Every year in the draft there are players who we know will be taken, and then there are guys who have their name called and people say, "Who is he?"
In a lot of cases, the players in the latter group are guys who weren't invited to the NFL Scouting Combine and consequently had to put in a lot of hard work to establish themselves and get noticed.
Players today are realizing the importance of pro days, especially if they don't receive a combine invite. Once the season ends, they continue to work hard and are driven by the fact that going undrafted doesn't necessarily mean you can't make an NFL roster. Last year, 49 undrafted free agents made it onto a team.
In the same way, teams are finding out that players who didn't make it to the combine still have some good qualities, and they're able to show these qualities at their pro days.
I've listed 15 players below who are in this mold -- guys who worked very hard after the season ended and really helped their chances to get drafted or signed as priority free agents by having exceptional pro-day workouts. All but one of the players below were not invited to the combine.
This is the first of two groups of players. I'll have another group next week.
Brock Coyle, LB, Montana
Coyle (6-foot 3/4, 235 pounds) is a great example of a player who continued to work hard after the season in the hopes of getting noticed at his pro day. He lives in Montana but went to train with a workout guru in Florida, and it paid off. He had much better athletic ability and speed than people expected, including a 40-yard dash in 4.60 seconds. He'll probably be a third-day pick and could be a fourth-rounder.
Garrett Gilbert, QB, SMU
Gilbert (6-foot-3 7/8, 221 pounds) threw 88 passes on his pro day and showed off his accuracy by completing 87 of them. He's got good arm strength and probably moved himself up to be an early third-day pick, maybe even as high as late in the third round.
Rashaun Allen, TE, Southern
Allen (6-foot-4 3/4, 250 pounds) is a big target who looked very good at his pro day, especially catching the ball. He also showed good speed, running the 40 in 4.68 seconds. He has a chance to be a third-day pick.
Darrin Reaves, RB, UAB
Reaves (5-foot-6 7/8 209 pounds) is a small back with a lot of explosion, and he had good production in college. He posted a 40 time of 4.54 seconds at his pro day and will probably be a free agent.
David Hurd, OT, Arkansas
Hurd (6-foot-5 7/8, 308 pounds) reminds me a lot of LaAdrian Waddle, an undrafted free agent from Texas Tech last year who ended up starting for the Detroit Lions. He's got good size and very long arms, which is imperative for an offensive tackle.
Demetri Goodson, DB, Baylor
Goodson (5-foot-11, 197 pounds) has good height for a corner and looked very strong in man-coverage drills at his pro day. He ran the 40 in 4.53 seconds, and I think he's a possible third-day pick.
Geraldo Boldewijn and Aaron Burks, WRs, Boise State
Burks (6-foot-2 7/8 203 pounds) is probably the better of these two Boise State receivers. They're both big, tall targets (Boldewijn is 6-foot-3, 215 pounds) who weren't used a lot last year because Boise State didn't pass very much. Both have pretty good speed: Boldewijn ran the 40 in 4.56, and Burks ran it in 4.48. In a really deep wide receiver class, I expect both to be free agents.
Zurlon Tipton, RB, Central Michigan
Tipton (5-foot-11 3/4, 223 pounds) was very productive at Central Michigan. His 40 was timed at 4.70, but he has outstanding quickness, which is the most important trait in a running back. He's likely to be a free agent but could move up into the seventh round.
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Boyd (6-foot 3/4, 221 pounds) is the lone player on this list who was at the combine. He had an excellent pro day, and there's a lot of excitement over him right now. Even those who've seen him throughout his career would probably say it was one of the best days he's had. I'm not sure he's put himself in the second day, but definitely in the third day, and he could go as high as the fourth round.
Andru Pulu, DL, Eastern Washington
Pulu (6-foot-1 3/8, 322 pounds) was unable to work out at his school's pro day, but worked out recently in the greater Seattle area. He's a little short for a defensive tackle but is very explosive. He ran the 40 in 5.15 seconds and should be a free agent.
Tavita Woodward, DL, Hawaii
Woodward (6-foot-3 3/8, 250 pounds) is a defensive lineman, but his best chance to make it in the NFL is as a 3-4 linebacker. He worked out at Hawaii's pro day in Carson, Calif., and ran the 40 in 4.70 seconds.
Stephen Houston, RB, Indiana
Houston (5-foot-10 3/4, 225 pounds) has a good combination of size and speed. He ran a 4.52 in the 40 at Indiana's pro day and looked really smooth and athletic in his drills. He also caught the ball really well.
Pierre Warren, DB, Jacksonville State
Warren (6-foot 1/4, 194 pounds) was moved to safety after starting out as a cornerback. He's got good speed (4.59-second 40) and good instincts for the position.
Walt Aikens, DB, Liberty
There were 20-plus teams at Liberty's pro day, and they were all there to get a better look at Aikens (6-foot 5/8, 203 pounds). He's got the size everyone is looking for at corner and has pretty good speed, running the 40 in 4.49 seconds. I think he's got a good chance to be drafted in the third day.
Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.