Prospects to professionals: inside Tech’s Pro Day

Redshirt senior edge rusher Keion White runs a 40-yard dash at Pro Day. He completed the dash in a speedy 4.7 seconds. // Photos courtesy of Brynn Anderson AP Photo

Selecting a quality NFL player from the pool of prospects in April’s NFL draft is hardly an exact science, but the three “P’s” — production, personality and projection – form the backbone of the assessment teams use for every draft-eligible player. All 259 newly-minted NFL players are chosen because one team decided that the player’s marks in all three categories line up with the needs of its roster in a way that can justify a multimillion dollar investment.

But how do teams get an idea of the three P’s? Part of it comes from watching tape, comparing college production and the results from the NFL Combine, where many of these draft-eligible prospects work out for teams and speak to their executives.

However, a big part of the remaining pre-draft work is done at Pro Days. Pro Days happen at university campuses and are increasingly important for teams and players.

For teams, it is a much more personal setting. The hectic nature of the combine is replaced by team personnel putting these prospects through specific testing criteria and getting a sense of their personality. From the player perspective, a good Pro Day performance can ease the sting of a bad combine performance or answer questions about an injury.

At Tech’s Pro Day, seven Yellow Jackets gave teams a better look at who they are. On offense, receivers redshirt senior EJ Jenkins and senior Malachi Carter, as well as speedy senior running back Hassan Hall, did their athletic testing and positional drills. Offensive lineman — and program mainstay — redshirt senior William Lay III also worked out for teams.

Jenkins particularly stood out due to his potential as a tight end at the next level. Measuring in at 6 feet 6 inches tall and 245 pounds, he ran the 40-yard dash in under 4.6 seconds – an impressive time for someone of his size – while also putting up a solid 10 feet two inch broad jump and 32-inch vertical.

“Wherever a team wants to put me, I’m going to give it my all.” said Jenkins, who has received invites for workouts with the Baltimore Ravens and local Atlanta Falcons. “I have the frame and length to get down in there, show my will and drive to work on the tight end stuff.”

Hall, billed for his speed, did not disappoint with a sub-4.5 40-yard dash. He also showed off his strength with 18 reps on the bench press and exploded out of his stance with a 37-inch vertical and 10 feet 10 inch broad jump.

NFL teams were also extremely interested in some of the standouts on Tech’s defense. Redshirt senior edge rusher Keion White, widely projected to be a top-50 pick with first round upside, and senior linebacker Charlie Thomas both built off their solid showings at the NFL combine. Slated to run the 40-yard dash and move through positional drills, White burned through his run at around 4.7 seconds. That is an impressive time for someone with his 6-feet 5-inch, 285-pound frame, but unfortunately, he tweaked his hamstring on his second attempt and did not do any more work to avoid further injury. 

Considering he recorded a solid 34-inch vertical and put up the second highest number — 30 — of bench press reps, White has answered a lot of questions about his athleticism.

Like Jenkins, there has been interest in White’s versatility. Regarding his position at the next level, White says “I’ve literally heard anywhere from defensive tackle to outside linebacker … I can do it all. It makes me more available and makes more teams want me.”

Excitement over that malleable ability has resulted in quite a bit of first-round buzz. However, it does not faze White. 

“I wish I could go back to being under the radar,” said White. “But honestly, I don’t pay too much attention to the mock draft stuff. I’m more interested in what the guys who were here today thought.”

Teammate Thomas already ran a fast 40-yard dash time of 4.52 seconds at the NFL Combine, so he did not repeat the drill at Pro Day. Instead, he showed off his fluidity and quickness on the field in the positional drills. He looked especially smooth dropping back into coverage, which is critical seeing as how a team might try him at safety. Moving well will also translate into a potential role on special teams, which is a possibility for Thomas as a rookie.

“I just wanted to show that I could move well in and out of breaks, do a lot of different things and not just look like an old-school linebacker,” Thomas said, who is keenly aware of the importance of his movement. Redshirt senior linebacker Ace Eley, despite not being invited to the combine, turned in a solid showing at Pro Day. He matched the much taller Jenkins with a vertical of 32 inches and led the bench press of 225 pounds with 20 reps. His hard-hitting tackling ability and playmaking should land him a spot on an NFL roster, but that role might come on special teams. That is not a problem for Eley.

“I just wanted a chance to compete,” Eley said, referring to his lack of a combine invite. “Any way I can get on the field, I’m good with.” 

It is an exciting time for the program, seeing as how there might be a Jacket drafted in the first round since 2010’s drafts of defensive end Derrick Morgan and the late wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. Beyond that, the draft hopefuls themselves are impressive individuals. Regardless of how successful their professional careers are, they all display the same mindset and toughness that players need to have. 

As they transition into this next phase of their football career, Pro Day served as a fitting send-off for their time at Tech and a beginning to their new potential careers in football.