The NFL Scouting Combine is the premier event of the scouting season, but scouts and coaches find immense value in watching prospects work out at their respective pro days.
These scripted workouts allow prospects to not only improve on the official times and measurements they recorded at the combine, but grant coordinators and assistant coaches the opportunity to put draft hopefuls through a battery of position-specific drills that are tied directly to their respective schemes.
In addition, these campus-hosted events allow coaches to chat with their college colleagues about the background and character concerns of each prospect, and to spend more time with each prospect in the classroom.
Pro days allow coaches to confidently make assessments about a player's potential within their system.
Given the significant impact of these workouts, let's take a look at a handful of players who are generating a buzz in draft rooms across the league:
Aaron Hernandez, TE, Florida: Hernandez made amends for missing the NFL Scouting Combine by putting on a dazzling show at the Gators' pro day. He ran in the low 4.6s in the 40-yard dash, and pumped out 30 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press. More importantly, Hernandez looked great going through the positional drills. Scouts raved about his fluidity in routes, and his ability to adjust to errant throws in the air. Although Hernandez has been dinged for some off-field issues, his dynamic potential as a middle-of-the-field threat has raised his value across the league.
Montario Hardesty, RB, Tennessee: Hardesty raised some eyebrows with his impressive performance at the combine, and continues to build on that momentum by dazzling coaches during his individual workouts. Hardesty has surprised NFL coaches with his movement skills and burst in drills, and their study of his film suggests that he has the ability to be a rugged runner on the next level. While Hardesty has flown under the radar on the national scene throughout the process, the buzz is growing that he may be the third running back taken off the board on draft day.
Morgan Burnett, S, Georgia Tech: After missing out on a chance to show off his skills at the combine due to injury, Burnett left quite an impression on scouts who attended Georgia Tech's pro day. He clocked times ranging from 4.42-4.47, and had an impressive display of footwork and movement skills during positional drills. This coincides with the exceptional range and ball-hawking skills that scouts raved about after viewing his tape. While Burnett has been downgraded due to his shoddy tackling, his superior cover skills and outstanding athleticism have keyed his surge up draft boards.
Pro Days schedule
In between the combine and the draft, NFL coaches and personnel turn their attention to pro day workouts. Gil Brandt is providing daily updates from these events. More ...
Dennis Pitta, TE, Brigham Young: Pitta has been one of the stars of the postseason after putting in work at the East-West Shrine Game and the combine. A fluid route runner with exceptional hands, Pitta has continued to impress scouts and coaches with his outstanding skills as a pass catcher. Although scouts have downgraded him due to his limited experience as a blocker, Pitta's surprising strength (27 reps at the combine) and dramatic improvement during practices at the East-West Shrine Game have convinced some that he can develop into a conventional tight end in most offenses. With the tight end position continuing to emerge as a pivotal part of most passing games, Pitta's value is quietly rising.
Donald Butler, LB, Washington: Butler showed up at the Senior Bowl as a relatively unknown prospect, but he has since stirred a buzz in scouting circles. As a multi-dimensional linebacker with experience playing inside or outside, Butler is becoming an attractive option for teams seeking a dynamic player at the position. Scouts praise Butler's instincts and awareness, and have been surprised by his explosiveness during workouts. He shows the potential to play as an every-down middle linebacker and his versatility will help him garner serious consideration in the draft's early rounds.