Separating the 'Mannings' from the 'Leafs' at NFL Combine - Media Reaction

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From the 2010 NFL Combine on Friday, many of the top eligible quarterbacks for this year's upcoming draft met with the media. Before and after they were surrounded by the flashing cameras and hand-held recording devices, the prospects are tested, evaluated and interviewed by NFL general managers, coaches and other pro scouts.

Perhaps no personal decision will affect the success of an NFL team more than that of finding the right quarterback. But doing so is never an exact science. By the time NFL hopefuls reach the scouting combine, they have been analyzed and graded for countless hours.

In 1998, the Indianapolis Colts were in need of a signal-caller and held the first-overall pick for the ensuing draft. As league legend recalls, Colts team president and general manager was still undecided when he asked that year's two top QB prospects the same question. But he got two very different answers.

Read: QB Class of 2010 is asked the very same question Bill Polian posed to both Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf before making the first-overall pick in 1998 NFL Draft

In the 2010 NFL Draft, it's far from certain that a quarterback will be the first overall selection. In fact, some mock drafts predict no more than one will be selected in the top ten. However, St. Louis currently owns the first-overall pick and, at according to at least one league insider, the Rams are taking a signal-caller first.

ESPN's Adam Schefter says it will be Oklahoma's Sam Bradford.

"On the basis of what I've talked to people around the league [about], everything I've heard," Schefter said this week on St. Louis radio. "And at some point, it's gonna shift to this guy, and I don't know whether it'll be now or late March."

Most of the top college quarterbacks chose not to throw for the pro scouts at this NFL Combine. Perhaps this year, as much as ever, acing the team interview takes precedent for those hoping to make a favorable impression on any potential suitors.

Since Adam Schefter was so confident he's able to predict who the St. Louis Rams will draft first, I asked him if Bradford (or any other QB's in the class of 2010) could affect his draft status during the team interviews. Schefter responded with a warning to scouts, "It's hard because these guys are so programmed now to answer questions [that] it makes it difficult now to cut through it."

Still, Schefter says, "But when you sit across from somebody you inevitably get a feel for the person. It's no different here [NFL Combine]."

John Clayton, senior writer for ESPN thinks player interviews before, during and after the Combine can definitely affect their draft status come April.

"There's always an evaluation process that goes all the way up to the day of the selection," ESPN senior writer, John Clayton, told me on Friday. "You're trying to judge character, you're trying to judge ability, you're trying to judge talent, psychological and things of that nature."

Herbie Teope, who is a sports writer and analyst for Time Warner Cable & Metro Sports, agrees with Clayton and believes it would be a mistake to disregard the player interviews at the Combine.

"It's all in the answer as with any interview process regardless of line of employment," said Teope. "As previous players I've spoken to about their Combine experience have said, the interview process in Indianapolis to them was a job interview with 32 potential employers. A wrong answer or the way a question is handled can send a red flag up the pole, especially in a time in the NFL where character is at the forefront."

In this era of the National Football League, character is a key component to successful teams and that begins with the personality of the players.

"If a player with character issues in college can't alleviate concerns during the interview process, I believe his stock will drop," continues Teope. "This is potentially true for the all-important quarterback, a position that is traditionally the face of a franchise."

The decision by Bill Polian and the Indianapolis Colts to take Peyton Manning, instead of Ryan Leaf, has paid obvious dividends. Manning won a record-setting fourth NFL MVP Award in 2009 while Leaf hasn't played in the league since 2002.

How much Manning's (and Leaf's) response to Bill Polian's question affected the Colts decision is not truly known nor can accurately be measured. Peter King, senior writer from Sports Illustrated, believes the tale has grown to football folklore-type proportions.

"I think the the legend has grown over the years," King said Friday morning from the Combine.

"I think the closeness of Manning vs. Leaf has been vastly overrated over the years because Peyton Manning had distanced himself from Leaf on film," King told me. "And then when they got to the Combine and Leaf basically blew it and was overweight, it made the decision easy. It was a question coming in here [1998 NFL Combine] but Manning was basically perfect and Leaf was not."

The NFL Combine is from February 24 through March 3 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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