With pro days getting underway this week, the crew discusses which ones to keep an eye on this year.
John Schmeelk: The Pro Day I want to watch for entertainment purposes is the LSU Pro Day. I am very eager to see what Ja'Marr Chase looks like after a year off, training to become a better wide receiver. Everyone remembers his dominant 2019 season, when he caught 84 passes for 1780 yards and 20 touchdowns on his way to leading LSU to a national title, but what people don't remember is that he was a true sophomore and ONLY 19!. He will turn 21 in March. Devonta Smith, on the other hand, will turn 23 in November. I want to see what Chase runs on his 40 yard-dash and other events after a year of training. It could be special and cement him as the top receiver in the class.
For purely informational purposes (okay, and some fun) I need to see the Alabama Pro Day. The Giants could be choosing between two Alabama wide receivers at 11th overall in Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith. Waddle is coming off an ankle injury, and I want to see how he is running and what his testing numbers are. His agility and speed numbers could be elite. How Devonta Smith weighs in and performs on his Pro Day might also determine whether he will be selected before the Giants pick. If he weighs in at 170 or 175 pounds but his testing is immaculate, teams may be more willing to roll the dice on a player with outlier weight at the position. If he weighs in around 170 pounds and doesn't test well in the 40 and other agility drills, however, it might raise some yellow flags. Alabama also has a slew of other prospects who are going to be high picks in the NFL. Dane Brugler of The Athletic has eight Alabama players in the his Top 40 (including 10 in his Top 60). They are: WR Devonta Smith, WR Jaylen Waddle, CB Patrick Surtain, RB Najee Harris, QB Mac Jones, DT Christian Barmore, OL Landon Dickerson, OL Alex Leatherwood, OL Deonte Brown and LB Dylan Moses.
Dan Salomone: Forget Alabama. The real powerhouse to watch is Northwestern, also known as the Fightin' Pat Fitzgeralds. The program has a chance to make a statement this year with, among others, offensive tackle Rashawn Slater (No. 7 in Daniel Jeremiah’s Top 50) and cornerback Greg Newsome II (No. 31). These are two positions that are not hard to imagine the Giants addressing in the first two days of the draft.
"Slater gives a little ground versus power before dropping his weight and anchoring late," Jeremiah wrote. "His best trait is his ability to recover when he finds himself in a bad position. In the run game, he plays with quickness and urgency when working up to the second level. He takes great angles and is one of the best I've seen when it comes to cutting off linebackers. … If a team chooses to play him inside, he should quickly develop into a Pro Bowl guard."
On Newsome, Jeremiah expects him to "develop into a reliable starting cornerback very early in his NFL career."
Fitzgerald, the first two-time recipient of both the Nagurski and Bednarik Awards in his playing days at Northwestern, led his defense to a Top-5 finish in scoring this past season and again produced one of the most fundamentally-sound teams in the Big Ten. In other words, that is music to Joe Judge's and Dave Gettleman's ears.
Also, have you seen their facility on the shores of Lake Michigan?
Lance Medow: If I could only watch one pro day, without a former NFL Combine this year, it would have to be one with a high volume of players and substance, so Alabama is the no-brainer. The Crimson Tide always showcase some of the best talent in the country and this year is no different. Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle are two of the top wide receivers, corner Patrick Surtain is considered one of the best defensive backs, Najee Harris is a versatile running back and quarterback Mac Jones could be one of the most underrated players in this year's group. There are also offensive lineman Landon Dickerson, who suffered a torn ACL in the SEC Championship game, and defensive tackle Christian Barmore.
Each of the these players have strong film from their performances on the field, but I think you'd like to see whether the numbers and athleticism in certain events matches the most important criteria. On top of that, Waddle broke his right ankle in late October and didn't return until the National Championship game. He was limited so the pro day could serve as another means to evaluate where Waddle is in the recovery process.
NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah updated his ranking of the top 50 prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft for the final time before the start of the draft.