In the FCS Huddle: Pro days more than the numbers
Princeton, NJ (SportsNetwork.com) - There's more to a college pro day than just the pure numbers that so often define NFL prospects as they head toward the annual draft.
One scout at Princeton University's pro day on Thursday said he values the character of a player more than the measurables that come out of the 40-yard dash, 225-pound bench press and other combine-type drills of a pro day.
The numbers for Princeton's chief draft hopeful, defensive tackle Caraun Reid, were improved upon Thursday when he dropped his 40-yard dash time to 4.87 seconds from last month's 4.91 clocking at the NFL Scouting Combine and he jumped an inch higher to 27.5 inches on his vertical leap.
But the scout who came away so impressed saw the numbers as secondary to the concept that the 6-foot-2, 305-pound Reid has continued to work hard in the weeks since the combine, staying in shape and remaining motivated. The scout doesn't always see that with players.
"You've got to know this guy inside and out," the scout said about evaluating players, adding that he considers a player's production during his college career and his character off the field as being more important than the measurables of a pro day.
Not that pro days aren't a valuable tool in the draft process. One scout watching the two-hour event called pro days "a slice of the pie," another termed them "a piece of the puzzle."
There are over 150 pro days this year, most in March, but some in April. Before the three-day draft will be held from May 8-10 in New York, more players will be tested and measured at pro days than the week-long scouting combine, which had over 330 participants in Indianapolis last month.
Pro days range from can't-miss to much less of a priority for NFL teams. Alabama's pro day on Wednesday had 13 players being looked at by all 32 NFL teams, with three of the league's head coaches and three general managers in attendance. Princeton's second-ever pro day afforded representatives from nine teams, mostly scouts, another close look at Reid and an even closer look at two of his teammates who are now fighting for their football lives.
At Princeton's first pro day last year, defensive end Mike Catapano's test results were outstanding, and he went on to become the Tigers' first NFL Draft selection since 2001. Reid will follow in his footsteps and is considered to be a likely third- or fourth-round pick this year.
"Pro days, it's a tool," a scout said afterward, "just like the combine, just like the all-star games. It's a little slice of the pie.
"The film (of a player) trumps the pro days. This is a measure of athletic ability and does he follow directions?"
Added another scout, "It's more for guys who weren't at the combine. And it's a second look at Caraun."
Players pick their spots with the pro day drills. Reid was satisfied with some of his test results at the combine, so he didn't do all of the drills that Roman Wilson, a third-team All-American wide receiver as a senior, and Matt Landry, who played alongside Reid on Princeton's defensive line but may have to transition to fullback to be in an NFL camp later this year, participated in Thursday.
All three had their height, weight, arm length and hand size measured prior to the general workout. Cincinnati Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes later put Reid and Landry through defensive-specific drills before Landry joined Wilson for receiving drills as Seattle Seahawks scout Todd Branner directed the patterns.
"I think it is (effective)," Reid said about the draft process. He trained after his senior season at IMG Academy in Florida. "Some guys even request individual workouts, which I think is great. Just being able to see us live and see what we do. Some of us don't get the opportunity to play against FBS guys - Division I-A - so this is a great time to show, yeah, I'm a great player, I'm actually a fast player, I'm actually a physically, strong specimen. I love the game. I think this is a great way of evaluation."
The pro days allow for interaction between the players and NFL teams, which can provide telling signs to scouts. While much of the drills - the 3-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle and broad jump are other staples - don't change, and players can train for them, the unscripted position drills are noteworthy. Scouts get to see if a player can run the drills effectively and understand the concepts quickly.
Princeton head coach Bob Surace understands the value of a pro day, having served as a Bengals assistant coach for eight seasons before he returned to his alma mater in 2010. He used to run players through the drills.
"I kind of looked at it as, if I was a baseball scout and a guy couldn't hit a curve, I'm going to throw him curves," Surace said. "I'm going to see what his areas of weakness are, and is this going to be a red flag where he can't make it.
"If a guy wasn't strong, I was going to work on drills (to determine) is he going to be strong enough. If a guy couldn't change directions (well), I was going to work on those things."
Considering NFL teams don't have enough personnel to attend all pro days, they pool together their resources for smaller pro days like Princeton's. Most belong to the Association of Professional Teams, or ATP, and each pro day has a different team collect and report the pro day results, which are shared between the association members. The New York Jets were responsible for reporting the test results at Princeton.
The results on pro day are as much about lower-profile prospects as Matt Landry and Roman Wilson as they are Reid. And they are about a player's character as well as the numbers.
"I think when you come from Alabama, every day in practice you practice against Alabama. When you come from Princeton, and you've seen so many Ivy Leaguers overachieve, if you take a hundred guys and put them in a room, they're the hardest-working players," Surace said.
"You've seen a number of teams from our league where it's like, where did this guy come from? Their work ethic, their study habits, their attention to detail, their football intelligence, they just excel in those areas. And in Caraun's case, he'll only get better playing against an NFL guy - just like Catapano last year. Every day in practice, his upside I guess is the word they use, is a lot higher."