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TEN YEARS ago, at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, a tall, lanky passer began distancing himself from the pack of quarterback prospects without ever throwing a ball. Tennessee's Peyton Manning was so intent on learning everything he could about every team in the NFL that he carried a legal pad with him and took notes on coaches, general managers and players he'd be encountering in the NFL. � Last weekend at the combine, another tall, lanky quarterback was separating himself from the rest without throwing a football. Boston College's Matt Ryan had prepared for his individual interviews with NFL teams by reading the bios of coaches and general managers and asking an NFL quarterbacks coach for insight into the combine process. Then he wore a blue dress shirt, pleated gray slacks and tan dress shoes—in sharp contrast to the sweat suit and sneakers favored by other prospects—when he met with potential NFL employers. After Ryan left his Saturday-night interview with the Kansas City Chiefs, club president Carl Peterson looked around the room and said, "Now that's what a first-round pick should look like and sound like."
That's not to say that Ryan's also going to mimic Manning on the field; he's more mistake-prone and less accurate than Manning was coming out of Tennessee. In the end Ryan's 45 Boston College game tapes will mostly determine which team spends a first-round pick on him come April 26. But Ryan is so polished, so prepared, so...
"Peyton," said Ryan's agent, Tom Condon, who serves Manning in the same capacity and prepped both quarterbacks for the combine. "They're extraordinarily bright, very determined, with phenomenal attention to detail. Peyton didn't miss anything. I remember him calling me after the draft a few years ago to get a complete rundown on one of my clients, [cornerback] Andre Woolfolk, drafted by the Titans, and he was upset. He said, 'Damn! I don't need another big corner in my division.' Matt's like that. He doesn't miss anything either."
And just like Peyton—and Tim Couch, Eli Manning and JaMarcus Russell, all No. 1 picks—Ryan's decision not to throw at the combine shouldn't affect his draft position. For other projected high draft picks who took part in the long weekend's activities, there were notable developments.
EQUAL PARTS football workout, media circus, agents' convention and autograph show, the combine has become much more than the annual midwinter kickoff to NFL draft season. Held in the Indiana Convention Center and the adjacent RCA Dome, this year's carnival attracted 333 college prospects, 430 members of the media and about 800 agents, all of whom shared the wide hallways with a cheerleading competition and a gymnastics event taking place in the convention center. It was strange to see Tony Dungy and Tom Coughlin walking gingerly through squads of sparkly faced nine-year-olds as the Super Bowl--winning coaches made their way to workouts inside the Dome. Even stranger was former NFL cornerback Toi Cook prospecting for the next Evander Holyfield on behalf of a Los Angeles fight promoter. "There are five people here this weekend who could be heavyweight champion," Cook said on Saturday, "and my job is to find them."
Amid this sports goulash, some intriguing stories emerged. On Saturday a report surfaced that potential No. 1 pick Glenn Dorsey, the defensive tackle from LSU, has a lingering stress fracture in his right tibia that could make him this year's version of Adrian Peterson, the Oklahoma running back who was all over draft boards last year because of a clavicle injury. Two scouts said on Sunday that their team orthopedists thought Dorsey's leg was strong enough to handle the rigors of an NFL career and that their teams would not be dropping Dorsey on their draft boards. Dorsey scoffed at the notion that he's injury-prone. "I played every game at LSU for four years," he said.
The best running back in the draft, 210-pound Darren McFadden of Arkansas, clocked an impressive 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and he leads what could be the finest crop of rushers in years. "We could see four runners in the top 10," Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian said. And the most impressive passer at the combine wasn't a familiar name such as Chad Henne of Michigan or Brian Brohm of Louisville. It was Delaware's Joe Flacco, who transferred to the Division I-AA school from Pitt three years ago because he couldn't beat out Tyler Palko. At the RCA Dome, Flacco threw the ball with the arm strength of Jeff George or Dan Fouts.
RYAN DOESN'T have Flacco's fastball, but scouts looking for a QB at the combine said they like how he performed in college with the weight of an entire offense on his shoulders. One scout said it's likely no other skill player on BC's '07 team will ever make an NFL roster, yet the Eagles were in the national-title hunt for two months. In 14 games Ryan threw for 4,507 yards and 31 touchdowns.
Still, he'll have to assuage concerns about his accuracy. Against N.C. State last September he completed just 44.1% of his passes, and in a two-game stretch against Virginia Tech and Florida State he was 48.6% with five interceptions. One coach at the combine called his total of 19 interceptions in 2007 troubling. "I've watched his games from last fall [on tape], and he tended to force the ball too much," the coach said. "He tried to make too much happen that wasn't there."
When Ryan interviewed with the Chiefs, a team staffer cued up a BC play from 2007 on the video screen for Ryan to dissect it. The quarterback identified the play from the formation alone, before the tape rolled. "This is the first play of our season last year," Ryan said. "I threw an interception." That recognition impressed the Chiefs, who also noted that shortly after the pick he completed nine straight passes, including a touchdown, and finished the day with 408 yards and five TDs in a 38--28 win.