It's combine time!
The biggest non-event of the NFL calendar is upon us, and though the Super Bowl wrapped up just a couple of weeks ago, fans are already suffering football-related withdrawal symptoms.
Desperate for any shred of news about their favorite team, the eyes of football fans will be on Indianapolis as the game's biggest prospects will be poked, prodded and probed as teams race to get as much hard data as possible about the players who will define their franchise's futures.
Here's everything the Houston Texans fan needs to know about the insanity that is the combine.
Know What You Don't Know
You'll see endless stories about how the Texans are looking at this player or that player as everyone wants to conjure up some insight into who the team will draft.
Save yourself the effort and stress and accept up front that there will be no valid clues to come out of the combine.
There are still too many huge unknowns for the club to have any idea who they will target in the draft.
We don't know if the team will work out deals with Connor Barwin and Glover Quin. Obviously, the list of the needs for Houston changes dramatically if Quin can't be re-signed. Until the league year ends or the team announces new deals it's foolish to even talk about a need list.
We don't know who the Texans will add in free agency. There are some holes that could be filled with a strategic signing, so don't rush to any huge conclusions two months before the draft.
We don't know who the teams in front of the Texans will take. For a team like Jacksonville, it's easy to form a short list of targeted prospects, but the Texans simply pick too late in the draft. There's no value in any short list of players formed in February for a team selecting in the back half of the first round.
Honestly, the combine poses a threat to the knowledgeable fan. Focusing too much on the results of the combine can actually make analysis less accurate. Too much data too soon gives the illusion of certainty where none exists.
Know What You Do Know
Not everything is unknowable for the Texans.
We know the Texans have very little cap space to work with.
We know the Texans are likely to be flush with compensatory picks and have a lot of ammunition in the draft. This makes them prime candidates to trade up. Obviously, that makes projecting who they'll draft more complicated.
We know the Texans have a huge need for a second wideout. While there might be a bargain basement vet or two added to shore up this need or that one, the solution to who will play alongside Andre Johnson cannot be solved by signing a new free agent.
Keeping an eye on the receiver board just makes good sense. There's no guarantee the Texans will take one early, but they'd be foolish to enter the season with Keshawn Martin, Lestar Jean and Kevin Walter as the secondary options next year.
Most of all, understand what the combine is and isn't. All it represents is an opportunity for teams to get a consistent measurement of top prospects so they can evaluate the measurables a player offers in a controlled environment.
It is not the be-all-and-end-all of the draft. What a player did on film over his college career far outweighs anything that will happen at the combine.
It's simply not that important.
What to Watch
Pay close attention to heights, weights and injuries.
If a player comes in too heavy it can hurt his stock. If he's shorter than expected, he could tumble a few spots.
Mostly though, listen closely to the injury talk. NFL teams invest a lot in draft picks. The top thing they want out of a selection is good health. Teams aren't going to take a big risk on a guy they perceive as likely to have a bad injury profile.
Teams have a profile they work off of. The Texans like taller receivers, for instance. Of course, that led them to skip over some real talents in the draft last year, so perhaps their profile will widen.
What Not to Watch
Don't pay any attention to 40 times.
It's not that the 40 time has no value, but in the grand scheme of things how fast a player runs at the combine is not that important. An extremely fast or slow time can generate buzz one way or the other, but smart teams know to take these measurements with a grain of salt.
40 times are fun, but they are not the measure of a prospect. Many who run will end up running it again at their pro day for their school. Unless a 40 time reveals an injury, it's not worth getting in a tizzy about.
Don't watch the rumor mill.
The media will descend on Indianapolis desperate for something, anything to talk about. The fact is that almost nothing of significance will happen at the combine as the event is inherently boring and useless to fans.
To compensate for an utter lack of action or drama, the media will invent drama and action.
Do yourself a favor and tune out for a few days. Listening to the combine buzz won't make you a more informed fan, but it can actually lower your football IQ.
Players to Ponder
If you absolutely must track the movements of every possible first-round target for the Texans, here's a good summary of who experts are eyeballing with the 27th pick.
Matt Miller: Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor
Todd McShay: Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech
Mel Kiper Jr.: Keenan Allen, WR, Cal
Bucky Brooks: Robert Woods, WR, USC
Pete Prisco: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Are you sensing a trend here?
This isn't a list of the best players available at pick 27. It's just a random list of basically every available wideout.
The Texans' biggest glaring need isn't their only need. They currently have issues at linebacker and right tackle. They could wind up needing a safety if Quin doesn't come back.
The Texans aren't likely to lock in on the tallest, fastest wideout on the board and take him regardless of his college production, so be wary of honing in on just one position.
That will put you ahead of most of the talking heads in Indy this week.
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