10 biggest questions for 2019 NFL scouting combine: Which top QB will rise?

The 2019 NFL scouting combine officially starts Tuesday, though the on-field drills that enthrall most of its television viewers won't begin at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium until Friday morning.

With the league's annual meat market about to kick off, here are 10 questions that may (or may not) soon be answered:

1. How big — really — is Kyler Murray?

If Murray merely had the build of Oklahoma Sooners and Heisman Trophy-winning predecessor Baker Mayfield, who is just under 6-1 and 215 pounds and was the first overall draft pick last year, he'd probably be a top-10 selection — at worst.

Hangups about a quarterback's size seem to be steadily dissipating as the NFL becomes a less physical league with a higher premium on athletic passers — or at least those who have thrived utilizing increasingly accepted college spread concepts.

Still, if Murray is closer to 5-8 than 5-10 and hits the scale in the 190-pound range, he may give some teams pause despite a 2018 season when he passed for 4,361 yards and 42 TDs and ran for another 1,001 yards and 12 scores.

“I’m never the biggest guy on the football field,” Murray said recently via AP. “That’s not the way I think, ‘I’m the smallest guy on the field, I have to go out there and do this and do that.’ I just go out there and play.”

No argument about that. 

But there's no refuting this, either: Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, Doug Flutie is the only quarterback listed at 5-10 or shorter to win a game as a starting quarterback. (Officially 5-10, he was 38-28 in 12 seasons.) 

MOCK DRAFT: Combine could help sort out first round

Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Dwayne Haskins (7) celebrates on the podium after the Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Washington Huskies in the 2019 Rose Bowl at Rose Bowl Stadium. (Photo11: Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports)

2. Is Dwayne Haskins the best quarterback on the board?

Entering the combine, Ohio State's one-year wonder is usually the first passer slotted in mock drafts — typically at No. 6 to the Giants — for whatever that's worth.

Haskins' size — the Buckeyes put him at 6-3, 220 pounds — may give him a leg up on Murray, though neither has an extensive college résumé. But like Murray, Haskins made the most of his lone season as a starter, throwing for a Big Ten-record 50 TD passes along with 4,831 yards and a 70 percent completion rate (boosted by those shovel passes the Bucks fancy on jet sweeps).

In terms of the eyeball test, Haskins is right out of central casting. But many draft observers prefer Murray's overall skill set — specifically his ability to make plays with his legs — while trying to reconcile his outlook based on that diminutive stature. The Haskins-Murray debate will only pick up steam at the combine, but expect rousing arguments for each man's case.

3. How many other QBs will command first-round consideration?

Haskins and Murray appear like Round 1 locks. Anyone else?

Missouri's Drew Lock and Duke's Daniel Jones seem likeliest to also garner a first-round investment, though they will invite heavy scrutiny in the coming months.

As a junior in 2017, Lock threw an SEC-record 44 TD passes. He's got a live arm but also a 57 percent career completion percentage at Mizzou. Conversely, Jones hardly boasts a whip, but he does move very well and was coached by Manning whisperer David Cutcliffe. Jones' decision making still needs refinement, but the combine could nicely highlight his mobility while showcasing Lock's arm.

Their fates are likely to be affected by free agency, where quarterback-needy teams like the Jaguars, Dolphins and Redskins could opt for veteran solutions to preserve premium draft picks for other areas. However teams with aging passers at the bottom of the first round — we're looking at the Chargers and Patriots — could be compelled to enlist successors.

North Carolina State's Ryan Finley and Buffalo's Tyree Jackson are probably Day 2 draftees at best, though Jackson could pop this week given his 6-7, 250-pound frame and powerful right arm.

4. Who will run the fastest 40-yard dash?

Even as prospects unfailingly (and, usually, unreasonably) predict times in the low 4.3s over the 40-yard dash — the sexiest drill of combine week — there doesn't appear to be an imminent threat to current Bengals WR John Ross' two-year-old record of 4.22 seconds.

One of this year's fastest players, Oklahoma WR Marquise Brown — he's drawn comparisons to DeSean Jackson — is already sidelined after undergoing Lisfranc surgery. Murray's speed will generate great interest, though he's probably not going to challenge Michael Vick's low 4.3 quarterback standard.

