During the draft evaluation process, the Pro Day is the dog and pony show that should find itself third behind the NFL Combine and actual game film in terms of tools used to evaluate a player.
Yet somehow, Pro Days are a huge deal, covered from start to finish by the media and obsessed over in terms of a player’s draft stock. A good Pro Day can shoot a player up the draft board, while a bad one could send a player tumbling down.
Is this fair? No. It’s more effective to look at real, 11-on-11 tackle football to evaluate a player instead of an exhibition wearing shorts and a t-shirt that’s fully designed to show the player in the best possible light.
With that said, we still follow Pro Days, as they can affect draft stock. Let’s take a look at whose stock is up, and whose is down following their Pro Days.
Teddy Bridgewater (Stock Down)
It’s not good news to hear a player’s Pro Day being “average at best“, which is how NFL Network’s Mike Mayock described Bridgewater’s Pro Day performance last month.
This was shocking to me, as going in I saw Bridgewater as the best quarterback in the 2014 Draft, his play at Louisville was the catalyst to such a grade.
How does his Pro Day affect him? It’s not good, as in many mock drafts and big boards, Bridgewater has seen UCF’s Blake Bortles vault over him. Bridgewater’s Pro Day might also be the reason why Albert Breer of NFL.com compared the quarterback situation in this year’s draft to the one present in the 2011 draft.
A stronger Pro Day performance from Bridgewater likely makes this year’s quarterback class appear a bit stronger, instead it opens up the possibility for no quarterbacks to be taken in the top five.
Blake Bortles (Stock Up)
Blake Bortles is the quarterback who most looks the part thanks to his 6’4″ 229-pound frame. Outside of that, he still comes off as being a bit raw and could use some time on the bench during his first season instead of being thrown directly into the fire.
With that said, Bortles had a great Pro Day at UCF, as he showed great touch in his passes and pretty good accuracy, with his main problem being the fact that he overthrew his receivers while throwing deep.
Bortles also showed improvement in his footwork, which, prior to his Pro Day, was the biggest question about him.
The former Knight could find himself being the first quarterback taken in the draft thanks to his Pro Day performance, especially in comparison to his former AAC rival Bridgewater’s disappointing Pro Day.
Jadeveon Clowney (Stock Up)
Upon hearing about Clowney’s impressive Pro Day, I don’t see how he drops out of the top three picks of this draft.
He gave scouts just about everything they’d want in a 4-3 defensive end. As Chris Burke of SI.com reported, Clowney “again solidified his status as a freakish, unparalleled talent at the Gamecocks’ pro day.”
In addition to doing well in the defensive line drills, Clowney participated in dropping back into coverage, showing that if possible, he could be used as a 3-4 outside linebacker if called upon. The fact that his measurements were the same as they were at the Combine should calm fears about his work ethic (which is the only part of his game that has really been questioned) as he came in at 6’5″, 266 pounds on both days.
If Clowney winds up with any of the three teams picking at the top of the draft, he would make any of those three defenses elite since the defenses in Houston, St. Louis and Jacksonville are already pretty good at this moment.
Khalil Mack (Stock Up)
In a just world where talent trumps need every time, Khalil Mack and Jadeveon Clowney would be the top two picks in this year’s draft (in any order).
Due to playing in the MAC, Mack wasn’t as heralded as Clowney, who had the benefit of playing in the SEC. But those who really follow college prospects knew that Mack was something special, and during the run up to the draft he is proving it each time he’s spotlighted.
His early-March Pro Day was no exception, as he impressed everyone by running a 4.53 40-yard dash. To make things more impressive, his hamstring gave him some issues, which was why he didn’t run a second 40 during his Pro Day.
Mack looks the part of a dominating NFL pass rusher, and he played the part at his workout during Buffalo’s Pro Day, thanks mainly to his speed and explosiveness. Considering how much he impressed despite a hamstring issue, I’d say Mack’s stock will continue to rise.
Johnny Manziel (Stock Unchanged)
It’s not often in a stock up, stock down piece where someone’s stock is reported as being the same as it ever was.
But that was the case with Johnny Manziel’s Pro Day, a day where it felt like we learned nothing about the prospect from Texas A&M.
One would think that Manziel and Texas A&M would do whatever they could in their power to ensure that it wasn’t a circus sideshow (which Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer felt it was, per Brian T. Smith of The Houston Chronicle).
Instead they seemed to go the other way in embracing the atmosphere, including a visit from former President and First Lady George H.W. and Barbara Bush.
Had they included a bubble machine and a performance from The Roots, it would’ve been the 2014 equivalent to Rocky Balboa’s training session in Rocky III. (Manziel did have music piped in during his workout.)
Based off of what I saw in the video above, he really didn’t impress me too much, nor did he completely disappoint me. That might have something to do with my own low expectations for Manziel as a Pro, but that’s the thing about Johnny Football: He’s reached a level of polarity and fame that no matter what he does; those who love him will love him, and those who don’t likely never will.
Because of that, his stock didn’t really fall or rise based off of his workout, and all we really learned about Manziel was that he has horrible taste in hip-hop music (Seriously Johnny, would it kill you to play some Kendrick Lamar?).
In the end, I don’t think you learn as much from Pro Days as one would think. It doesn’t really open any new eyes, but instead you either use it to confirm your beliefs about a player or brush off the event entirely. I still think Teddy Bridgewater is the best quarterback in the draft, and I still think Blake Bortles is too raw at this point in time. Khalil Mack and Jadeveon Clowney should be the top two picks in the draft, but I’ve felt that way since January.
As for Johnny Football, nothing has changed for me opinion wise. He has talent, but it’s reached the point with him where his fame and notoriety are well ahead of his actual ability. And because of that, he will likely be the most intensely-followed rookie in this draft class, despite the fact that he won’t have nearly the impact on the field of any of the other players discussed in this piece (or a few I didn’t discuss, like wide receiver Sammy Watkins or tight end Eric Ebron).