Thursday, May 23

NFL Scouting Combine: What we’re following for all 32 teams in Indianapolis

Draft season kicks into high gear this week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis as teams will put prospects under a microscope during private interviews, news conferences and workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Quarterbacks always dominate conversations at the combine, and this year will be no different with USC’s Caleb Williams, North Carolina’s Drake Maye and LSU’s Jayden Daniels expected to be among the first handful of picks come April. But a stellar wide receiver group, headlined by Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr., LSU’s Malik Nabers and Washington’s Rome Odunze, will also draw plenty of interest this week.

Beyond the draft prospects, new head coaches, led by the Chargers’ Jim Harbaugh, and GMs, including the Commanders’ Adam Peters, will be in the spotlight. And the futures of quarterbacks Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson and Justin Fields will be hot topics.

We asked The Athletic’s team of beat and national writers to fill us in on who or what they’ll be watching or listening for as the NFL world descends upon Indianapolis.

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How big of a priority is an upgrade at wide receiver?

The Cardinals need help there. That’s not a question. But they have several needs, and two of the biggest are on the offensive and defensive lines. Like many of his peers, general manager Monti Ossenfort believes the quickest way to build is through the trenches. The popular theory is that if wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. is there, you take him. But what if he’s not? Does Arizona select Malik Nabers or Rome Odunze, also considered elite receivers? Or do they go a different route and look to pick up a receiver in later rounds? Ossenfort, who traded back from No. 3 last year, won’t answer these questions, of course, but he might shed light on how he views Arizona’s roster priorities. — Doug Haller

How does Tier 2 of the quarterback class shake out?

The Falcons don’t have a shot at Caleb Williams or Drake Maye picking at No. 8, and trading up to No. 1 or No. 2 in this draft class doesn’t seem realistic for anyone. That means if Atlanta is going to rely on the draft to find its next quarterback, it’s going to have to decide who it likes from a group that includes LSU’s Jayden Daniels, Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy and maybe even Oregon’s Bo Nix. Not only that, the Falcons have to figure out where they’re going to need to pick to get the player they want. McCarthy and Nix almost certainly will be available at eight, but getting Daniels might require a trade up to as high as No. 3. — Josh Kendall

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Which agents is general manager Eric DeCosta meeting with?

The Ravens are picking 30th. They have myriad needs, particularly on the offensive line and at running back and edge rusher. However, they’ll stay at 30 and pick the best player available or they’ll trade back to accrue more picks. What they do in the draft is never sexy, but it’s who they are. It’s also why there will be no position focus at the combine. What will be more notable is whether DeCosta can gain any traction in re-signing his own free agents. The Ravens have nearly two dozen, including standouts Justin Madubuike and Patrick Queen. With a tight salary-cap situation, DeCosta will need to get creative to keep the core of a 13-4 team together for another run. — Jeff Zrebiec

How will the Bills navigate their currently nonexistent cap space?

The Bills have their work cut out for them this offseason. The team is in a projected $41 million hole for 2024 cap space, with only 53 players on their roster and a lot of holes to boot. The team will need to make some difficult decisions. Whom might they cut to make room? Which contracts will they restructure? Which players will they extend? How much do they want to negatively influence their 2025 cap sheet with some of their restructurings? General manager Brandon Beane hasn’t had to do anything quite like this since his early years as the team’s GM. — Joe Buscaglia

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The team’s new coach and general manager

I’m interested in hearing what Dave Canales and Dan Morgan say at their first combine as the top of the Panthers’ football food chain. The two spoke in mostly general terms at their introductory news conference, where Morgan said the team needs more “dogs.” You might have heard: The Panthers don’t have a first-round pick. But this is an important offseason for a team that needs to get quarterback Bryce Young offensive line help and more weapons while figuring out how to handle a pair of key free agents in edge rusher Brian Burns and linebacker Frankie Luvu. — Joseph Person


All eyes at the combine will be on Caleb Williams, right, the presumptive No. 1 pick in the draft this week at the combine. (John Leyba / USA Today)

How will Caleb Williams handle the limelight?

