The 2013 NFL Scouting Combine may still be in its infancy—player workouts don't start for most positions until Saturday—but the interview portion of the proceedings almost always supplies the news and rumor mill with enough notable fodder to last an entire weekend.
Much like the Super Bowl's media day, the combine's first two days provide off-the-field intrigue and wacky takeaways. The tone of the sessions is usually more serious, as players try to put their best foot forward and impress those on hand.
That being said, the first official days always provide their fair share of interesting news and notes. Offensive skill-position players arrived on Wednesday and Thursday, leaving Friday as the first time some of them actually addressed the media.
Players who spoke on Friday certainly disappoint, as potential first-round prospects and former Heisman finalists were making waves in Indianapolis.
With that in mind, here is a look at the biggest takeaways from Friday's action in Indianapolis.
Tavon Austin Thinks Tavon Austin Is the Best Player in the Draft
Heading into this weekend's combine, former West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin has been considered by many as a player to watch. He was one of the nation's most exciting all-around talents last season, putting up 1,932 yards of total offense and 15 touchdowns as a senior.
The key to his excellence is speed. Austin is possibly the fastest player in this entire draft class, and he made it clear anything less than a jaw-dropping 40-yard dash time would be a disappointment. According to CBS Sports' Will Brinson, Austin is hoping to run the dash in under 4.4 seconds and claimed he was once recorded at 4.29 seconds:
Will Brinson @WillBrinson
Tavon Austin is hoping to run "anything under a 4.4" in the 40. Says he's clocked a 4.29 before. #mercy2/22/2013, 4:29:56 PM
To put that in perspective, the all-time combine record is 4.24 seconds by current Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson in 2008.
You may have noticed Austin doesn't lack confidence. And while putting himself in near record-setting company would have likely made an impression in and of itself, Austin wasn't done showing off his self-belief on Friday.
Speaking with the media, Austin not only said he's the fastest player in the draft, but the best player period.
"I think I'm the all-around best player in the draft," said Austin (per USA Today's Robert Klemko).
In the interest of fairness, Austin's position did not just come out of thin air and false bravado. As Mary Paoletti of Comcast SportsNet New England points out, Austin was simply answering a straightforward question from a reporter:
Mary Paoletti Brown @MaryLizyBrown
Re:T. Austin saying he's the best player in the NFL draft-he was asked,"Are you the best overall player in this draft?" Got to sell yourself2/22/2013, 6:11:03 PM
A non-committal, politically correct answer may have ingratiated him a bit more to conservative NFL franchises, but what was Austin realistically supposed to say? That he doesn't believe he's the best player?
Austin's quote may make waves in the coming days, but it was more a product of his line of questioning than anything else. That being said, don't be surprised if Austin's belief winds up being prophetic. As anyone who has watched game tape on this young man can attest, he has instant playmaker written all over him.
Matt Barkley Says He Can Make "All the Throws"
As the only potential first-round quarterback not throwing this weekend—he will sit out the physical drills while still recovering from a separated throwing shoulder—former USC quarterback Matt Barkley has a ton to prove in his interview sessions this weekend.
The combine will be his only opportunity to sell rooms full of executives on his first-round viability, something that has come into question after a frustrating senior season. Though Barkley threw for 3,273 yards and 36 touchdowns in 2012, he also threw 15 interceptions, most of which came when trying to fit his passes in tight windows.
That's led some scouts and pundits to assess Barkley's arm strength as deficient. According to the Tampa Bay Times' Rick Stroud, Barkley went about dispelling that "weak arm" notion on Friday:
Rick Stroud @NFLSTROUD
USC QB Matt Barkley disagrees with NFL draft experts who say he has a 'weak arm.' "I can make all the throws,'' he said.2/22/2013, 5:05:59 PM
The criticisms of Barkley's arm strength have been a little overstated. He's not a noodle-armed, Chad Pennington-type who cannot complete a pass longer than 25 yards down the field.
Still, the assessments aren't entirely inaccurate. No one is going to confuse him with a future Joe Flacco, as he lacked the ability to make defenses respect long, downfield passes. Bleacher Report NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller has compared Barkley to Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder (in the video embedded above), and I agree with that assessment.
He's never going to thrive in a system that predicates stretching the field—which is what essentially rules him out at No. 8 for the Arizona Cardinals—but he could thrive in a West Coast scheme.
But if Barkley shows he's at 100 percent at his pro day and surprises scouts with his recovery, then he may still wind up with a first-round grade.
Collin Klein Will Be Asked to Workout With Tight Ends, Is Hesitant to Accept Invite
Former Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein was good enough to be a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, but there have been serious questions about his viability under center in the NFL.
Questions about his arm strength, throwing motion and accuracy all followed him into the draft process, and his play in the East-West Shrine Game did not help matters. Klein completed just 5-of-13 passes for 43 yards and an interception, as his timing just seemed off when lining up under center.
That's led many to speculate whether Klein's ultimate professional destiny is away from the quarterback position. Listed at 6'5" and 225 pounds in Kansas State's official profile, Klein has the size and bulk to play other positions—particularly tight end.
And according to NFL.com's Dan Hanzus, teams would like him to do just that. He will be asked to work out with the tight ends in attendance on Saturday, though it's an invitation Klein does not have to accept.
Based on his quote Friday, it seems like Klein is dead-set on playing quarterback at the next level.
"That's my heart," Klein said (per NFL.com). "I know I have the tools to do that, and I know I bring a lot to the team at that position. That's what I want to do."
Though they are two different players, one cannot help but draw comparisons between Klein and Tim Tebow. Many speculated that Tebow would be better off switching positions prior to the 2010 draft, but he stuck to his guns and was ultimately drafted in the first round by Denver.
No evaluator has Klein close to that level, but all it takes is one team to believe in him as a quarterback. If Klein is encouraged by his conversations with teams, don't be shocked if he continues to be hesitant about participating in tight end drills this weekend.
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