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What's Lions' plan? What to look for at NFL Combine

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

This week, the NFL will hold its annual scouting combine, where more than 300 NFL hopefuls will converge on Indianapolis to showcase their speed and strength, be poked and prodded by team medical staffs and be put through the mental wringer by dozens of coaches, scouts and front office executives.

Many players will tell you it’s one of the worst weeks of their lives. They struggle to find time to sleep, but are expected to be at their best, both physically and mentally. That’s the nature of the week-long job fair, and while it’s secondary to the film they amassed during their college career, the combine is capable of altering perceptions and draft standing.

Lions general manager Bob Quinn talks with wide receiver great Randy Moss on the field before a December game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Prospects begin arriving on Tuesday and televised drills will be conducted March 3-6. Many of the league’s coaches and general managers will talk to the media on Wednesday and Thursday.

Here are eight things to watch from the event.

Speed intrigue

There are a number of drills, but none captures our imagination like the 40-yard dash. It’s debatable how much the pad-less sprint means when evaluating a talent, but all NFL teams clearly covet speed. Chris Johnson’s record time of 4.24 seconds is likely safe, but there are a handful of players who have the wheels to challenge the mark, including Florida State’s Kermit Whitfield, who set the Florida high school record in the 100-meter dash. Others to watch include Washington’s John Ross, West Virginia’s Shelton Gibson and USC’s Adoree’ Jackson.

Does Quinn take a stand?

Lions general manager Bob Quinn admitted he made a mistake the first time he met with local media, declaring he’d never sign a player with domestic violence or a gun crime in his past, before adding two —tight ends Orson Charles and Andrew Quarless — months later.

Quinn undoubtedly will be asked about Joe Mixon, the talented Oklahoma running back who could help the Lions, but punched a woman, breaking her jaw, in a 2014 altercation. Will Quinn take a firm stance or leave the door open?

Tackle Riley Reiff, left, could possibly leave the Lions in free agency, along with guard Larry Warford.

What’s Lions’ O-line plan?

Riley Reiff and Larry Warford, the starting right side of Detroit’s offensive line, are set to become free agents. Quinn didn’t have a lot to say about their status at the end of the season, but might offer some clarity now that his staff has completed its evaluation process from the season. Expectations are growing that neither player will be back, which makes offensive lineman a primary focus at the combine.

Will top OT emerge?

Speaking of O-linemen, there isn’t a clear-cut top offensive tackle in this class, but one might be able to separate himself with a strong performance in Indy. Depending on who you talk to, Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk, Utah’s Garett Bolles, Alabama’s Cam Robinson and Troy’s Antonio Garcia are the best of the bunch.

Can underwhelming combine help Lions?

College production is important, but if a player’s measurables underwhelm at the combine, it can send his draft stock spiraling. The early assessment of Quinn’s player acquisition suggests he values athleticism, but his background with the New England Patriots makes it less likely he’ll pass up on good value, especially early in the draft. A talent to watch is Tennessee edge rusher Derek Barnett, who recorded double-digit sacks each of his three seasons, but isn’t believed to possess elite athleticism.

Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett is the odds-on favorite to be selected No. 1 overall in the NFL draft.

All eyes on presumed No. 1

The Cleveland Browns desperately need a franchise quarterback, but the majority of analysts believe the team will take Myles Garrett, the Texas A&M defensive end with the prototypical build. Naturally, we want to compare him to Von Miller, another former Aggie, but Garrett is much bigger and has drawn comparisons to historically great pass rushers, from Bruce Smith to Julius Peppers. If Garrett can post numbers similar to what Ziggy Ansah did in 2013, it will make the No. 1 pick a no-brainer.

Who will win this year’s combine?

Every year a player or two dominates the drills and sends their stock soaring. A great example is Byron Jones, the UConn cornerback who topped the charts in nearly every drill, including a record-breaking broad jump. That performance helped get him drafted in the first round.

He might not do it eye-popping numbers, but one player you can expect to come out of the event with positive momentum is Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He could easily work his way into the first round this week.

Small-school players to watch

Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp was the talk of the town at the Senior Bowl, and he has an opportunity to further validate himself as a top prospect, but he’s not the only small-school standout expected to take advantage of the opportunity.

Look out for Ashland tight end Adam Shaheen. He’s listed at 6-foot-7, 277 pounds and recorded 16 receiving touchdowns last season. Another player to watch is undersized linebacker Connor Harris. The Lindenwood product is a tackling machine who will help himself by showing well in drills.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

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