The most important elements of the combine for the presumptive No. 1 pick will take place behind the scenes during his conversations with teams, starting with the Bears. Most questions about Williams have more to do with what he’s like off the field, and while he’s experienced more fame than most college football players, he hasn’t experienced anything like the media onslaught that will be waiting for him Friday morning in Indianapolis. The Bears, and other teams, will likely take note of how he does in that environment. — Kevin Fishbain

The defensive tackle class

The Bengals need to attack needs at interior defensive line aggressively, so how the measurables (and interviews) shake out will go a long way to deciding if Byron Murphy of Texas and Jer’Zhan Newton of Illinois could connect at No. 18 or if a move up or down the board shakes them out of mid-first range. Will any new candidates enter the equation for Day 2 with a strong combine? The Bengals need to plot the draft path at DT and if they don’t see enough options, they could shift to a free-agent-laden approach. — Paul Dehner Jr.

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The wide receivers

The Browns are focused on winning in 2024, so the “good” stuff at the combine will involve Browns GM Andrew Berry talking potential trades with his peers and potentially bumping into agents of upcoming free agents. None of that will be for public consumption. But the Browns need to upgrade their receiving corps — now and into the future — so it’s fair to think they’ll focus on their evaluations of this year’s wide receiver class. The Browns don’t pick until No. 54 of the second round, so they’ll have to determine how many wide receivers will be long gone, which ones they might like in the second or third rounds and how those receivers might fit into their ever-evolving offense. — Zac Jackson

What is the latest with Dak Prescott’s contract?

There are plenty of areas to address in free agency and the draft, from offensive line to linebacker and defensive tackle. But Prescott’s contract is the No. 1 issue because it affects everything else. The Cowboys have given no indication that they are considering an immediate future without Prescott, who is entering the final season of his current deal. The most likely scenario is that he signs a new contract next month. If the Cowboys leave his deal as is, he’d count just under $60 million against their 2024 cap, making it difficult to do anything to improve the roster outside of the draft. If Dallas is truly “all in,” like Jerry Jones said at the Senior Bowl, they need to figure out Prescott’s future so they can begin improving the rest of the roster. — Jon Machota

Russell Wilson watch

Sean Payton said after the season that a decision on the future of the 35-year-old Wilson would not be “a long, drawn-out process.” A few weeks later, at the Super Bowl, Payton said the decision would come “sooner rather than later.” The Broncos appear ready to move on from Wilson, whose $37 million in 2025 salary becomes guaranteed if he’s still on the roster on March 17, but there has been no movement yet publicly. I’m interested to see whether the activities at the combine reveal anything about what the Broncos will do with Wilson after two underwhelming seasons in Denver and what light will be shed on their quarterback plan to follow. — Nick Kosmider

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The cornerback class

This is a really intriguing group of corners, with more than a handful of prospects looking like first-rounders. The Lions obviously could use some young talent at the position, whether it’s at No. 29 on the first night or on Day 2 with three picks — Nos. 61, 73 and 92. I’m curious to see which corners separate themselves in Indianapolis. Testing is obviously part of the equation, but defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn believes you have to be wired a certain way to excel at the position. Hearing from corners at the podium could help us get a better understanding of prospects the Lions might like. — Colton Pouncy


Packers quarterback Jordan Love exceeded expectations in his first year as a starter and now is in line for a contract extension. (Patrick McDermott / Getty Images)

Jordan Love extension talks

I’m going to be parked next to the second-floor Starbucks at the JW Marriott for 96 consecutive hours, waiting for a glimpse of Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst and super-agent David Mulugheta talking with each other. I’d even take just a glance in each other’s direction. Then, I’ll know exactly how much the Packers are paying Love. Gutekunst can’t sign his franchise quarterback until May 3 because that’s 12 months after Love’s last extension, but he and Mulugheta will surely meet in Indianapolis to exchange contract numbers. — Matt Schneidman

Nick Caserio’s plan to build on last season

This was supposed to be a gradual and potentially painful build as Caserio and new coach DeMeco Ryans began laying the foundation last season after the GM spent the two previous years dismantling and setting the table for a true rebuild. But Caserio struck gold with his hiring of Ryans and draft selections both in 2022 and 2023 and Houston came out of nowhere to win its first division title in four years. Now Caserio must further fortify the roster, giving C.J. Stroud additional support by way of consistent weapons and more impactful defensive playmakers. With adequate cap space and eight draft picks, the Texans have resources to build with a blend of free-agent talent and young prospects. Caserio and Ryans surely will not give away any state secrets next week, but they should shed light on some of their highest priorities. — Mike Jones

Who will catch the eye of Colts WRs coach Reggie Wayne?

