Ranking the 12 Most Impressive Pro Day Performances

Alessandro Miglio@@AlexMiglioFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2014

Ranking the 12 Most Impressive Pro Day Performances

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    Patric Schneider

    Incoming NFL prospects have been busy over the past month.

    Draft season is in full swing, and many prospects from all over the country have already participated in their schools' pro days. For many players, these performances are merely confirmation of what we already know. For others it's a chance at vindication for poor performances or perception.

    Even those we expected to perform well have impressed, and some relatively unknown prospects have caused some double-takes in recent weeks.

    With these events giving way to private workouts in the coming weeks, let's take a look at the top pro day performances to date. These performances have either created the most buzz or simply been impressive athletic feats.

    Click through for the top 12 pro day showings through the beginning of April.

12. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

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    Mike Groll

    Khalil Mack has come on strong throughout draft season.

    The pass-rusher out of Buffalo was one of the top in the class, but a strong combine and an even better pro day has his stock soaring, per NFLDraftScout.com's Jeff Reynolds (via CBSSports.com).

    Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack ran handheld times of 4.53-4.55 seconds at the school's pro day workout Tuesday with more than 20 teams represented, including two teams with picks in the top five.

    Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine and Buffalo Bills general manager Kevin Whaley were on hand for Mack's morning workout during which he improved dramatically on a 4.65 "official" time in the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine.

    Thanks in part to that performance, Mack has been touted as the potential top pick in the draft, ahead of even Jadeveon Clowney, though that notion was quashed a bit after Clowney shined at South Carolina's pro day.

11. Blake Bortles, QB, UCF

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    Rick Scuteri

    It's nice to have a good pro day. It looks even better on the heels of a rival's poor showing.

    UCF's Blake Bortles shined brighter than he might have in a vacuum, thanks to Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, who was reportedly less-than-stellar at his pro day. 

    Bortles showcased his abilities, looking good on the 65 scripted passes he threw. He also looked raw at times, but scouts and media alike came away impressed, per the Associated Press. He has leapfrogged Bridgewater in the eyes of some—for better or for worse—and the big quarterback might hear his name called at the top of the draft in May.

10. Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford

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    Jeff Chiu

    How often do good starters at BCS schools get snubbed for the combine? 

    That is precisely what happened to Stanford's Ben Gardner, unable to strut his stuff in Indianapolis because he didn't receive an invite. The big defensive end got his chance at Stanford's pro day, however, and he threw down an indictment of the snub like only a spurned player could. 

    Here are some notes from his pro day performance, courtesy of CBSSports.com's Rob Rang: 

    Ben Gardner, however, took full advantage of his opportunity to work out for scouts, recording a 39.5" vertical and a 10-2" broad jump - numbers that would've ranked second and tied for fifth, respectively, among defensive linemen tested in Indianapolis.

    The 6-foot-4, 262 pound Gardner also was clocked in at 6.78 seconds in the 3-cone drill and 4.83 seconds in the 40-yard dash. These explosive numbers provide quantitative evidence of the athleticism Gardner demonstrates on tape. 

    It wasn't enough to get him on the public's radar—at least outside draft circles—but he could have caused some teams to take a closer look with that performance.

9. Robert Herron, WR, Wyoming

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    Michael Conroy

    If speed is the name of the game in the NFL, Robert Herron has it made.

    The former Cowboy posted a blazing 40-yard dash time of 4.29 seconds at Wyoming's pro day, and he looked natural in receiving drills, according to Benjamin Allbright.

    The receiver position is loaded, but speed talks. Herron raised some eyebrows with that pro day performance.

8. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

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    Mary Ann Chastain

    It was a long wait for Jadeveon Clowney, whose draft stock started taking hits even before the end of the college football season.

    Subpar numbers and questions about his work ethic have dogged him for months now, but he was finally able to quiet much of that noise at South Carolina's pro day.

    Clowney actually had a fantastic combine showing, which is why he chose not to run or jump at the pro day. Instead, he focused on drills, including one where he ran around hula hoops, scooping up tennis balls like he was training for Wimbledon, as CBS Sports' Will Brinson noted.

    His overall performance was good enough to win over NFL Network analyst and commentator Mike Mayock, who had been critical of Clowney in the recent past. "“Clowney went to bed last night as the best defensive [prospect] in the world,” Mayock said (via Chris Burke of SI.com) after his pro day performance, “and he’s going to wake up [tomorrow] as the best defensive prospect in the world.”

    Any performance that can cause a media about-face like that is a great one.

7. Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State

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    Jay LaPrete

    Another somewhat-overlooked pro day performance came from linebacker Ryan Shazier.

    The Ohio State product posted some fantastic numbers at the combine, topping all participants with a 42-inch vertical leap and complementing it with a 130-inch broad jump. He was also among the top performers at his position in the three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle.

