The NFL's annual combine isn't just a gamble for the players looking to make it to the pros. The teams that draft the players are also taking a chance.

"I can think of a few people, who I'm not going to name, who didn't live up to expectations at the combine," said Jack Bushofsky, the Indianapolis Colts player personnel director. "It's hard to base your draft picks on one element of scouting like the combine."About 460 of the nation's top players were invited to the Hoosier Dome for the combine that began Wednesday for linemen and kickers.

"I can't think of anyone that's ever come from nowhere to the top of the list," Bushofsky said. "There have been people who run good times that impress us. But by this time, the teams pretty well have a picture of the draft."

The combine is a five-day assembly line of physicals, interviews and drills that are closed to the public, the news media and the agent-hopefuls. Often, the only contact with the players is by chance as the media and agents, vulture-like, swoop to their prey as they scurry through the hotel lobby.

Linebacker James Francis of Baylor, who attended the combine last year, was eventually picked on the first round, 12th overall, by Cincinnati. But he said he hated putting himself on display.

"It gets out of hand," he said. "You can't walk out of the door without some of them (agents) sticking their hand out to you . . . They make all kinds of promises. They tell you, `If you sign with me, I'll make sure you get drafted by this team,' and you know it's a lie.

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"You play 11 ball games, achieve a lot of success and now you come here and get treated like a piece of meat."

Last year, there were no underclassmen at the combine. But Indianapolis quarterback Jeff George, then a junior at Illinois, got a workout by the Colts and other teams several weeks later and ended up being the first player taken.

This year, underclassmen who forfeited their remaining college eligibility in hopes of being drafted April 21-22 were invited to the combine. On Monday, the NFL released a list of 29 underclassmen who will be eligible for the draft.

Bushofsky said this year's combine and draft offer "no franchise guys that are going to step in and take somebody to the Super Bowl. There are several legitimate first-round draft picks who can give competitive teams some immediate help. I think the key to this draft is you have to do your homework."

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