The 2016 NFL Scouting Combine is underway, and the draft itself is just a short couple of months away. In between, the final step for college players moving on to the highest level of the sport is the pro day.
The idea of the pro day is simple: put your players in the most comfortable environment possible in which they're surrounded by their teammates in a familiar setting. The whole thing is designed to maximize that one final chance to impress pro organizations. It's also an opportunity, however, for scouts to get a better impression about what others—coaches, school staff, etc.—think about a player.
In that way, pro days are similar to the combine in that they are a personal audition as much as a physical one.
The next month or so will be filled with pro days across college football as they typically coincide with spring practices.
All pro days for Power Five conference schools, plus BYU and Notre Dame, are listed below. Additionally, we break down the names to know, including a look at who is on everyone's radar, who should be and who has the most to prove.
|2016 Pro Day Dates|
|ACC||Oklahoma State||March 8|
|Boston College||March 16||TCU||March 31|
|Clemson||March 10||Texas||March 23|
|Duke||March 23||Texas Tech||March 11|
|Florida State||March 29||West Virginia||April 4|
|Georgia Tech||March 18||PAC-12|
|Louisville||March 9||Arizona||March 24|
|Miami (Florida)||March 30||Arizona State||March 4|
|North Carolina||March 22||California||March 18|
|North Carolina State||March 21||Colorado||March 9|
|Pittsburgh||March 16||Oregon||March 10|
|Syracuse||March 23||Oregon State||March 11|
|Virginia||March 15||USC||March 23|
|Virginia Tech||March 16||Stanford||March 17|
|Wake Forest||March 14||UCLA||March 15|
|BIG TEN||Utah||March 24|
|Illinois||March 10||Washington||March 31|
|Indiana||April 1||Washington State||March 10|
|Maryland||March 30||Alabama||March 9|
|Michigan||March 16||Arkansas||March 16|
|Michigan State||March 16||Auburn||March 7|
|Minnesota||Marh 7||Florida||March 22|
|Nebraska||March 4||Georgia||March 16|
|Northwestern||March 8||Kentucky||March 4|
|Ohio State||March 11||LSU||March 14|
|Penn State||March 17 (tentative)||Mississippi||March 28|
|Purdue||March 23||Mississippi State||March 10|
|Rutgers||March 9||Missouri||March 23|
|Wisconsin||March 9||South Carolina||March 30|
|BIG 12||Tennessee||March 30|
|Baylor||March 16||Texas A&M||April 6|
|Iowa State||March 22||Vanderbilt||March 3|
|Kansas State||March 8||BYU||March 25|
|Oklahoma||March 9||Notre Dame||March 31|
|NFL.com, Various sites|
The Big Names
Given that quarterbacks always garner the most interest, it makes sense to start there. Compared to previous classes, though, the '16 quarterback group lacks top-end star power.
Still, there are two quarterbacks who have created some separation from the pack: Cal's Jared Goff and North Dakota State's Carson Wentz, who has become one of the more intriguing stories leading up to the draft. Mock drafts are ever-changing, but those two are generally considered the only first-round-caliber talents at that position. NFL Network's Bucky Brooks has Goff and Wentz as first-round selections in his latest mock draft.
The knock on Goff is his size, both in weight (215 pounds) and his hands (nine inches). "It's not ideal, but it's not a deal-breaker,'' CBS Sports draft analyst Dan Brugler told Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com.
Elsewhere, pay attention to Ohio State edge-rusher Joey Bosa, Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey. All three have a crack at being the No. 1 overall pick.
Bosa was one of the most disruptive defenders over the past three seasons with 26 sacks, 24 quarterback hurries and an astounding 50.5 tackles for loss. Ramsey can play corner and safety, making him one of the most versatile players in the back end of the defense. NFL analyst Mike Mayock (via NFL.com) compared him to Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals.