    He wasn't able to run the 40-yard dash because of an injured hamstring; however, it was an event he was able to run at his pro day.

    Shazier hurt his hamstring again while running, but he managed to post a sizzling 4.36-second run, per NFL.com's Mike Huguenin. Shazier is a 6'1", 237-pound linebacker.

6. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    In what was perhaps the biggest spectacle in pro day history—and for years to come—Johnny Manziel donned pads and smoked the drills.

    If ever there was real pressure at a pro day, Manziel would have felt it. Not only did he have a media microscope trained on his every move, but the former Aggie was also being watched by the likes of Governor Rick Perry and former President George Bush.

    As quarterback expert George Whitfield—the guy who put Manziel through his paces—put it, "This wasn't just merely a set of routes that he was just going to go through and throw. It just feels like ... life is riding on every pass with him."

    Manziel thrived, as he is wont to do under pressure. The talented quarterback completed 62 of his 65 passes to six different receivers, per ESPN, with one of those misses being caught out of bounds.

5. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

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    Patric Schneider

    "Johnny Football" wasn't the only one to impress at Texas A&M's pro day. His go-to receiver, Mike Evans, put on a show of his own.

    NFL.com's Gil Brandt tweeted that Evans showed the best hands he had seen since Calvin Johnson. That's high praise for Evans, widely considered the No. 2 receiver in the draft behind Clemson's Sammy Watkins. Evans ran routes well and made every catch, too, according to Mark Passwaters of Rivals.com.

    Evans' pro day has even drawn questions about whether he might be the top receiver taken come May.

4. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

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    Butch Dill

    It wasn't an ideal situation at Fresno State's pro day for quarterback Derek Carr.

    The former Bulldog came into his pro day with a stomach bug—or at least some sort of illness—and it would have been understandable had he chosen to sit it out. He gutted it out instead, and scouts came away impressed, according to CBSSports.com's Rob Rang.

    On Thursday, Carr had the opportunity to show off his powerful right arm in front of scouts representing 23 NFL teams.

    I'm told Carr shined, completing 56 of 63 passes in a scripted workout that "demonstrated everything you hope to see," according to a veteran scout attending the throwing session. According to the scout, Carr "didn't have a bad throw." His only incompletions were deep balls and a few drops.

    That's not too shabby for a guy who was reportedly puking his guts out earlier in the day.

3. Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana

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    Doug McSchooler

    It was a disappointment for receiver Cody Latimer when he couldn't participate in most of the events at the combine.

    Recent surgery had sidelined the former Hoosier, and it was iffy whether he would be ready to roll at Indiana's pro day.

    Latimer felt good enough to roll, and he turned in a great performance. The speedy receiver was timed in the 4.3- to 4.4-second range in the 40-yard dash, and that included a stumble out of the gate on his first try, per Yahoo! Sports' Eric Edholm. 

    He came away from the pro day with an official time of 4.38 seconds and a vertical jump of 39 inches, explosive numbers for the 6'3", 215-pound receiver.

2. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

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    Mark J. Terrill

    There are plenty of questions about Anthony Barr's pro prospects coming out of college. Whether he is athletically gifted is not one of them.

    Barr was astounding at UCLA's pro day, as Abbey Mastracco of Fox Sports wrote:

    Alosi, a noted football specialist with as much NFL experience as the rest of Jim Mora's pro-heavy staff, put Barr through a brutal two weeks but the work clearly showed.

    "He comes out here today and runs a 4.45, at 247 pounds, 6-foot-4 1/2. And then he goes out and benches 19 times which is a four rep-improvement from two weeks ago and they understand that there's so much room for growth," Mora said.

    Barr looked every bit the part physically. He was clearly the star of the show and faced that challenge head on. His stock was rumored to have dropped after a performance in Indianapolis that was deemed good but not great and he came out Tuesday with a clear chip on his shoulder.

    Questions abound about Barr's game lingering, and his draft stock is murky compared with some other pass-rushing prospects as a result. But whoever drafts him is going to get quite an athlete if his pro day is any indication.

1. Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn

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    Dave Martin

    It seems like ages ago that outside linebacker Dee Ford ran at Auburn's pro day.

    The Tigers held their annual dog-and-pony show for scouts way back on March 4, a lifetime ago in draft season. It's no wonder Ford has fallen off the public's map, supplanted by more recent performances.

    Ford did impress at his pro day, however.

    The former Auburn defensive end was shockingly disqualified from performing at the combine for medical reasons, so his was a little more important than your typical pro day. He did not disappoint.

    Ford ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds, bench-pressed 225 pounds 29 times and had a 124-inch broad jump, per NFL.com's Chase Goodbread, all numbers that would have been near the top at his position at the combine. 

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