Beyond the first-round prospects Indianapolis will consider with the No. 15 pick, this year’s draft class is supposed to be loaded with wide receiver talent. Last year, Wayne said he was very impressed with Josh Downs’ route running and sure-handedness during the combine, despite Downs being undersized coming out of North Carolina. Wayne relayed that message to GM Chris Ballard, Downs was drafted in the third round and had a standout rookie season. I’ll use my binoculars to keep a close eye on Wayne’s interactions during combine drills, while also asking several receivers if they’ve met with him and heard any feedback. — James Boyd

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How they handle the tricky Calvin Ridley situation

By all accounts, the Jaguars want Ridley back after the 29-year-old receiver had 76 catches for 1,016 yards and eight touchdowns in his first season in Jacksonville. However, Ridley’s contract expired and his situation is fascinating to consider. If the Jaguars re-sign Ridley before free agency begins, it qualifies as an extension and they would owe Atlanta a second-round pick in the 2024 draft as per the terms of their trade. However, if Ridley gets to free agency but still returns to the Jaguars, the new deal wouldn’t be considered an extension — rather a free-agent contract — and the Jaguars would only have to send Atlanta their third-round pick. Allowing Ridley to get to the open market is risky, but if the Jaguars play their cards right, they could bring back Trevor Lawrence’s top weapon without losing a top-50 pick. — Jim Ayello

Tier 2 of the receiver and tight end prospects

A major question for next season is whether Chiefs coach Andy Reid and general manager Brett Veach can return the team’s offense to its previous potent form. One of the fastest ways to do that is to select the best pass-catching prospects available late in the first and second rounds. Travis Kelce will be 35 next season, so adding another tight end should be high on the Chiefs’ priority list. As for the receivers, the Chiefs should have plenty of options, considering the depth of this year’s class. Reid and Veach will use the combine to start identifying which receiver could most excel playing alongside Patrick Mahomes. — Nate Taylor

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The quarterback prospects

This isn’t a unique answer, but it’s the most significant roster question for the Raiders in their first full season under general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Antonio Pierce. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell was solid in 10 starts as a rookie, but it’s hard to see the Raiders finishing this offseason without adding competition for the starting job either through the addition of a veteran or a rookie quarterback. Caleb Williams, Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels are widely considered the top three quarterbacks in this class. The Raiders will do plenty of work on them, but it’ll be difficult for them to draft any of them considering they hold pick No. 13 in the first round. With that in mind, they’ll also need to deeply study J.J. McCarthy, Bo Nix, Michael Penix Jr. and the rest of the class. — Tashan Reed


The NFL world will watch with interest to see how Jim Harbaugh and the cap-strapped Chargers retool their roster this offseason. (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

Their salary-cap situation

The Chargers are effectively $31.7 million over the salary cap as they head into the combine, according to Over the Cap. Crucial decisions loom, particularly regarding receiver Mike Williams, receiver Keenan Allen, edge rusher Joey Bosa and edge rusher Khalil Mack. All four veterans have cap hits exceeding $30 million in 2024. How will new head coach Jim Harbaugh and GM Joe Hortiz navigate these veteran contracts — and their cap situation in general? Who stays? Who goes? Do they inquire into the trade market? Do they offer extensions? Will they use void years? I’ll be looking for answers to these questions in Indy. — Daniel Popper

Sniffing around an offseason plan

The Rams don’t generally attend the NFL combine (here is why) other than their medical staff’s on-site collection of the all-important medical information on prospects. But Indianapolis is still a great place to gather data and tidbits from agents and other league sources about what their offseason plan could be and new trends in contract structures and team-building. The Rams will have approximately $40 million in workable cap space and a lot of needs despite a better-than-expected 2023 season. They also have brought in new assistant coaches — and the combine will be the perfect environment to mine for information about those additions. — Jourdan Rodrigue