As for Tunsil, he missed some time last season due to an NCAA investigation. (He was also charged with domestic assault against his stepfather last June while reportedly sticking up for his mother, according to his NFL.com draft profile. Those charges were eventually dropped.)
But the Titans, who have the No. 1 pick, need someone to protect their quarterback of the future, Marcus Mariota. Think the Titans care too much about an NCAA inquiry? Tunsil doesn't seem to think so, and he's probably right:
It's weird to consider Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III an under-the-radar player considering he cleaned up the defensive postseason awards in 2014 as a unanimous All-American. However, we know that college production doesn't always equal NFL success. Furthermore, Wright missed practically the entire 2015 season with injuries.
Still, he falls into the "you can't measure grit and heart" category. His pro day, coupled with his combine interviews, could be a chance to impress scouts with things other than his measurables.
"People want a three-down linebacker,” Wright said, per Michael Lev of Tucson.com, “and I believe I can do that.”
Staying on defense, another player who shouldn't be overlooked (but will be) is defensive end Kamalei Correa out of Boise State. This year's D-line/edge-rusher group is ridiculously deep, so big names such as Bosa and Shaq Lawson are going to dominate headlines. But Correa was productive without all the hype. Both CBS Sports and B/R have him as one of the underrated players heading into the combine and leading up to draft day.
Who Can Help Themselves
It's hard to start this category without immediately mentioning Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Put simply, there isn't a more perplexing prospect at such a magnified position.
Even casual college football fans knew who Hackenberg was as a true freshman in 2013 when he threw for with 2,955 yards passing, 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Given his physical tools coupled with a quarterback guru (Bill O'Brien) as a head coach, the future looked bright for Hackenberg.
Mercy, how things have changed. O'Brien became the head coach of the Houston Texans, and for the past two seasons, Hackenberg never quite fit into James Franklin's new offensive vision with the Nittany Lions (whatever that was). It didn't help that Penn State's offensive line routinely allowed pressure (83 sacks in two seasons, though some of that was on Hackenberg as well).
Hackenberg has regressed, and his frustration has been visible, there's no doubt about it. But every once in a while, he'll make a throw that reminds us all of why he was so highly touted to begin with. Throwing against air will be a welcome change of pace for the junior, who could finally show NFL scouts what he's capable of if given time to develop.
Another name to watch here is Noah Spence, the defensive end from Eastern Kentucky by way of Ohio State (EKU's pro day is on March 4). Spence was an All-Big Ten defensive linemen for the Buckeyes before he was banned from the conference for failed drug tests. But by many accounts, he has turned his life around. Per B/R's Matt Miller, Spence, who is projected as a top-10 pick, has Von Miller-like qualities:
Spence's pro day will be a prime example of scouts wanting a better idea of who he is personally as well as physically. Picking the brains of Eastern Kentucky's coaches and staff will be critical to determine if he's really come around and learned from his past mistakes.
Who Can Hurt Themselves
Alabama running back Derrick Henry was an unstoppable force in 2015, rumbling for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns as part of his Heisman Trophy-winning season. Part of what made Henry so difficult for defenders was his sheer size, which was still mind-boggling when he measured in at the combine:
Reminder: People tried to tackle that. For real.
The thing is, finding a place for a back that big at the NFL level is a different story. The Brandon Jacobs molds are few and far between. Mayock noted as much, explaining, "When you look at Henry, he needs a little more road. He's a tall, high-cut, long-legged back, which is atypical. Those backs struggle in the NFL just because there's a lot more vertical mass to aim at."
Henry isn't going to run a 4.3 40 at his pro day. That's to be expected. But can he show 1) better than advertised speed, 2) a willingness to slim down a bit or 3) a combination of both.
Speaking of speed, that's a concern for Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. The big wideout won't run the 40-yard dash at the combine, meaning he'll have to showcase his speed at his pro day. Treadwell isn't known as a blazing receiving, but if his only 40 attempts are on the slower side, it could raise concerns about his ability to beat coverages at the next level.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.