BBD Editor: Dan Hope
12 NFL hopefuls worked out in front of representatives from at least 27 NFL teams at the University of Connecticut’s Pro Day at the Burton Family Football Complex and Shenkman Training Center in Storrs, Conn. on Tuesday.
The Buffalo Bills had one team representative in attendance.
The only teams not spotted at the pro day—though that doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t have a scout at the event—were the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers and St. Louis Rams.
The headliners of this year’s Connecticut draft class are middle linebacker Yawin Smallwood, the Huskies’ only early entrant into the draft, and defensive tackle Shamar Stephen. UConn’s only two combine invites, both players sat out the majority of measurable drills as both are nursing hamstring injuries, but both participated in positional drills while Stephen also took part in the 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle.
Despite the injury, which Smallwood admitted had him at less than 100 percent Tuesday, he looked good running through positional drills. He looked fluid backpedaling, flipping his hips and changing directions. He had a few drops and sloppy catches, but showed good hands for the most part, including one beautiful one-handed snag on a deep throw away from his body.
“I just wanted to come out and show these coaches that I’m a competitive guy, no matter what, I’m going to come out here and give it my best,” Smallwood said after his workout.
Smallwood said he was disappointed by his slow 40-yard dash time of 5.01 seconds at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, but said he believes his tape shows he plays faster.
“I really wasn’t able to show my top speed today because of the hamstring issue, but I ran a five-second 40-yard dash and that’s not good for anybody,” Smallwood said. “So I just want to show these coaches that I am fast. I believe that these coaches know that I’m fast because they have three years of film on me, but I just want these coaches to see it close up and personal.”
The slow 40 time and hamstring injury are not going to help Smallwood’s draft stock, but those issues haven’t hurt his confidence.
“I’m just trying to show these coaches I’m the best linebacker in the country,” Smallwood said. “Going to the combine, seeing those other guys up close, I know I really, really feel that I’m the best linebacker in this draft.”
Asked what his sales pitch would be to an NFL team, Smallwood said he would not “talk about anything on the field.”
“These coaches have three years of film on me so they know what I can do on the field but they’re getting a no-drama guy in their locker room, they’re getting a leader and they’re getting a guy that wants to be the best,” Smallwood said.
Smallwood spent time talking one-on-one with representatives from the Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons, possibly among other teams.
Stephen was hand timed at 4.86 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle and at 7.63 seconds in the 3-cone drill, but was not particularly impressive in positional drills. In particular, he looked stiff throughout the drills and bent at the waist more often than he should. Additionally, he was repeatedly barked at by Detroit Lions defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, who administered the defensive line drills, for failing to follow drill instructions properly.
With Kocurek, however, this might have been tough love, as the position coach showed clear interest in Stephen. Kocurek worked out Stephen individually following the defensive line group, then spent what was probably at least another 10 minutes meeting with the Connecticut defensive tackle. It’s uncertain whether Stephen helped himself Tuesday in Kocurek’s eyes, but he certainly seems to be on Detroit’s radar.
“I feel like they definitely want me,” Stephen told the media in regards to the Lions. “It made me feel that they definitely want to see me work and see what I can do as a football player.”
Kocurek wasn’t the only one to show interest. Scouts from the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants and New York Jets were also seen meeting with Stephen. The defensive tackle said the Giants set up an individual workout with him, and that he has a number of other workouts lined up.
Stephen said he thinks an NFL team should draft him because he is a “hard worker” who tries to “be consistent and just play to my ability level.”
“I’m a pass-rusher, good run-stopper, just bring a lot of energy, a lot of competitiveness to the team,” Stephen said.
Best of the Rest
None of the other Connecticut participants outside of Smallwood and Stephen are likely to be drafted, but the best prospect among the rest is defensive end Jesse Joseph, who had a fairly strong showing in his pro day workout.
Joseph put his versatility as an edge defender on display by participating in both defensive end and linebacker drills. He showed explosion going through the defensive line drills. Though he looked somewhat unnatural backpedaling and flipping his hips as you would expect for a defensive end, he looked relatively fluid for a player who typically has his hand in the dirt, while he did a good job catching the football in drills.
His numbers in the measurable drills weren’t good enough to bolster his draft stock, but they were adequate. He was hand timed at 4.83 seconds on both of his 40-yard dash attempts, while he recorded a 29 1/2” vertical, 8’6” broad jump and 19 repetitions in the bench press. He recorded impressive hand times of 4.19 seconds in the short shuttle and 7.26 seconds in the 3-cone drill.
“I think I did good,” Joseph said in an interview following his workout. “I did everything I could to leave everything on the field.”
Joseph said he could see himself playing either defensive end or linebacker at the next level. His sales pitch to an NFL team, he said, starts with being a hard worker.
“I’m a hard worker. I’m a competitor. I don’t let fatigue get to me when it’s that time for me to step on the field, and I can do more than one thing.”
Joseph said he has an individual workout scheduled with the Philadelphia Eagles for April 10, and added that he was “waiting on a couple more calls” from NFL teams.
At the very least, Joseph should land a tryout for an NFL team’s training camp, but the rest of Connecticut’s seniors are truly long shots to make it at the next level.