The Biggest Takeaways from 2014 Pro Day Workouts
The cavalcade of fun that are NFL pro days is in full swing. This is an opportunity for teams to open their doors to NFL franchises so they can get a more intimate look at potential prospects.
Pro days are fascinating because of the varied level of importance teams place upon them. Having attended several, it is curious to see the varied approaches teams take. Some teams bring staffs in force, with organized binders and dossiers on each player.
Players line up for their runs and all the stopwatches come out, often comparing times between teams. Then on the other end you have some scouts and coaches who come empty-handed. They observe and talk to players, but keep the entire event very loose and casual.
Obviously, teams come to pro days with a particular player or handful of players in mind. Nevertheless, a hidden benefit of a pro day is the inadvertent exposure many lesser-known prospects will get simply by being present. It's not at all unheard of for a team to go to a pro day with one player in mind and end up being more impressed with another.
Let's take a look at some of the most significant pro days to this point and some important takeaways from them.
All pro day info and stats courtesy of NFL.com.
The draw to the Clemson pro day was wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Watkins is an elite talent and should be considered a top-10 selection regardless of position. There is no doubt whatsoever that Watkins is a special player, and he reinforced that point at his pro day.
However, while Watkins is a known commodity and wasn't going to change any team's mind running routes in shorts, his popularity opened the door for numerous other Clemson players.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd threw the ball very well in drills and likely made up some ground he lost during the season. Boyd is part of that next tier of quarterbacks that include San Jose State's David Fales, Alabama's AJ McCarron and Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo. By showing improved accuracy and consistency at his pro day, Boyd could hop ahead of some of these other quarterbacks.
Among the other notables in attendance for Clemson, wide receiver Martavis Bryant and cornerback Bashaud Breeland both benefited from having so many NFL eyes on campus with strong workouts.
The sleeper of this group is offensive tackle Brandon Thomas. He is part of a rather crowded group of swing offensive linemen who are shuffling their draft positions. Thomas isn't going to work his way into the first round, but his pro day workout, along with his versatility, makes him an interesting pick in the fourth-round area.
What makes the Florida pro day so notable wasn't necessarily about the players. Everyone knows the names at Florida and that they can play. In fact, really breaking it down closely, this Florida team has a ton of draftable talent. Here are the principal players.
- Dominique Easley, defensive tackle
- Jaylen Watkins, cornerback
- Marcus Roberson, cornerback
- Loucheiz Purifoy, cornerback
- Jon Halapio, guard
- Trey Burton, tight end
- Jonotthan Harrison, center
- Solomon Patton, wide receiver
You would think with a group like this, teams would be falling all over themselves to get out there and scout them more closely. However, that was not the situation. Only 15 teams made the trip to Gainesville to check out the prospects.
There are lots of ways to look at this I suppose. But it is difficult to think that the league doesn't covet a healthy Easley as one of the top defensive tackles in the league. And Watkins is a grossly underrated man cornerback. But the bottom line is over half the league opted out of attendance, which should make analysts wonder if maybe some of these players are rated lower than we realize by the league.
Obviously, the Missouri pro day was significant because linebacker Michael Sam was once again put on display. We all know Sam's story, but this is related to football. After making his announcement, Sam had to follow it up with a trip to the scouting combine, where his performance was lackluster at best. Nevertheless, was anyone shocked? After all the drama from the days preceding, no one should have been surprised that Sam struggled.
So, his pro day was a little bit of retribution. It was his shot to focus on his workouts and improve. And he did just that. Sam improved his 40 time by nearly 0.25 seconds and was far more comfortable in his workout overall.
However, Sam wasn't even the best prospect at the pro day. Not by a long shot. Teams also got a chance to get a closer look at beefy defensive end Kony Ealy, who looks to have cemented a first-round pick with his Clowney-like mix of size and speed.
The sleeper takeaway from the Missouri pro day was the performance of cornerback E.J. Gaines. Gaines is another prospect who didn't get to run at the combine and made up for it here. It may not sound like much with a 4.51 40 time, but if it sends teams back to the film, they will find out in a hurry that Gaines plays fast. Not to sound cliche, but if Gaines were a little taller, he'd be drawing much more attention.
No one probably expected that the pro day at a Division II school like Missouri Western would make this list. Saint Joseph is a city of around 77,000 people, and they do love their football.
But the notable part of this pro day was how they handled it. No, there were not any first-round picks in attendance. In fact, probably no one from this pro day will be selected before day three. Why was it, then, that 30 teams chose to attend? That's double what showed up for the Florida pro day.
