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John DeShazier: Combine interviews just as important as drills

Top prospects will be interviewed by GMs, head coaches and assistants

Associated Press photos from the 2014 NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis on Friday, February 21, 2014.

An unofficial 230 pounds will swell to an official 244, a listed height of 6 feet 1 will shrink to 5-10¾ and a reported 4.38-second 40-yard dash will balloon to 4.57.

But, too, an unknown prospect from Where Is It Located University will bench press 225 pounds 19 times, slacken jaws with a 4.41-second 40 and dazzle with quick feet as men drool at the thought of him moving from college quarterback to NFL receiver or defensive back.

And that prospect from Where Is It – a known secret among those men who are paid to know who, and where, he is but a mystery to most others – will vault a couple of rounds in the upcoming draft, partially due to what he does this week in Indianapolis.

Those are just a few of the scenarios that annually play out at the NFL Combine, which will be held at Lucas Oil Stadium on Feb. 17-23. As of now, 323 draft-eligible players are scheduled to take part in the process.

Some will participate in all drills for NFL coaches and scouts, and some only will do specific drills like throwing, lifting or running. Others will be injured and unable to participate and some – mostly considered the cream of the crop – won't do much more than lift a finger for the 32 NFL franchises in attendance (and, definitely, not a weight) until they have their pro days on their respective college campuses.

Almost all, though, will sit down and subject themselves to an interview with just about every team that expresses an interest in them doing so.

The "meet and greet" portion of the program is just as essential as the weights, measures, running and jumping sessions, because it gives head coaches a glimpse into the mental makeup of the prospects.

It only is a glimpse – the sheer volume of prospects that are met and interviewed by a franchise in the limited window of time provided nearly can be overwhelming. Interviews that are more extensive will be conducted at later dates.

But it is a chance for general managers, head coaches and their staffs to get a brief, initial gauge on a prospect's football intelligence, personality and desire for greatness – and to see if it links to the film evaluation that already has been done regarding the prospect.

The Saints' first-round draft pick last season, receiver Brandin Cooks (No. 20 overall, after the Saints traded up from No. 27) ran a 4.3-second 40 last year at the Combine, tied for the fastest time logged. (The other player? Receiver John Brown from Pittsburg State, one of those Where Is It universities.) And Cooks proved to be a quick study, as he adapted to the Saints offense and became a contributor almost immediately.

Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, the Saints' second-round pick, also participated in the 2014 Combine. Tight end Jimmy Graham continued to drum up interest at the Combine in 2010 and defensive end Cam Jordan enhanced the belief that he was one of the nation's top defensive linemen in 2011.

Nevertheless, the Combine isn't an end all. Pierre Thomas, arguably the most versatile running back in Saints franchise history, wasn't invited to the Combine. And receiver Marques Colston, the Saints' all-time leader in touchdowns, receptions, receiving yards and total yards, didn't exactly impress at the gathering in '06 – he lasted until the seventh round, No. 252 overall, fourth from last.

But the process remains a critical part of the evaluation of draft prospects and next week in Indianapolis, the Saints will be among the 32 NFL teams hoping to gather more information on the prospects.

Among the Combine attendees will be quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota of Florida State and Oregon, respectively, who are expected to be the first two quarterbacks drafted; offensive lineman La'el Collins, linebacker Kwon Alexander, defensive end Danielle Hunter and running backs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard of LSU; cornerback Lorenzo Doss of Tulane; and Southeastern Louisiana quarterback Bryan Bennett.

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