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Path to the Draft: Aiming to impress at the Combine

As the Broncos prepare to head to the Combine, several of Denver's Pro Bowlers explained their individual processes that spanned from the Combine to the draft.

PART I: THE COMBINE

The 2008 NFL Scouting Combine was a long time coming for Aqib Talib.

The former University of Kansas cornerback was ready to head to the pros after his redshirt sophomore season, but his head coach Mark Mangino convinced Talib to return Lawrence for another year.

But the NFL was an opportunity Talib couldn't pass up twice. When the 2008 draft process began, Talib was set on foregoing his final year of eligibility to test his luck at the next level.

"It was a pretty easy decision, for me," Talib said. "I was on my way. And then Coach Mangino told me, 'Just play one more year. You're going to be my first first-round pick."

"So I kind of already had it on my mind, that this was my last year. Then I ended my season with the Orange Bowl MVP. That was my last game. It was a no-brainer for me. I was on my way."

Mangino's prediction would ultimately ring true, as Talib was taken 20th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Long before draft day, however, Talib had to prove his play-making abilities could transfer to the NFL.

And so while the Orange Bowl performance signaled to Talib he was ready to join football's elite, the Combine was a "game" that may have been more important than that New Year's Six victory. At least, that's how Talib viewed it. He said he approached that April workout like any of KU's contests because of its "super serious" nature. 

"It was all the other guys you hear about in college, the big-name college guys," Talib said. "You [were] really there showing your stuff against them. So I looked at the whole thing like a competition, like a game. It was super competitive."

Emmanuel Sanders felt the same way when he competed at the 2010 Combine. The 5-foot-11 wide receiver out of SMU came from a school known even less for its football than Kansas. So when Sanders showed up in Indianapolis, he knew he had to put on on a show.

During the leadup to the testing, Sanders said he remembers feeling nervous as he tried to meet expectations to be drafted in the first or second round.

"I went to a small school, so when you're on that small scale, you don't know what that competition is like from the Alabamas, the [Tennessee]s, the LSUs," said Sanders, whom the Steelers drafted in the third round. "So the Combine was my opportunity to go and say, 'Hey, you know what, these guys on the big level, they still can't match up to my productivity. They can't match up to my speed, my quickness.' I was able to measure where I'm at, and I did pretty well there, so it was good."

Both Talib and Sanders showed up in a big way. Sanders ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, which was good for the 19th-fastest time, while Talib clocked in at 4.44.

The Combine isn't limited to on the field testing. Darian Stewart, who joined Sanders at the 2010 Combine, said the off-the-field interviews with coaches was far more draining.

"The coaches [are] just testing you," said Stewart, who wound up undrafted. "[They're] seeing how your attitude is, seeing where your head is."

But the interview process is anything but typical.

"[There were] some weird questions in there," Talib said. "They ask you some weird stuff just to kind of see where your mind is. Yeah, they try to provoke you. They want to see where your head's at, how you interview, how you handle heated conversations and things like that.

"Part of getting ready for that game is preparing for the interviews and everything. So you kind of get prepared for that part, too."

Over the course of a few days, the process tests both a player's physical and mental make-up.

On the long path to the draft, however, it's only the first step.

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