Scouts from all 32 NFL teams were on campus the day before Spring Break to attend Tech’s football Pro Day. 11 former Yellow Jackets showed off their skills in front of an audience that even included a Canadian Football League scout.
Among the participants were past graduates Jay Finch (offensive lineman ‘14), Robbie Godhigh (running back ‘14), Sean Poole (punter ‘14) and Orwin Smith (running back ’13). Offensive players from this past season included running backs Synjyn Days and Zach Laskey, offensive lineman Shaquille Mason and wide receivers Darren Waller and DeAndre Smelter. Defensive drills were completed by linebacker Quayshawn Nealy and safety Isaiah Johnson.
Waller only took part in the pass catching drills due to his impressive NFL Combine performance. Smelter’s ACL tear in November kept him from performing in drills, but he was observed speaking with multiple scouts on the sideline.
“What you hope is that all the guys can get into camp and get a chance to show what they can do,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson. “I think most of the guys out here will get that opportunity, and that’s all you can really ask for.”
The standout performances of the day came from Mason and Nealy; Mason’s 40-yard dash time of 4.98 seconds would have placed second among linemen at the NFL Combine. The guard absolutely dominated the drills he was asked to do and excelled in a center-specific workout by New England Patriots scout and former offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.
“I felt like overall I had a pretty good day,” Mason said. “I wanted to do some things better, but overall, I can’t complain.”
Mason is projected to be drafted in the middle rounds. At 6’1”, he is a bit undersized for an NFL guard, so teams are reportedly looking to move him to center to take advantage of his athleticism. This comes as no surprise to Mason though, as he’s been training at center since last summer.
“I’m definitely comfortable snapping out of shotgun, and I’ll be prepared if that’s the position I’m playing,” Mason said.
Nealy turned in a vertical jump of 36 inches, which would have placed him in the top 10 for Combine linebackers. The linebacker’s 40 time of 4.62 seconds wasn’t exactly blazing, but it was a big improvement over his projected time of 4.8-4.9 seconds.
“It’s a great feeling; I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” he said. “I feel great about my results, and I’m glad I got to enjoy it with my seniors.”
According to Nealy, scouts would like to utilize his versatility and play him at either middle or weakside linebacker. Nealy played in 3 different schemes during his time at Tech and covered both the run and the pass. He, like Mason, is also undersized, which has him projected in either the last round or as an undrafted free agent.
Waller and Smelter may not have had the statistical resume of a Demaryius Thomas or Calvin Johnson, but both have received promising analyses from multiple draft experts. Waller is projected to be drafted in the 6th or 7th round, possibly as a tight end, while Smelter is less likely to get drafted but is sure to get a tryout with a team.
Given the declining propensity to pick running backs high in the draft, it’s unlikely that Days or Laskey will hear their names called in April. Nevertheless, the pair’s tough running style, superior blocking skills and surprising pass catching abilities should grant them further workouts with NFL teams.
While Isaiah Johnson may not have the flashiest of numbers, his size and physicality make him a perfect fit for playing strong safety on Sundays. Johnson has been projected anywhere from undrafted to a fifth round pick.
As for the older players, Finch and Godhigh did not do anything remarkable but could still earn tryouts and spots on an NFL or CFL practice squad. Smith looked crisp in both drills and route running while Poole performed well in an extended workout with a Houston Texans scout and could very well earn himself a tryout in the coming months.
Paul Johnson summed up every fan’s thoughts in saying that Tech would miss these players dearly. The NFL hopefuls will look to receive phone calls from prospective teams and follow in the footsteps of recent Yellow Jacket alumni such as Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Derrick Morgan and Michael Johnson.