2018 NFL Draft: Biggest Winners and Losers of Pro Days so Far
Pro days are supposed to serve as confirmation of months of evaluations. They shouldn't sway NFL teams into picking a prospect based on one workout.
If a player is being considered for the No. 1 overall pick, like USC's Sam Darnold is, his performance should reflect those expectations. It's when an individual doesn't perform well that concerns arise.
Pro days also aren't like combine performances.
That event is set up to test a player's mettle. Prospects wake up before the sun rises, remain busy throughout the day and then go to bed well after midnight. Yet they're asked to perform at peak levels, both physically and mentally, in front of the entire league, individually with teams and in front of a national television audience.
Pro days are geared toward the prospects.
Collegiate programs set up these events. The young men are on their home turf, working out with their teammates—not strangers. For positions such as quarterback, the prospect and his guru script the entire throwing session. The workout is intended for a player to be comfortable and succeed.
Even so, pro days provide up and down performances, with the following prospects exemplifying the good and bad (so far) from the 2018 circuit.
Winner: Josh Allen, Wyoming
Pro days are made for prospects like Wyoming's Josh Allen.
Physically, no quarterback in this year's class is on the same plane as Allen. The 21-year-old's raw arm talent is on par with some of the league's most powerful throwers, such as the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford and Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton.
As such, everyone expected Allen to rip the football during his session, and he did. He threw lasers on underneath passes. He rolled out to each side and made the throws look easy. He even chucked a few 75- to 80-yard bombs.
Simply put: Allen's right arm strength is ridiculous. It's only part of the equation, though.
Every NFL scout loves a powerful arm, but there's more to an evaluation. Allen's 56.2 career completion percentage has everyone wondering if he can make good decisions, throw with anticipation and provide better ball placement as a professional. Those things can't be seen during a pro day performance.
However, improved footwork, timing and touch can. Outside of a few deep throws, the majority of Allen's workout centered on those three aspects. Improvement can be seen in his lower-body mechanics. After working the last few months with quarterback coach Jordan Palmer, the 6'5", 233-pound gunslinger is marrying his footwork to his throwing motion.
These little steps could lead to big improvements as organizations consider Allen's immense upside.
"Josh Allen is the best quarterback in this draft," an NFC executive told NFL.com's Lance Zierlein even before Allen's performance. "I think all of the talk about his accuracy is the most overblown thing out there. His guys don't get open, which causes a lot of the incompletions—it's not an accuracy issue."
Loser: Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Penn State's Saquon Barkley didn't do anything wrong. In fact, he didn't do anything at all. Therein lies the problem.
While NFL teams are falling all over themselves in an attempt to acquire one of the top quarterback prospects (Allen, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield), Barkley's draft status has taken a hit, even though he's considered one of the class's top overall talents (alongside Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson).
The No. 1 running back prospect didn't work out at Penn State's pro day after expecting to earlier in the day.
"I woke up this morning and that was the game plan," Barkley said of working out, per ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg, "but then when I realized there wasn't a running backs coach here, I figured there was no point for me to run routes or do drills."
Everything NFL teams need from Barkley can be found on his tape or in his combine numbers. Still, one more workout could have helped the running back remain at the forefront of the No. 1 overall discussion.
"I'm over this stage, running in shorts and sweatshirts," Barkley said. "That's cool and all, but I'm not a combine guy. I want you to throw on the film and I want to show that I'm a football player."
A lack of a workout means nothing in the grand scheme of things. However, it feels more apparent that Barkley's monumental talent won't supersede positional value. Quarterbacks are in demand. Running backs aren't, especially in a loaded class.
Winner: Sam Darnold, USC
Every NFL scout can name the best and worst quarterback pro days they've seen. JaMarcus Russell and Andrew Luck's performances are still discussed. On the flip side, Teddy Bridgewater's 2014 workout serves as an example of what not to do.
Darnold may not have put together a herculean performance like Russell and Luck did in 2007 and 2012, respectively, but he provided a workout expected of the potential No. 1 overall pick.