They all came because players who attended were representing 11 small colleges. This is a brilliant move by these schools and players. Individually, these 23 young men would have gotten a handful of scouts or coaches to come to see them on campus. As a comparison, Pitt State wide receiver John Brown had seven teams at his pro day, and he'll likely be drafted ahead of nearly every player at Missouri Western.
These prospects were clever to maximize the number eyes on them. Most teams were there to see Northwestern Missouri State cornerback Brandon Dixon, who first got teams' attention at the combine. Nevertheless, his presence likely got a few of these extra players a shot in the league they wouldn't have had otherwise.
All 32 teams traveled to the West Coast to enjoy the weather and to watch the USC pro day. This draft class is not the Trojans' best in recent years, but this is a very deep group.
USC is in a great spot to have eight players drafted in May. The top USC prospect is wide receiver Marqise Lee. He's been in a serious draft free fall as more and more talented underclassmen have declared for the draft. Lee was sharp as a tack in drills and is going to be a real steal if he should slip into the second round.
Some other Trojan prospects that more fans need to know about include:
- Marcus Martin, center: The most talented center in the draft, but recovering from an injury.
- Devon Kennard, linebacker: Fast-rising linebacker prospect who can work inside and outside in any defensive system.
- Xavier Grimble, tight end: Big, physical tight end with more potential than production at this point.
- George Uko, defensive tackle: Explosive player who might be best suited to play a 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4 front.
- Silas Redd, running back: The talented running back keeps losing ground due to his inability to work out for teams.
- Morgan Breslin, linebacker: Productive college defensive end who is going to need to work on his ability to operate in space at the next level.
These might not all be household names, but you can bet there are going to be some excellent pros to come from this group. The league understands this, judging by the attendance.
Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr is the forgotten man among the top quarterback prospects. He probably realized that as well, so when his pro day came along, he made the most of it. After spending part of the day before in the hospital, to come out and throw darts like he did was even more impressive.
It is unclear why Carr doesn't get more recognition as a top prospect, but some teams are going to miss out. Carr's arm was on full display for every team in the league, and they had to have come away impressed. Carr might not have the flash of a guy like Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, or the hype of Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, but one thing he does have is the game to back up his gaudy college stats.
If you take pro days seriously enough to come up with excuses for guys like Bridgewater, you have to give Carr his props for what he did.
Oh, and also of note were the players to whom Carr threw at his pro day. Wide receiver Davante Adams is one of the most dynamic and well-rounded wide receivers in the draft. He and Carr make each other look great. And speaking of great, tight end Marcel Jensen also did a solid job reeling in Carr’s passes.
The award for the greatest spectacle of the pro day circuit goes to Texas A&M. And the reason the event was such a sideshow is because quarterback Johnny Manziel wanted it that way. Interestingly, Manziel elected to go out and throw in a helmet and shoulder pads, as opposed to the traditional T-shirt approach.
This might feel like a gimmick, but it was very much a calculated move. Not only did it allow Manziel to show himself throwing in a setting closer to a game than normal (albeit not by much), but also for a quarterback who is a bit undersized, slapping on shoulder pads and a helmet can only “enhance” his persona, so to speak. How much did it matter? Impossible to tell, but many in attendance came away impressed.
But let us not forget that this was not just Manziel’s pro day. A big part of why Manziel did so well was because he had his favorite target, wide receiver Mike Evans, to throw to. In fact, in going over the video, you saw evidence that supports the film to a T. Both of these players are incredibly talented, and depending on the situation, bail each other out. It isn’t out of the question that Manziel and Evans both end up being taken in the top half of the first round.
April 2 marked the day that the most hyped prospect in the draft finally had his pro day. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney stepped onto the field in Columbia, and everything he did from that point on was solid gold.
What exactly did Clowney have to prove with his pro day workout? Not a whole lot, really. In watching the pro day, the biggest aspect of Clowney’s game on display was his elite athleticism. He can do things athletically that 266-pound men shouldn’t be able to do.
However, beyond that there was really one thing that stood out. Clowney was asked to move more like a linebacker than a traditional defensive end. This was done presumably because of the number of teams running a 3-4 defense. Clowney is in high demand to play a pass-rushing outside linebacker as well as a more traditional 4-3 defensive end.
Clowney did not disappoint. He might be a player who transcends scheme and is talented enough that you simply draft him and then figure out what to do with all that talent after the fact.
Typically, having a star like Clowney on the field is a good thing for the other prospects. The entire league is in attendance, and so that means all of the guys get a decent look. However, for guys like defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles and defensive end Chaz Sutton, all they did was show they weren’t nearly as good as Clowney.
One player who was able to impress was wide receiver Bruce Ellington. The pint-sized speedster didn’t have to go through drills next to Clowney. So he was able to just shine at wide receiver. Look for Ellington to keep climbing right into the second round by May.