Tua Tagovailoa extension talks

It certainly seems like a Tagovailoa extension is a foregone conclusion. But what will it look like and when will it happen? The Dolphins QB enters the 2024 season with a $23.1 million cap charge on the fifth-year option. The Dolphins then have the franchise tag at their disposal, so they don’t have to sign him to a long-term deal now or even next offseason. But for a team that could use some cap relief, lowering his cap figure with an extension could be appealing. But how much is it going to take to retain Tagovailoa? Is he the caliber of quarterback who should be paid in the neighborhood of a Joe Burrow ($55 million AAV)? Would he take less? These are the franchise-defining questions to keep in mind at the combine and beyond. — Jim Ayello

Where things stand between the Vikings and Kirk Cousins

This subject will shape the future of the Vikings organization. Keep Cousins, and Minnesota would likely be signaling its belief that it can contend in the short term. Move on from him, and the Vikings would be indicating that they’d be ready to chart a new path. Cousins’ contract is set to void March 12. If that happens, the Vikings will be on the hook for a hefty $28.5 million dead-cap hit. The only way to extend that money into the future is to come to terms on an extension with Cousins. The NFL combine stands as a prime opportunity for in-person discussions on this subject between the team and Cousins’ representatives. — Alec Lewis

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Quarterback Jayden Daniels

The easiest way for the Patriots to address their issues at quarterback is to draft a signal caller — either Daniels or Drake Maye depending on who falls to them at No. 3. With Daniels, there are more unknowns. The Pats aren’t concerned about his height (6-foot-4) or hand size (9 5/8 inches), but scouts want to see him at or above 210 pounds at the combine because there are concerns about his slight frame and the big hits he too often takes. The other question for the Patriots is how Daniels will interview and how he’ll test when they run him through plays on the whiteboard. How Daniels (and Maye) do this week will go a long way in determining whether the Patriots draft a quarterback or wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. with the third pick. — Chad Graff

Offensive tackles and pass catchers

We’ll leave the annual “too far over the salary cap” discussion for after the combine because the Saints always find a way. And this year it should come in mass contract restructurings of several veteran players. As noted in our NFL reporters’ mock draft recently, the need for tackle and/or guard should stand high on the priority list. So you’d imagine players like Olu Fashanu (Penn State), JC Latham (Alabama), Taliese Fuaga (Oregon State), Amarius Mims (Georgia) and Tyler Guyton (Oklahoma) are all on the Saints’ radar. The Saints could also use another piece for Derek Carr at wide receiver (LSU’s Brian Thomas, Florida State’s Keon Coleman, Texas’ Adonai Mitchell) to add some more punch with Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed. — Larry Holder

Saquon Barkley watch

There’s a lot riding on this next period of the Giants offseason after an already noisy start to the business side of things with coaching changes aplenty. But the spotlight will be tuned to Barkley’s future at the combine as the front office and the running back’s representatives are expected to meet again. Will they be able to hammer out a deal? Will he get tagged again for $12.1 million or will he finally test the open market and venture into the interesting running back market? We’ll get a clearer picture by week’s end of where the two sides stand. — Charlotte Carroll


Washington’s Rome Odunze is one of the stars of a deep wide receiver class that will draw plenty of interest in Indianapolis. (Joe Nicholson / USA Today)

The pass catchers

The Jets have an obvious need at offensive tackle (and/or at guard, too, depending on some offseason decisions), but they also desperately need help at wide receiver for star Garrett Wilson. Allen Lazard won’t cut it as an option in 2024. There are some extremely talented receivers in this class who could be available at No. 10 when the Jets pick — after Marvin Harrison Jr., who will almost certainly be gone — and even if the Jets still need an offensive lineman, they might be tempted by the likes of Malik Nabers or Rome Odunze — or others later in the draft, when teams have found stars in past years while the Jets sat on their hands, like last year. — Zack Rosenblatt

Are they organized?