He didn't make spectacular throws. The 20-year-old completed a few nice passes, but some off-target tosses came out of his hand as well. However, the conditions made all the difference.
Shortly after Darnold started to throw, it began to downpour. NFL personnel love to see quarterbacks throw in adverse conditions. Importantly, Darnold's demeanor didn't change. He never appeared frustrated or unhappy with the circumstances, and he looked fluid as a natural thrower.
"He's going number one," one AFC executive texted to The MMQB's Albert Breer. "Everyone out there today saw the Browns' franchise quarterback."
So much of the process regarding the quarterback position is about the little things. Everyone can go back to USC's games and pick apart Darnold's skill set. Not everyone sees who the individual really is, how he handles pressure and his drive to achieve greatness.
Even after the forecast predicted rain, Palmer, Darnold's quarterback coach, decided not to rework the schedule.
"Perfect. I don't care if it rains. I'm trying to go to Cleveland [with the No. 1 overall pick]," Darnold said.
The above statement says more about the young man than anything else he did during Wednesday's throwing session.
Loser: Deon Cain, Clemson
Wide receiver Deon Cain once looked like a future first-round pick, but his 2017 performance trended downward—and it's continued into the predraft process.
As a sophomore, Cain led the national championship-winning Clemson Tigers by averaging 19.1 yards per catch (among those with 10 or more receptions). The then-20-year-old managed five catches for 94 yards in the title game against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Keep in mind: The Tigers featured three future NFL targets at the time with tight end Jordan Leggett, wide receiver Artavis Scott and 2017's seventh overall pick, Mike Williams.
Cain failed to improve as Clemson's No. 1 option last season. The junior finished with 58 receptions for 734 yards—only 10 more yards than the previous year despite 20 additional catches. Part of his lack of production can be explained away by the quarterback change from Deshaun Watson to Kelly Bryant, but not all of it.
Cain's inconsistencies with route running and catching plagued him. After an up-and-down junior performance, he had an opportunity to recapture some shine during his draft evaluation. Instead, those same inconsistencies showed up during Clemson's pro day via a handful of drops.
"As stated to me, several of the drops were 'catches most receivers would've made," Draft Analyst's Tony Pauline reported. "Sources at Clemson told me Cain is a good athlete, but how good of a receiver he is remains a question."
Right now, the 21-year-old is viewed as a solid vertical threat with 4.43-second 40-yard-dash speed but in need of further development.
Winner: Jeff Badet, Oklahoma
NFL teams search far and wide for speed, fawning over those who can create big plays in any phase of the game.
Last year, John Ross' legendary 4.22-second 40-yard dash made him the ninth overall pick. This year, LSU's Donte Jackson, Ohio State's Denzel Ward and Tulane's Parry Nickerson elevated their status by providing 4.32-second efforts.
Oklahoma's Jeff Badet is quicker than those defensive backs, who tied for the fastest combine 40 time. According to NFL Media's Chase Goodbread, the Kentucky Wildcats transfer posted an unofficial 4.27-second mark at Oklahoma's pro day.
"To be honest, that's not even the fastest I've ran since I've been training," Badet said afterward, per the Norman Transcript's Tyler Palmateer. "It was good enough. I was trying to get anything 4.2."
The 5'11", 182-pound wide receiver didn't stop there. According to his agent, Will Sarubbi, Badet posted a 39.5-inch vertical and a 10 foot, 11-inch broad jump. Each of those numbers would have qualified him among the top two at his position.
At this point, Badet is a late-round option because of his slight frame and poor route running.
However, his skill set has hidden value. For example, Badet finished his only season in Norman with 26 receptions for 400 yards, but he can be used as a gadget player by including handoffs, reverses, screens, etc. Also, he has experience returning kicks and punts.
An NFL team will find ways to use Badet's speed.
Loser: Cam Phillips, Virginia Tech
Sometimes, it can be better to sit out a pro day if a prospect's coming off an injury.
