Former Georgia Bulldog wide receiver Chris Conley had himself quite a day at the NFL combine on Saturday. The four-year contributor was among the event's best performers in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump and broad jump, and held his own in every event.
His athleticism surprised a lot of folks—apparently.
ESPN's Brett Edgerton called Conley a "combine sensation."
Mike Mayock of NFL Network admitted to not knowing much about Conley but recognized that the young NFL hopeful was "putting on a show," according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Frank Schwab of Yahoo! said Conley spent the weekend "wrecking the field in just about every test" at the combine.
But was Conley's stellar performance really that unexpected?
In a word, no.
|Chris Conley Combine Highlights|
|Event||Result||Rank Among Receivers||Overall Rank|
|40-Yard Dash||4.35 seconds||3||4|
|Vertical Jump||45 inches||1||1|
|Broad Jump||139 inches||1||2|
|Bench Press||18 reps||4||137|
Conley's spot in one of the nation's most prolific offenses has been retroactively marginalized by the Bulldogs' emphasis on run/pass balance and a host of talented pass-catching targets. But Conley stood out at Georgia. And, he was a crucial component to the unit's success.
No Bulldog accounted for more receiving yards than Conley over the past four seasons, and his time in Athens overlapped with Marlon Brown, Orson Charles, Tavarres King, Arthur Lynch and Rantavious Wooten (all of whom got NFL looks).
Conley wasn't merely a part of Georgia's explosive passing attack. For the past few years, he was a staple of it.
And the manner in which Conley contributed made his big performance under the combine's bright lights even less surprising. Conley was at his best when Georgia was most in need of a highlight.
The big-play receiver registered 29 career catches on third or fourth down. All but two of those receptions resulted in either a first down or a touchdown. Even more impressive: He averaged more than 18 yards per catch on those 27 late-down conversions.
First downs and touchdowns were a regularity for Conley. In each of his four seasons, he created first downs or touchdowns at a higher rate than the prolific Georgia passing offense as a whole.
|Chris Conley First-Down and Touchdown Efficiency|
|Conley Percentage of Catches Resulting in First Down or Touchdown||Percentage of Entire Team Catches Resulting in First Down or Touchdown|
|Data courtesy of ESPN.com and Sports-Reference.com|
Conley made a name for himself as a strong, speedy, reliable wide receiver—even while breaking in a new quarterback as a senior. In fact, Conley's lone season without the SEC's all-time leading passer, Aaron Murray, was also his best. As a senior, he set career marks with 657 receiving yards and eight touchdowns despite hauling in just 36 receptions.
And Conley concluded his collegiate career with jaw-dropping efficiency. Each of his final 15 receptions resulted in either first-down yardage or points for the Bulldogs.
That doesn't happen by accident.
Conley left college with a proven history of destroying talented defenses with the same grace he demonstrated at the combine.
As a sophomore, he burned Nebraska (the fourth-best passing defense in the country) for 136 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
In 2013, Conley hauled in five passes for 112 yards and a touchdown against a highly rated LSU game. In that same contest, Tigers standout and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Odell Beckham Jr. caught six passes for 118 yards and no touchdowns.
He torched Arkansas for 128 yards in the absence of star running back Todd Gurley as a senior and later ran past a vaunted Louisville pass defense for 80 yards and a score on just four catches.
Contrary to overriding sentiment, Conley has been showing explosive athleticism for four years.
Sure, the 4.35 time in the 40-yard dash was surprising, and setting a record on the vertical jump is never the expectation. But the "out of nowhere" narrative is a false one.
Chris Conley was a superbly productive player at Georgia. He was structured, disciplined and talented. The outside world may just now be seeing this, but Bulldog fans have known for years.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. All stats relating to first downs and touchdowns compiled from ESPN.com game recaps. All other stats courtesy of sports-reference.com/cfb.