Alabama Hosts first of Two NFL Pro Days
The rising stars of the Alabama Crimson Tide made their next steps to the NFL, showcasing their talents in front of team scouts and coaches inside the Mal Moore practice facility Tuesday afternoon for the first of two Alabama Pro Days.
The day began unusually for running back Najee Harris, whose flight from Dallas to Tuscaloosa was cancelled late last night. Harris opted to rent a car and make the nine-hour drive to join his teammates for the event.
Harris did not participate athletically, presumably to prevent aggravating the right ankle injury that forced him to miss the Senior Bowl. The injury isn't considered serious, and he should be ready to go for the team that drafts him in April for rookie minicamps.
However, many in the draft scouting community were anxious to see Harris run a 40-yard dash, as concerns about his breakaway speed have been questioned throughout the offseason. Whether Harris plans on participating in his own pro day between now and the NFL Draft April 29 hasn't been revealed.
Still, teams did get a chance to see his leadership and dedication to his teammates while Harris was able to meet with teams in Tuscaloosa. Which teams Harris met with on Tuesday haven't been reported.
Another star that was absent from field drills was 2020 Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith. Smith injured his right hand during the 2020 College Football National Championship game against Ohio State. That injury kept him out of the Senior Bowl as well as any sort of public athletic displays (outside of a cornhole tournament with Mac Jones.)
Questions concerning Smith's weight have some scouts wondering about his transition to the NFL. Smith weighed in Tuesday at 170lbs.
Smith has contended that his weight won't be a problem at the next level.
"I feel like it's not going to be any different than college. I have played in the SEC. I feel like it's the toughest conference there is," Smith said Monday during a media session for the Alabama Pro Day. "I know a lot of people that are bigger than me that have more problems than me, so I'm not worried about it at all."
“I think it could impact a little bit of how high he goes," NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah said in a Zoom call afterward. "I don’t think it’s going to have any impact on him at the next level. I think he’s going to be fantastic."
Smith is expected to run his 40-yard dash and receiving drills at a personal pro day in the near future.
As for the other injured Crimson Tide prospects, neither Dylan Moses or Jaylen Waddle participated in on-field drills. There is a hope that Waddle could run a 40-yard dash at Alabama's second pro day next week as he recovers from his ankle injury.
Moses is playing the process safe with the knee injury that ended his 2019 season. Though Moses started every game in 2020, he didn't live up to expectations as a once-believed first round prospect.
"He’s a good player. I like the energy he plays with," Daniel Jeremiah said. "I thought he struggled in coverage and struggled to get off blocks."
Landon Dickerson is still recovering from his ACL injury and is not going to be involved in any on-field activity until after his name is called in April. That, of course, didn't keep Dickerson from having a little fun Tuesday afternoon at the expense of his quarterback Mac Jones.
Dickerson didn't just harass the "Joker" on live TV. He also snapped the ball to Jones during the quarterback's throwing drills and reportedly met with several NFL teams, including the Atlanta Falcons and Pittsburgh Steelers.
I asked Daniel Jeremiah his thoughts on Dickerson as a potential first-rounder and he raved about his talent but was still hesitant due to Dickerson's history with injuries.
"If he was clean, he’s a lock for the first round," Jeremiah said. "He’s the best interior lineman in the draft. As a player, no question about him. It just comes down to durability."
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As for the aforementioned quarterback, Jones threw more than 50 passes Tuesday to tight end Miller Forrestal and returning Crimson Tide receivers Xavier Williams and Slade Bolden. Jones was critical of his own performance afterwards.
"I really don't think it was as good as I'd probably want it to be," Jones said. "I'll probably be pissed about it for 20 minutes, but I'll be good after that."
Still, Jones showed off the accuracy that has him in top-15 conversations, and he'll get a second opportunity when he throws at Alabama's second pro day next week.
What Jones did in agility drills was the big surprise of the day.
Jones ran somewhere in the 4.78-4.86 range in his 40-yard dash, unofficially. For comparison, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen ran an official 4.75 while Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes ran a 4.80. Both are considered as some of the better athletes at quarterback in the NFL.
"He moved around well," Daniel Jeremiah said. "He’s an above average athlete. He doesn’t have a lot of twitch and horsepower, that’s not how he plays the game."
That said, Jones didn't display his "sneaky" athleticism on film in 2020. Having the skills and not using them reflects on his excellent offensive line last year, but also adds a layer of mystery to his scouting profile.
Speaking of his offensive line, the measurements for Alex Leatherwood and Deonte Brown were once again the prevailing topic surrounding the day-two prospects.
Leatherwood's physical measurements weren't much different than his Senior Bowl tape and scale, however, he told the media Monday he had been working on his hand placement in his pass sets.
Still, the jury is out on where Leatherwood will play along the offensive line at the next level. Daniel Jeremiah said in the Zoom call he would like to see Leatherwood start his career at right tackle and go from there, while many scouts he's spoken to have already determined Leatherwood is an NFL guard.
As for the man they call "Cornbread," Deonte Brown weighed in at 344lbs Tuesday, a whole 22lbs lighter than his his scale-crushing 364lbs in Mobile earlier this Spring. Brown made changes in his diet over the past few months to get his weight down, no doubt showing scouts his determination to succeed in the NFL.
On the other side of the trenches, Christian Barmore turned in a 4.99 unofficial 40-yard dash, but didn't appear to have swayed public opinion one way or the other on his draft stock. Jeremiah mentioned the "boom or bust" evaluation to his stock would normally hurt him, but the lack of prestige in this year's interior defensive line class should still see Barmore as the first of his position selected. Whether that's late first round or day two is the question.
Finally, arguably the biggest star from Tuesday's action was cornerback Patrick Surtain, who wowed every coach and general manger in the building with his measurables and athleticism. Surtain ran an unofficial 4.42 40-yard dash and measured "eerily similar" to Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, largely regarded as one of the best shutdown corners in the NFL, according to Jeremiah.
Jeremiah said in the Zoom call that Surtain has been his number two corner behind Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley for some time. However, it's been reported Farley will need back surgery soon, and therefore Surtain could become the unquestioned number one corner across most scouts' draft boards.
One thing every player benefited from today came down to the Alabama football program itself. Nearly every team in the NFL sent high ranking personnel, whether the head coach or general manager or both, to Tuesday's pro day as each NFL team is only permitted a maximum of three staff members at any pro day due to COVID-19 protocols.
But whether it was Najee Harris driving nine hours to make the event, or the intangibles of guys like Mac Jones or Landon Dickerson, the leadership qualities of Alabama prospects is a big deal to NFL scouts, at least according to Daniel Jeremiah. He spoke on NFL teams evaluating players based on personality traits that can impact their stock and aid front offices in making crucial decisions on draft day.
"[Teams say] we need more Alabama players, Ohio State players," Jeremiah said. "There are certain schools that players show up to the NFL as adults. That carries a lot of weight in the draft room."
Alabama's second pro day will be held next Tuesday, March 30.