekend’s human cattle auction is what happens behind closed doors.

And this year, perhaps nobody has more riding on those interviews than Manti Te’o.

We know what the guy can do on the field. He is a top-five talent. But after what came to light since he played his final down for the Fighting Irish, he has a lot to prove to NFL teams.

Unfortunately, Te’o doesn’t seem to get that right now. Hopefully he does by the time the league’s coaches and GMs are allowed to talk to him, because if years past tell us anything, those guys will hold nothing back.

These interviews won’t be as easy as the one he did with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap.

Te’o needs to keep his answers simple, look these men in the eye, and tell them with confidence that he had no clue he was being duped for so many months. He needs to convince the NFL’s power brokers that he is the person we all thought he was until that Deadspin story broke on Jan. 16.

He cannot shy away from these questions. He cannot say he wants to move on and forget about it, because that will not happen. He needs to embrace the inquisition, answer the questions with the same passion he played with on Saturdays, and explain how he will use it as fuel for the next level.

Will Te’o still end up as a first-round pick?

Probably. He only needs to find one team to believe him.

Because what Te’o does on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium will have no bearing on where he gets drafted. All that matters for the All American is the interview process.

For his sake, I hope he has someone smarter than his dad coaching him up.

Other Players With A Lot On The Line: QB Edition

Matt Barkley, USC

Before the season, Barkley was the Heisman favorite on the No. 1 team in the country. Many experts projected him to be the top pick in the draft.

Then this happened.

Barkley won’t throw this weekend in Indianapolis, but he better do everything else pretty damn well because I’ve seen him projected as high No. 7, while others have left him completely off their mock-first-round draft boards.

Geno Smith, West Virginia

Smith wants to be the No. 1-overall pick in the draft. And with enough teams starving to find their franchise quarterback, a great showing in Indy could land him there. Good won’t cut it; the showing has to be great.

Smith needs to nail this weekend, but one thing I’ll look for is his speed. As the NFL is moving towards more zone-read plays, teams need a quarterback whose legs strike almost as much fear in his opponents as his arm does.

Smith did not prove that in college.

And he didn’t show enough awareness or touch to be a pure pocket passer, either. So if Smith truly wants to be the top pick, he’ll probably need a sub-4.55 40 time, and he’ll need to impress in the 3-cone drill.

Denard Robinson, Michigan

Robinson won’t play quarterback in the NFL, and so far, his transition to wide receiver has not been a smooth one.

See: Senior Bowl.

Still, he has the athleticism to become a rich man’s Brad Smith. Teams know Robinson will be a project, and should simply be looking for noticeable improvement from him as a route runner and pass catcher.

Those skills will be on full display in that drill where the wide receivers run in a straight line and try to catch passes coming from both directions.

Ccome to think of it, I’ll definitely delete those O-line drills to watch Robinson do that.

Sam Good is TDdaily’s NFC West blogger. Follow him on Twitter @samgood.