Fourth-year coach Nick Sirianni overhauled both coordinator positions, and there’s still not much clarity about how involved he will be in working with newly hired offensive coordinator Kellen Moore to build a less predictable offensive system that supplies a deeply talented roster with more answers this offseason. And what kind of offense is that exactly? A Howie Roseman-led personnel department that remains largely intact must also upgrade several defensive positions. How more favorably positioned will defenders be in a revamped “Fangio System” that will this time be coached by … well, Vic Fangio? — Brooks Kubena

If it’s a clean sweep concerning Kenny Pickett

The Steelers interview every single player they can and they pretty much use the combine as an assurance of what they’ve scouted throughout the year. So there’s not much to glean there. Where there could be some clarification, or at least unity, is what general manager Omar Khan says about Pickett compared with what Mike Tomlin said days after the season and what owner Art Rooney II said two weeks later. Both alluded to Pickett being the No. 1 quarterback entering the season despite not regaining his starting position from Mason Rudolph over the final four games of the season. Will the Steelers triple down on that or walk it back and hammer home that Pickett won’t be entering the offseason as the clear-cut QB1 and either a re-signing of Rudolph or an outside free agent — or a potential trade — will provide legitimate competition? — Mark Kaboly

The offensive linemen

Three of the top center prospects — Oregon’s Jackson Powers-Johnson, Duke’s Graham Barton and West Virginia’s Zach Frazier — should all have multi-positional capability in the NFL. That could be tantalizing to the 49ers, whose biggest weakness to fix lies in the offensive line. More than one spot was a problem this past season. Essentially everyone but left tackle Trent Williams endured significant struggles at one point or another. So perhaps the 49ers, who don’t pick until No. 31, will be looking for an adaptable interior lineman who can immediately fortify their especially problematic right guard position before potentially becoming the long-term solution at center. The 49ers simply need more quality options up front. Imagine the boost that could give QB Brock Purdy. — David Lombardi

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John Schneider flying solo

This will be Seattle’s first combine with GM Schneider leading football operations, so his messaging from the podium will be interesting to analyze. While Schneider has long figured prominently into key decisions, coach Pete Carroll set the vision for the franchise previously. Schneider is doing more of that now. We won’t hear from new coach Mike Macdonald at all at the combine; he and his staff are expected to remain behind to install their schemes. That will put additional attention on Schneider. — Mike Sando

How they approach the quarterback position

The Bucs want to re-sign Baker Mayfield, whose contract is up. Mayfield has said he wants to remain in Tampa. But he also told ESPN he wants market value. That probably means a deal similar to the one Geno Smith recently signed with Seattle — $75 million over three years. Whether the Bucs want to pay that is the issue. A franchise tag is an option but not ideal with safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and wide receiver Mike Evans also on expiring contracts. It will be interesting to hear what GM Jason Licht says about the quarterback position, including the prospects in the draft. — Dan Pompei

Three tackles and two receivers

The free-agency picture suggests the Titans can get help at cornerback and interior offensive line before the draft but will likely have to focus their first two picks on their two biggest needs. The absence of a third-round pick increases the urgency. Second-year quarterback Will Levis needs a long-term receiver to grow with and a left tackle to protect him. The board may work out for the Titans to choose between Joe Alt and Olu Fashanu as a foundational tackle — but what about Taliese Fuaga? Does he continue his momentum in Indy? Could the Titans move down, get him and be happy with it? The board may also let Malik Nabers or Rome Odunze slide to No. 7. Would Brian Callahan prefer a playmaker over a blocker as the Bengals did when he was there and they took Ja’Marr Chase over Penei Sewell in 2021? — Joe Rexrode

The quarterbacks

It’s no secret that the holders of the No. 2 pick are expected to select a quarterback from the top group. The trick here is the new braintrust of GM Adam Peters, head coach Dan Quinn, offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury and the scouting department holdovers are mostly new to each other. Do they have Caleb Williams, Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels graded in the same range? If Williams is a cut above, is the gap considered enough to offer the Bears a Godfather trade for the first pick? Has Daniels’ dual-threat shine caught up to Maye or do they prefer the UNC quarterback’s prototypical size? We won’t find out the staff’s hopes and dreams, but this is where the detective work begins by examining the trio on our own. — Ben Standig

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(Top photos of J.J. McCarthy, Saquon Barkley and Malik Nabers: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images; Jim McIsaac, Getty Images; Matthew Hinton / USA Today)