"What the hell happened with ____?"
It's 2:30 in the morning on a Thursday, and I am in a bar in Indianapolis, talking with two NFL assistant coaches and an NFL player agent. I am asking one of the assistants about a player on his team: a player who had been a fantasy stud for a while but just limped through a poor season in which his numbers, both fantasy and NFL, were brutally low.
"He got old," the assistant tells me. "Old and cranky. And then ___ was just so much better, we had to get the ball to him. I think he's done."
And that does happen and is an important part of the evaluation process.
But something that doesn't get discussed as much is that it's the only time in the year that every person in the NFL is in the same place. General managers, coaches, front-office personnel, other team members ... and the media. No fans, no pressures of the season, just a week in the middle of America.
Everyone is relaxed, friendly and happy to talk football. Many of the coaches and general managers face the media in a formal setting and then, later -- sometimes much later -- in less formal settings.
It is for that reason I, once again, found myself in Indy last week. As I've mentioned before, a common question is, "What's a fantasy guy doing here? Besides, you know, wasting company money." And that's the answer: information. Sure, 40 times and three-cone drills are all fine and good, but a player's fantasy value won't be able to be determined until after the draft, when we know which team a player is going to, what scheme he's going to play in and what opportunity he'll receive, in terms of playing time. Then you can use those factors, the combine results, his college tape and who his teammates and coaches will be, to try to project fantasy value.
In the meantime, what is available in Indy is information.
And I got a ton of it.
I tweeted, Instagrammed and Snapchatted some of the things I learned at the combine and still more I will save for a combine recap podcast I'll do soon, so this is by no means a comprehensive list. But here, in the most name-droppy column of the year, are 10 things I learned at the 2017 NFL scouting combine, in no particular order:
1. Many coaches I spoke with seemed split on whether quarterback Tyrod Taylor would be back with Buffalo, but if I had to pick a way the wind was blowing, Tyrod will be with another team this season. At his news conference, new Bills coach Sean McDermott mentioned Cardale Jones as an option, saying they were evaluating all players. For what it's worth, in speaking with a former NFL QB who is now an assistant coach (NOT on the Bills), he said he had seen tape of Cardale's workouts this offseason and was impressed by his throwing -- more than he expected to be.
2. There's not much in this world that Ravens coach John Harbaugh and I have in common, but one thing we find common ground on is our love for Kenneth Dixon. Harbaugh was effusive in his praise for last year's rookie running back, saying he loves his strength, his tackle-breaking ability and his personality, and he expects him to be a "top back in this league." He went on and on about him. He also had nice things to say about Breshad Perriman and Mike Wallace (he hopes Wallace comes back), but his strongest praise during the news conference was for Dixon.
3. I spoke privately with Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter, and he believes Cameron Brate's breakout season was not a fluke. He loves the kid, telling me he's as hard a worker as he has. Just works his tail off and Koetter mentions how he feels Brate has great chemistry with Jameis Winston: "He was the first guy we had to develop that chemistry with Jameis, even before [Mike] Evans." Koetter thinks they can do more with him this season and again mentioned the chemistry Winston and Brate have, an elusive thing that is hard to teach but is either just there or not. In the case of Winston and Brate, it's there.
4. I asked Falcons coach Dan Quinn about the Falcons' play-calling. They are gonna keep Kyle Shanahan's playbook, with a few tweaks and enhancements from new Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. In other words, no reason to panic, owners of Atlanta skill players. They are gonna keep doing what they do well: run the ball, play action and do a lot with Julio Jones. Atlanta's offense will look pretty similar to last season.
5. New Jaguars coach Doug Marrone was given a chance to commit to Chris Ivory as the workhorse, being asked point-blank if they needed to get Ivory the ball more, especially considering his contract ($7 million a year). Marrone dodged the question, not saying Ivory is the full-time guy. Of course, Jags general manager Dave Caldwell said at his news conference that Ivory and T.J. Yeldon would be 1/1A, with Ivory being the "1." Of course, I also spoke with another member of the Jaguars' front office who was excited about RB Corey Grant, who, if you remember, went 18-for-122 and a score in Week 17 for the Jags last season. Grant is definitely a guy to keep on your radar as a later-round sleeper, but it definitely feels like it's going to be a frustrating running back by committee (RBBC) in Jacksonville once again this season.