Virginia Tech's Cam Phillips didn't compete at the NFL combine as he recovered from sports hernia surgery. He instead worked out at Virginia Tech only 11 days after he was supposed to do so in Indianapolis.
It didn't go well.
According to NFL Media's Gil Brandt, the 6'0", 199-pound receiver ran a pair of 40-yard dashes in the 4.87-4.89-second range. Obviously, the young man wasn't ready to perform after having surgery in November.
It's a difficult situation. Athletes want to compete. In Phillips' case, he isn't considered an early-round prospect, so he probably felt compelled to perform at the Hokies pro day after missing the combine.
But teams can grow wary of a player's condition, and those poor numbers stick with scouts. Just ask Jarvis Landry after he ran a poor 40-yard-dash (4.77) at the 2014 combine because of a hamstring injury. He eventually went No. 63 overall.
Phillips' production speaks for itself. The four-year starter left Virginia Tech as the program's all-time leader with 236 receptions and 3,027 receiving yards. According to Pro Football Focus, he ranked second last season among all draft-eligible ACC wide receivers at 2.89 yards per route run.
Considering Phillips' overall speed and ability to create separation were already in question, a poor workout planted another seed of doubt and may drive him into undrafted territory.
Winner: Maurice Hurst, Michigan
Michigan's Maurice Hurst was the biggest pro day winner just for being on the field.
NFL doctors flagged Hurst during the combine after an irregular electrocardiogram (EKG) and didn't allow the 6'2", 282-pound defensive lineman to participate in on-field events. While the revelation came as a surprise to those on the outside, Hurst experienced this before.
"It was an irregular EKG. Same thing [happened] at Michigan," Hurst told the NFL Network (via the Detroit News' Angelique S. Chengelis). "Went through a lot of tests and got that all figured out and was cleared, so hopefully just do the same thing once I get back to school and come back for rechecks."
The same thing did happen. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Hurst met with cardiologists at the University of Michigan and Harvard before being cleared to resume football activities.
At the Wolverines' pro day, Hurst posted a 4.97-second 40-yard dash, 29 reps on bench, a 31-inch vertical, an eight-foot, eight-inch broad jump, a 4.62-second short shuttle and a 7.74-second three-cone drill, per Brandt.
The consensus All-American finished his senior year with 59 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. His value comes from his explosive first-step. Hurst is a disruptive force as a true 3-technique and is adept at defending the run and rushing the passer.
As a result, Hurst will challenge Washington's Vita Vea and Alabama's Da'Ron Payne to be the first defensive tackle off the board now that he's medically cleared.
"I knew everything was going to be fine," Hurst said Friday, per Chengelis. "I think [teams will] view me exactly the same as before. If you're cleared, you're cleared. It's not really anything to look back on."
Loser: Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin
Like Phillips, Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli is in a no-win situation thanks to a sports hernia. Unlike Phillips, Fumagalli is expected to be out two months and can't work out for teams prior to the draft, according to Pauline.
The same thing once happened to 2005 first-round pick Heath Miller. The difference is Fumagalli isn't considered a top tight end prospect.
At one time, the Wisconsin product appeared to be an early-round selection. Upon closer inspection, he didn't provide the same type of athleticism or passing-game mismatch capabilities as other prospects, such as Penn State's Mike Gesicki or Oklahoma's Mark Andrews.
Fumagalli has an old-school approach, as he's as concerned about being a physical presence as he is a receiver.
"I love [Jason] Witten. I love Heath Miller. Chris Cooley is here with us [at the combine]; that's kind of cool,” Fumagalli said in Indianapolis, per Mike Spofford of the Green Bay Packers' official site. "I like those old-school tight ends that can do it all, that are kind of bad-asses."
Now, NFL teams won't have any athletic information for Fumagalli since he couldn't participate in the Badgers' pro day. His entire evaluation will be based on in-season performances and the interview process.
Since questions linger about Fumagalli's ability to create separation in the passing game and his strength at the point of attack (only 14 reps on bench), he can't do anything to dispel those concerns as a likely middle-round selection.