The NFL is fully in the thick of the draft season highlighted by pro days, which are hosted by schools around the country. Pro days act as a scouting hotbed for NFL personnel as prospects publicly work out once more in another audition before the draft.
While pro day numbers are generally a bit skewed thanks to kind tracks for drills and a familiar environment, enough substantive info can be gleaned from each event that a prospect can improve his stock with a solid performance.
Pro days are just underway, but several names have already used the opportunity to further their position on draft day.
Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
Far from a household name in comparison to the likes of Calvin Pryor and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the 2014 class, Jimmie Ward out of Northern Illinois has quietly been on the rise in draft circles since the season ended.
This rise may result in his very legitimate bid to be a first-round pick, especially after he impressed scouts at his pro day. According to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, Ward was electric in the 40-yard dash:
One scout tells me back to back 4.47 second 40 yd dash runs by NIU S Jimmie Ward— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) March 7, 2014
Perhaps most impressive? Ward wowed scouts despite a stress fracture that requires surgery:
NIU S Jimmie Ward says surgery to repair stress fracture on foot is next week. 6 to 8 week recovery. So healthy before draft— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) March 7, 2014
All of the above meshes well with what is already known about Ward, who is a smaller safety with the ability to dabble at corner thanks to his great athleticism and awareness.
Watch out for Ward to sneak into the first round as he continues to build momentum. His versatility is something today's NFL defenses covet and will invest heavily in if the price is right.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
Jimmy Garoppolo was another name to impress at the Northwestern pro day, and was the star of the show as he received individual attention from some big names, as CBS Sports' Rob Rang illustrates:
Garappolo threw for 45 minutes with San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and later conducted a private workout with the Houston Texans, who were represented by head coach Bill O'Brien and quarterback coach George Godsey.
Garappolo reportedly threw 36 passes - 22 of which were specifically requested by NFL personnel - to demonstrate his ability. He's enjoyed a steady rise up draft boards following an impressive showing at the East-West Shrine Game, Senior Bowl and Combine.
As a prospect from a small school, Garoppolo has always had a big hill to climb in the minds of the decision-makers at the pro level despite more than 50 passing touchdowns last season.
Not only did Garoppolo shine on the field, he made sure to capitalize on the opportunity to brush shoulders with important figures such as Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien, as he told the media via James Palmer of CSN Houston:
Jimmy Garoppolo on #Texans Bill O'Brien after his Pro Day 2day. "He’s awesome. He’s an energetic guy. I got 2 work with him a little (1/2)— James Palmer (@JPalmerCSN) March 4, 2014
"bit and he’s a quarterback guru. He knows his stuff and I’m trying to steal a little bit of his knowledge and put it into my game." #Texans— James Palmer (@JPalmerCSN) March 4, 2014
Garoppolo is very much in the running to be a second-round pick, and big names from around the NFL were in attendance for good reason. Teams with high selections in the first round such as Houston and Jacksonville will surely consider passing on a quarterback early to grab Garoppolo in the second if they like what they see.
Garoppolo's pro day was a chance to make them believers, and by all accounts he did just that.
Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Slot corners continue to see their importance grow as more teams spend a large chunk of each season with nickel personnel on the field to counteract the pass-happy nature of today's NFL.
This is one of the bigger reasons TCU's Jason Verrett has remained in the first-round conversation for quite some time despite a smaller stature.
Similar to Ward, Verrett had a major pro day despite an injury. Verrett, who weighs just 189 pounds, powered through 19 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press—with a torn labrum, according to Jeff Reynolds of CBS Sports.
That is about par for the course if fans know anything about the "undersized" Verrett, as ESPN's Todd McShay recently pointed out:
TCU CB J Verrett reminds me of Antoine Winfield. Little guy that plays bigger than many 6-foot CBs. He just earholed Texas Tech TE J. Amaro!— Todd McShay (@McShay13) March 3, 2014
Verrett is not only sound in coverage with superb speed (he ran a 4.30 40-yard dash at the combine), he is also extremely aggressive for his size. As if the film did not already do enough talking about him as a prospect, Verrett used his pro day to solidify his status as a first-round pick thanks to a typical scrappy performance.