6. I got a few moments alone with new Colts GM Chris Ballard and asked him about Frank Gore. He had a lot of praise for Gore, citing his work ethic, mentioning that he's a special player and that he definitely feels like Gore has something left in the tank. I then asked him point blank if the starting running back for the Colts next year is currently on their roster and he paused, and then said something to effect of, "Like I said before [meaning his news conference], we will create competition at every position." Which I read as "that would be a no."
7. I asked Andy Reid about Spencer Ware and his evaluation of him this past season. Reid said he thought it was important that Ware was able to get through the year healthy and that he (Ware) now knows what it takes to do that over the course of a grueling season; When to get treatment, when to work out, when to practice, all of which are important things to learn for a feature back. Reid made a point of saying Ware will be better this upcoming season and that they were excited to keep mixing Tyreek Hill into the run game as well. My overall impression was that Reid likes Ware more than I thought he did.
8. A Steelers' offensive assistant told me: "Ladarius Green is the smartest player I've ever met." He was really impressed by what Green did this past season, coming in cold after missing all of training camp and a good chunk of the season. The coach pointed out how Green played the first week he was eligible and picked up everything right away. He's very excited to see what Green can do this year when he gets to participate in OTAs, training camp, etc. We also discussed Martavis Bryant a bit. Discussing his talent and potential, the coach said, "You know who he could be? Randy Moss. He's that talented."
9. New Chargers coach Anthony Lynn dispelled the notion that his offense will be run-first. "If we gotta throw it 50 times, we'll throw it 50 times. If we gotta run it 50 times, we'll run it 50 times." In talking with him privately after his news conference, Lynn and I discussed how people might think, because he's a former running backs coach (and played running back in the NFL) that he would want to run the ball. "I've got Philip Rivers, man. You think I'm just gonna have him hand off?" Lynn mentioned all the weapons LA has on offense and he's excited to use them all. Lynn also discussed that he will lean heavily on offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who was there last season. We spoke for a bit and my sense is that, for fantasy, the Chargers' offense will be similar to the New England Patriots' in this sense: They will scheme for their particular opponent that week, doing whatever they need to to exploit the other team. They have so many weapons, both in the passing game and the run game, that their offense will change as needed.
Finally, I spoke with another Chargers' offensive assistant who said Hunter Henry could have had 10 to 12 touchdowns last year (he finished with 8). He mentioned there was a deliberate effort to get Antonio Gates the record (for touchdowns by a tight end). He ended up tying it, but the coach said this year, there will be no such effort. Gates will break it when he breaks it. In the meantime, the sky is the limit for Henry. They love him there and so does Rivers.
10. Just a general note on new Rams coach Sean McVay. I went to his news conference, heard him speak to a small group of reporters after, saw him out later at a restaurant and had a conversation with him and a few other reporters there. Every time I hear him speak, I come away impressed and I've learned something. He is the real deal, man. As a Redskins fan, I can't tell you how bummed I am he's no longer with us. As a Todd Gurley owner in dynasty, however, I am very excited. We discussed the running back and they have a specific plan for him. I won't get into it too much here, but I will say he described him as a "very special player" and that people who are concerned McVay wants to go pass-happy the way they were in Washington, shouldn't be. Gurley will still be a focal point of the offense and McVay thinks what you will see this season will much more closely resemble Gurley's rookie year than last season.
Finally, I just wanted to pass along this anecdote, which I think is an important one for us in the world of fantasy, where information and what coaches say can sometimes be so important.
I went to Giants coach Ben McAdoo's news conference. He was asked point blank about Adrian Peterson and what he thought of Peterson for the Giants. McAdoo said they will look at Peterson's tape and give him a grade, just like they do every free agent. My take, after seeing the whole exchange is that the Giants have no real interest in Peterson. Anything is possible, of course, but McAdoo didn't seem all that enamored with the idea, gave a perfunctory answer and frankly just kind of dodged it.
The Giants evaluate every single free agent, give them a grade and make assessments on what might make sense for their team from there. If not asked directly, there's no way McAdoo would've brought up Peterson. After seeing the whole exchange, I would be surprised if Peterson wound up on the Giants.
And yet, later that day, I saw blaring headlines: "Giants looking at Adrian Peterson," making it seem as if New York was keenly interested in the former Vikings runner. It's true, I guess, in the sense that they are looking at ALL free agents, and Peterson is included there, but having seen the entire thing, man is that misleading.
It's so important to know the motivation of those reporting and whom you can trust and who you can't. Context is everything, even in the middle of America on a cold March week.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- thinks there is no way on earth the Redskins trade for Tony Romo and does not believe that report. He is the creator of RotoPass.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app.