Welcome to pro-day season!
The NFL Scouting Combine is over, but the examination of prospects continues at the workouts held by schools across the country. These events can include even more digging than the combine, since they involve a full day of access for teams that send representatives. College coaches, trainers and academic people are available all day. It's changed a lot since the 1960s, when I was working with the Cowboys. We didn't call them pro days, but we'd do something similar (but a lot less demanding) at the schools involving weighing, timing, measuring and testing.
Many teams will send a contingent of coaches, sometimes including the head coach but usually including the positional coaches appropriate to the prospects being examined. And it's not always about the high-profile draft prospects; teams also take this opportunity to lay groundwork with players who will become undrafted free agents, maybe taking them to dinner and establishing a relationship. Also noteworthy are the schools -- like Northwestern and Oregon State -- that invite prospects from smaller institutions in the region to come work out in front of teams. I always keep an eye on Oregon State, in particular, which tends to produce a previously unknown prospect who flashes.
Pro days usually start in the morning, and many will include some kind of social event after, like a fish fry or a barbecue. It's a big day for everyone, including the schools, which will sometimes use pro days as a recruiting tool.
With pro days getting underway, I've compiled a short primer of pro days to watch. This is by no means an exhaustive list (click here for a full calendar); but is merely a collection of pro days *I'm *interested in. Be sure to check NFL.com frequently, as we'll be updating pro-day results as they're completed, and tune into NFL Network for coverage.
Here are some pro days I'll be keeping an eye on, arranged according to date:
Auburn, March 7
Jones ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash, the fastest 40 time among defensive backs and the third-fastest time overall. But he's small (5-foot-9, 186 pounds), so people will be looking to see if his height will hold him back at the next level. Can he be one of those guys who overcomes a lack of height with, say, a great feel for the ball? Teams will also want to learn more about Coleman, who overcame leukemia to reach this point. And people will also try to learn all they can about receiver Duke Williams, the receiver prospect who was dismissed from the team in October.
Alabama, March 9
ALERT: Be sure to check NFL Network for coverage at 12 p.m. ET.
People will pay attention to how Henry does in the bag drill, to see how he changes direction. Can he make quick moves? It's hard to run over guys in the NFL, given how much bigger everyone is at this level. They'll also want to see how well Henry catches the ball. As for Ragland, how does he do playing in space? How well does he drop into coverage?
Clemson, March 10
Everybody is going to try to decide which of the two defensive linemen are better: Dodd or Lawson. Dodd really came on and played well the last six weeks of the season. This is a pivotal workout for those two guys, to see who is going to be drafted first. People will be looking at the ball skills of Alexander, who did not work out at the combine and did not post an interception in 2014 or 2015.
Ohio State, March 11
ALERT: Be sure to check NFL Network for coverage at 10 a.m. ET.
Apple stands to gain; people will be interested to see how he covers. Bosa will run better than he did at the combine, which should only put more green in his pockets come draft day. Lee reminds me of fellow Ohio State product Ryan Shazier in terms of speed and build. He's undersized and only played two years at Ohio State, so people will put a lot of work in on him to see what he can do as a linebacker. This one will include a glut of underclassmen, who, again, are important to catch up on. Jones, who hurt his hamstring while running the 40 at the combine, won't want to hear this, but people are going to want to see if he can be a tight end. I'm not sure he can be a quarterback, but he's a big guy (6-5, 253) -- can he play another position?
UCLA, March 15
Everybody's going to be on Payton, who was viewed by most people as a possession receiver, then outpaced expectations in the 40 (4.47) at the combine. Can he get open? Run routes? Utilize his size (6-1, 207 pounds) and speed? Jack, of course, couldn't do much at the combine thanks to the knee injury he suffered in September. He says he's expecting to be cleared before his pro day, but I would temper my expectations as far as his workout. I don't think it'll be fair to judge him too much on what he does in March. I'm sure he'll be worked out again by teams as we get closer to the draft.
Michigan State, March 16
This is very important for Cook, who can help himself a great deal if he works out well and shows leadership. By that, I mean he should show the receivers what to do and help tell them what routes he wants them to run; he should be proactive. I think Conklin boosted his stock at the combine. Now I think you'll see people working him out in individual drills to see if he can be a left tackle rather than a right tackle or guard.
North Dakota State, March 24
ALERT: Be sure to check NFL Network for coverage at 11 a.m. ET.
There will be many more people at this pro day this year than were there in 2015, thanks to Wentz's presence. Some people might go to North Dakota the day before or the day after and head out to Bismarck (about 200 miles west of Fargo, where the school is) to talk to Wentz's high school coach. It'll be a complete day of fact-finding and research for all teams. I think people feel pretty good about Wentz, but no one's sure; it's almost like he's too good to be true. People will want to do a lot more research. Also, Haeg's not bad.
Ole Miss, March 28
There will be a lot of inquiries about Nkemdiche and his character. As for Tunsil, right now, he's the leader of the proverbial horse race; the first overall pick is his to lose, and I think he'll work out well on his pro day. Everyone's going to want to see what Treadwell can run, given that the receiver did not participate in the 40 at the combine. I told Treadwell at dinner one night in Indy that Michael Irvin couldn't run that fast, and we drafted him first with the Cowboys and he went on to make five Pro Bowls and the Hall of Fame. Treadwell and Irvin are very similar in size and the way they play.
West Virginia, April 4
Everyone's going to want to see the coverage abilities of these defensive backs. They'll put a lot of time in on Joseph, who was hurt midseason, and Worley, who is an underclassmen.