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Combine features cast of thousands...but no clear #1

INDIANAPOLIS -- They're all here.

The prospects. The coaches. The general managers. The scouts. The media -- especially the media.

The 2008 NFL Scouting Combine has everything one would expect to find at the epicenter of professional football, which the RCA Dome becomes today.

Everything, that is, except a clear-cut star.

Of the 330-plus college players that will spend the next six days auditioning for NFL teams, not one has established himself as an obvious front-runner to be the top overall pick of the April 26-27 draft.

Early projections are all over the lot. Talk to multiple people around the league who have been evaluating this year's talent crop since last fall, and you will get multiple answers about which player ranks as the best, regardless of position.

Is it Chris Long, defensive end from Virginia and son of Hall-of-Fame defensive end Howie Long? Or Matt Ryan, quarterback for Boston College?

How about Darren McFadden, running back from Arkansas? Maybe Glenn Dorsey, defensive tackle from LSU?

Some of the uncertainty is due to a general lack of overwhelming talent -- the kind that causes jaws to drop. That doesn't rule out the possibility of many jaws dropping at some point during the combine and/or on-campus workouts that will follow in the coming weeks. Word of exceptional combine performances will spread faster than ever, considering the ramped-up coverage of workouts by NFL.com and NFL Network, and the fact the league has issued a record 400-plus media credentials.

Some of the uncertainty concerning the No. 1 choice also is due to the fact it is owned by the Miami Dolphins, who have more than one crying need. They also have a new person in charge of their selections, Bill Parcells. Parcells' football expertise is rooted in defense, leading to speculation that he might be inclined to go with a player from that side of the ball.

But there are major questions about the Dolphins' quarterback position. Parcells could very well seek a better alternative to John Beck, a second-round pick in 2007 made by Miami's previous regime.

Then there is the possibility that the Dolphins will trade the pick. That isn't a very good possibility, given that teams have shown a reluctance to trade their way into the top 10 of the draft because of the heavy cost of choices required to move up. But it would not be a surprise for Parcells to put a "For Sale" sign on the top spot.

Still, NFL personnel types have yet to see the one player whose skill commands a consensus opinion that he merits the No. 1 choice.

They will be looking for that player here this week, but they might not have a chance to do so because, as usual, some prospects who expect to be chosen in the upper portion of the first round won't participate in what is considered the most significant combine drill -- the 40-yard dash. Instead, they will opt to run their 40 at their college's Pro Day because they are more comfortable with their own campus environment and have more time to prepare.

NFL teams will still acquire important information about all combine invitees. They will gather it from body measurements, physical examinations, interviews administered by club officials, psychological testing, and intelligence testing.

Will that be enough to convince a majority of talent-evaluators that there is one prospect -- or even two -- who should be considered better than the rest?

Probably not.

Here's a breakdown of players who potentially could be the No. 1 overall choice:

Chris Long, DE, Virginia

Reasons he might: Extremely polished; perhaps the most NFL-ready defensive player in the draft … Shows a great deal of intelligence and superb techniques … Outstanding run-stopper.

Reasons he might not: Probably won't have eye-popping workouts before the draft … Doesn't have tremendous explosiveness off the snap.

Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College

Reasons he might: The Dolphins keep the top pick and decide they need to start over at quarterback … Strong, accurate passing arm … Shows good field vision and poise in the pocket … Strong leadership skills.

Reasons he might not: Wind-up delivery, which gives much faster defenders he will face in the NFL an opportunity to break on the ball … Can move and slide to avoid pressure, but receives knocks for limited speed.

Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas

Reasons he might: Powerful, physical runner between the tackles but also has enough burst to turn the corner … Exceptional agility and balance … Shows good instincts and field vision.

Reasons he might not: Needs plenty of work on his receiving skills … Must improve technique and effort in pass protection.

Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU

Reasons he might: Dominant run-stuffer … Disruptive force as an inside pass rusher … Excellent explosiveness off the ball.

Reasons he might not: Battling back from a knee injury he suffered in October (although he did not miss any playing time) … Needs to become more consistent in using hands to separate from blockers.

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