In the first part of our Combine preview, we looked at the Trojans participating, the drills utilized and some Combine success stories.

Part 2 of our preview will look at some specific team needs, the 24-hour landscape of live coverage and Oklahoma's Kyler Murray.

The 24-Hour Media Nexus
Beginning Friday, March 1, the NFL Network will bring live round-the-clock coverage of the Combine. It is an example of the many ways that sports network’s “eventicize” otherwise unimportant events in order to maintain interest in the sport.
Combine coverage will include live look-ins of drills, particularly the 40-yard dash, accompanied by expert commentary from NFL analysts and players, both past and present.

Joining the NFL Network will be ABC, who will broadcast two hours of the Combine on their national network. The two hour special will occur on Saturday, March 3, during the quarterback and wide receiver portion of the Combine.

ABC affiliate ESPN will also provide its own live coverage including several live shows and segments spread out across its channels.
Jeff Fellenzer, an associate professor of professional practice at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, sees the near 24-hour landscape as part of the changing tide in sports media coverage.

"It exists because you have 24-hour sports networks and they need programming, they need content," said Fellenzer.

Fellenzer, who teaches multiple courses on the intersection of sports, media and business believes that ABC is attempting to warm up fans to the next crop of stars. The move also demonstrates ABC’s commitment to showcasing what audiences are currently interested in.

"It's clear that football is king among sports and the crossover from not just the die-hard fans and the mainstream audience is apparent by the numbers," Fellenzer said.

According to Nielsen data, NFL events accounted for 34 of the top 50 most-watched live broadcasts in 2018. The sport also accounted for a grand total of 61 of the top 100.

Fan Experience

Fans will not be regulated to just watching the Combine from the comfort of their couch, as the NFL is providing a select amount of day tickets to the festivities for interested fans in the Indianapolis area.

Attending fans will get a chance to watch the various prospects complete their drills and a select number will even be in the room for the bench press portion of the workout.

Not only will fans get a chance to see the action up close, but they will also be outfitted with a special in-ear radio that will provide them with live commentary via the NFL Network along with exclusive insight from NFL legends and combine staff members.
“You talk about something that now gives you so much greater context instead of just watching guys run around,” Fellenzer said regarding the opportunity for fans to join in on the action. “Now, you’re hearing details about them that we all crave, that you get at home.”

The move follows the ability for fans to attend the Super Bowl media day in Atlanta, GA this past February. At the Super Bowl, attending fans could listen in on the interviews taking place by credentialed press members. It is an odd idea on paper, but many fans attended the event in the leadup to the season finale.

"People want to be around the excitement and the players," Fellenzer finished.

Team needs, what to watch for, and more

The Combine serves as the precursor to the start of the new NFL league year on March 13. For teams with a top 10 overall pick, it is a chance for them to gain a franchise cornerstone player that can help turn their luck around after a hard season. For other teams, it is an opportunity to replace an incumbent-free agent or recent retiree.

Currently, the Detroit Lions possess the No. 8 overall pick in this year’s draft and while they have needs on defense, particularly a defensive end, Lions beat reporter Carlos Monarrez believes that the Combine will give the team a chance to look at other potential additions.

"The popular narrative is they need a defensive end, one of their more pressing needs," said Monarrez, who reports on the Lions for the Detroit Free Press. "They can use a cornerback, they can use an inside linebacker, they can use another running back. There [are] so many places that they can use a player."

Monarrez also believes that the Combine gives teams a better look at the players available after the first round and on the second and third days of the draft. 
Meanwhile, the Houston Texans will be looking to boost their offensive line after a one-and-done run in the playoffs. Texans beat reporter John McClain believes that the team should be looking at boosting their line, which was ranked among the worst in the league. Per the NFL’s advanced statistics, the Texans finished with the worst offensive line in the league, allowing 62 sacks and 126 quarterback hits. 

"It's a good draft for offensive tackles," McClain, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle said. "Depending on what the Texans do in free agency, I can [see] them using their first-round pick and one of their second-round picks to fill these needs."

McClain also sees the Texans utilizing a low pick to boost their running back, wide receiver or pass rusher depth.

The year of the? 

Every draft cycle has its theme., whether it be quarterback, defender or receiver. Last year's draft was full of quarterbacks including USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield.

McClain sees this year's Combine and later draft as the year of the pass rusher. Ohio State's Nick Bosa and Alabama's Quinnen Williams lead the crop of pass rushers who will look to boost their prospective team's defense immediately.

"Because there are so many top prospects in the front seven who can pressure the quarterback, a few will drop into the second round, where teams will get terrific value with them," McClain said.

The Kyler Murray show

While these defenders will help shape the first round of the draft, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray will also dominate the spotlight throughout the week.

Murray, the 2018 Heisman trophy winner from Oklahoma, elected to pursue a full-time career in football instead of professional baseball. Murray was a first-round selection in the 2018 draft by the Oakland A's and received a $4.66 million signing bonus. In the weeks leading up to his decision, many wondered where Murray would decide to go. Had he not chosen football, Murray would have reported to the A's spring training facilities in Mesa, AZ.

Prior to his decision, there were rumors of the A’s guaranteeing additional money to Murray beyond his signing bonus in an effort to retain him. The potential move would have required the MLB to waive a rule prohibiting teams from extending major league contracts to recently drafted players. The potential move also showcased the MLB’s desire to capitalize on Murray’s star power, which is reminiscent of other famous two-sport athletes such as Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson. 

In early February, Murray tweeted that he was fully committed to playing football. "I was raised to play QB, and I very much look forward to dedicating 100% of myself to being the best QB possible and winning NFL championships," read his statement in part.

Murray’s presence at the Combine will certainly draw a lot of attention due to his atypical stature that is reminiscent of the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson and New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees.

"If you take somebody who is not the prototype, who is very different in many ways for that position and he is successful, that might change a lot of ways that the NFL thinks about quarterbacks in the future," Monarrez said.

Murray's style of play provides a new look at the changing landscape of the position in the NFL. Gone are the larger than life quarterbacks, who maintain a presence in the pocket and in are the more mobile quarterbacks who can both run and throw for distance. Murray's style of play follows that of 2018-19 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes.

"It can be a game-changer for the league," Monarrez finished.

USC Annenberg Media will provide live updates of the 2019 Combine throughout the week. Stay tuned to our website for more in-depth pieces on the annual event.