One player to watch is UMass WR Andy Isabella, who smoked Browns CB Denzel Ward (4.32 40 in 2018 combine) in 100- and 200-meter races in high school in 2015 and claims to have run a 4.26 40. 

5. Will Alabama and Clemson again prove dominant?

College football's flagship programs will be well represented in Indy with 11 players from each school scheduled to participate.

The Crimson Tide appear to be offering the best player at several positions, including DT Quinnen Williams, OT Jonah Williams and RB Josh Jacobs.

The national champion Tigers may see three of their defensive linemen — Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence — come off the board in Round 1.

6. In a defense-heavy draft, who warrants the most attention?

Barring trades geared toward quarterback acquisitions, don't be surprised if the top five selections of the 2019 draft are defenders or if 20 defensive players hear their names in Round 1. Aside from Murray and Haskins, this group is also likely to dominate the combine spotlight.

Ohio State DE Nick Bosa, brother of Chargers DE Joey Bosa, is often projected to be the Cardinals' choice with the No. 1 overall pick. Quinnen Williams, Ferrell, Kentucky OLB/DE Josh Allen, LSU ILB Devin White, Michigan DL Rashan Gary, Houston DT Ed Oliver and Mississippi State OLB/DE Montez Sweat are all solid bets to be top-10 selections.

7. Are there any elite running back prospects?

The Rams picked Todd Gurley 10th in 2015, the last time a back wasn't drafted within the first four picks. But that streak seems likely to end this year, and Jacobs might be the only first rounder at the position — and, per NFL Network, a groin injury will apparently limit what he'll do on the field in Indianapolis.

"There's not a Saquon Barkley, who's just so rare," said NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah on Monday, referencing the Giants star who dominated this event a year ago. "Not a Leonard Fournette, in terms of some of those guys who have been picked way high.

"I love Jacobs, to me he's the one guy that you feel great about — I would feel great about — turning in the card in the first round. After that, though, there's a lot of depth once you get in that second-, third-round range."

Even Jacobs, who wasn't used heavily at Alabama — he averaged 687 yards from scrimmage in three seasons for the Tide — comes with questions.

8. Are there any elite wide receiver prospects?

Ever since Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks and Odell Beckham burst onto the scene in 2014, Round 1 wideouts have struggled to make immediate impacts. That may be the case again this year as Brown and Mississippi's D.K. Metcalf seem like the only solid bets to be first rounders at this point, and both are likely to go in the bottom half. 

But there is still a Ridley factor.

The Falcons drafted Alabama's Calvin Ridley 26th overall a year ago, and he led all rookies with 821 receiving yards and 10 TDs in 2018. His brother Riley, a Georgia product, could sneak into the back of the first round, too, thanks to a similarly polished skill set that might also allow him to be an immediate contributor — though he's probably not the kind of athlete who's going to flourish this week.

9. Who will emerge as the better Iowa tight end?

Since the common draft began in 1967, no school has had a pair of tight ends drafted in the first round. That may change this year thanks to Iowa's T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant.

"Both these guys are first-round picks, Day 1 starters and big-time, impact guys," said Jeremiah, though neither Hawkeye is going to set the combine ablaze a la Vernon Davis in 2006 in a manner that would catapult either into the Top 10.

While it's unfair to saddle Hockenson with Rob Gronkowski comparisons, his ability to dominate as a receiver and a blocker will inevitably feed Baby Gronk mentions. Fant is more of an Evan Engram type, basically a plus-size receiver who moves extremely well.

10. Which teams will create the most intrigue?

The natural answer is the Raiders. New GM Mike Mayock will have his first Q&A with reporters who cover the league nationally this week after anchoring NFL Network's draft coverage for nearly 15 years. As if the intrigue of how he transitions from TV to front office executive isn't enough, the fact that he currently owns three first-round picks makes Oakland the team to watch this spring.

The only other club with multiple first-round picks are the retooling Packers, who are set to lose mainstays like LB Clay Matthews and WR Randall Cobb as the Matt LaFleur regime launches. Conversely, the archrival (and reigning NFC North champion) Bears don't pick until the third round.

Teams like the Eagles, Patriots and Ravens are typically active draft traders, but the Giants and Dolphins are among those that could have to move up if they (presumably) opt to reset at quarterback using the draft rather than free agency.

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Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis

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