Pro days give potential draft picks another chance to shine. Who helped themselves the most? We look at five players who stood out.
The NFL combine is just the appetizer in the pre-draft process. It’s an introduction to the players for most coaching staffs, who haven’t yet had time to dig into the film. But by the time pro days roll around, most franchises have their sights set on a group of players.
On campus, they get one-on-one time with the players, often coaching them specifically on something or putting them through some kind of drill. It’s not quite the entree, but maybe a pasta course (draft season is a long, fancy, white tablecloth meal). It’s a crucial step in player evaluation, particularly for guys who didn’t participate at the combine or for players who needed an extra boost to their stock.
Here’s a look at five players who wet the appetite of NFL teams with impressive pro day performances.
Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
It’s not that Jackson had a bad combine, but it was a puzzling one. His testing numbers were quite solid, even if his 40 time (4.56) puts him in the bottom quartile for corners. The real problems arose in position drills, where Jackson vacillated between looking lost and stiff, while occasionally appearing to be both.
It’s not the reddest flag, but Jackson only had one year of production at Iowa and doesn’t have experience with some critical techniques and coverage concepts he’ll need at the NFL level. Whether it was nerves or lack of preparation, it was concerning.
But at his pro day, not only did Jackson improve his athletic testing, he blew it up, posting a 40-inch vertical, getting his short shuttle under four seconds, and according to Tony Pauline, most stopwatches had his 40 time in the 4.4s even if his official time was 4.52.
Jackson also looked much more comfortable with the drill work, something he admitted he had more time to focus on in preparation for his workout in Iowa City. Scouts were once again impressed with his ball skills, but Jackson showed his ability work on his craft, even in just a month, while showing off his considerable athletic gifts.
His pro day was an enormous win for him.
Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State
One of the key aspects of the draft is risk management. The more data a team has on a player, the less risk in their evaluation. They may still get it wrong, but simply possessing more information allows a team to make a more informed decision.
So when a player like Goedert, who doesn’t have the experience of playing against big-time college football athletes, misses most of the pre-draft walkup with an injury, teams don’t have the opportunity to compare him side-by-side with his peers both literally and on paper.
Goedert had his pro day this week and the numbers were more or less what you’d expect. He didn’t run a 40, but at 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, he jumped 35 inches and posted a 121-inch broad jump. He posted above average physical testing data across the board and looked fluid catching the ball, something that shows up on film.
Simply working out at all was a boost to Goedert’s stock. A small-school prospect doesn’t need another reason for NFL teams to question him. But he didn’t just show up, he showed out, and may have solidified his spot as TE1 in this draft. At the very least, it’s checking another box he’d previously left unmarked and that, in itself, is a big step forward.
Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
Hurst also falls into the category of “just show up.” The Michigan star had to sit out the combine after a surprise heart condition diagnosis in the physical eval in Indianapolis. His health became the foremost concern, not just his NFL career.
Luckily for Hurst, doctors cleared him and he was able to work out in front of NFL scouts. The numbers weren’t the crucial part, and in fact, some of them weren’t all that impressive. But those who like Hurst as a prospect won’t be phased.
His relentless style and edge can’t be measured by stopwatches, nor can his hand usage and want-to. I’m not the biggest fan of Hurst as a prospect, but I’m a fan of the kid for overcoming such a potentially scary obstacle.
Getting back on the field couldn’t have been easy. Assuming NFL doctors clear him — and some doctors may feel differently than others — this was a critical step forward for Hurst.
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
We knew Allen had a rocket arm. He showed that at his pro day. But sometimes seeing something that special in person can help drive the point home.
When you’re dropping 75-yard dimes, even at altitude, that’s going to make NFL teams stand up and take notice.
Allen appeared to have worked on his footwork as well, something my evaluators have pointed to as a deficiency for the Wyoming star. He showed better touch and accuracy than you see on film and NFL teams will have to determine why they think that didn’t show up more consistently in games.
But the pro day was all about proof of concept with his talent. If teams had questions, he gave answers. He’s clearly the most physically gifted arm in the draft and for someone who needed a ‘Wow’ performance, Allen gave one.
Nick Nelson, CB, Wisconsin
Coming into the combine, the questions about Nelson were about his hands; no interceptions in college despite 36 passes defended his final two seasons at Wisconsin, including an incredible 21 last season. He caught it fluidly in Indy, perhaps allaying some fears about his hands and ball skills.
But at his pro day, Nelson gave answers to questions no one was asking. His shuttle time (3.88) destroyed the best at the combine at any position(3.94) and his 3-cone would have been top-10.
For a 5-foot-11, 200-pound corner to change direction like that is eye-popping, regardless of his 4.52 40 time. Nelson was always going to be seen as a big, physical corner, but his pro day showed he has virtuoso agility and change-of-direction skill.
For a corner who will be asked to play man coverage in the NFL, few traits are more important. Questions about his ball skills have been replaced with plaudits for his physical ability. That’s exactly what a pro day is all about.