Representatives from all 32 NFL teams gathered on the Siebel Practice Field this past Thursday for the annual Stanford Pro Timing Day. Over 100 personnel – scouts, coaches and general managers – convened to get a final look at the Cardinal’s top pro prospects.
The list of attendees included San Francisco 49ers General Manager and former Stanford safety John Lynch, Oakland Raiders General Manager Mike Mayock, Buffalo Bills General Manager Brandon Beane, 49ers wide receivers coach Wes Welker and New England Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio. Former Stanford standouts and first-round picks in current 49ers Solomon Thomas and Joshua Garnett, as well as Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, were also present at the event.
“They have a lot of great football players here,” said Lynch. “They built a program that we can all be proud of and it has produced a lot of top-flight NFL players. It’s a great visit every year and an easy one for us, but one we’re always glad to make. It was well-attended as it well should have been.”
“If we do what we want to do, which is recruit the best and the brightest, great athletes who are great students and great people, when their time is up, a lot of people are going to want them,” said current football head coach David Shaw. “A lot of companies are going to want to hire them, some may start their own companies and a lot of NFL teams are going to want them, too. As long as we do that, these days will continue to be big.”
Fifteen players participated in the event: junior outside linebacker Joey Alfieri, senior wide receiver and team co-captain JJ Arcega-Whiteside, senior punter Jake Bailey, senior wide receiver Isaiah Brandt-Sims, fifth-year center Jesse Burkett, senior quarterback Keller Chryst, fifth-year offensive guard Brandon Fanaika, fifth-year offensive tackle A. T. Hall, junior offensive guard Nate Herbig, fifth-year cornerback Alijah Holder, senior wide receiver Trenton Irwin, senior running back and team co-captain Bryce Love, fifth-year cornerback and team co-captain Alameen Murphy, fifth-year inside linebacker and team co-captain Bobby Okereke and junior tight end Kaden Smith.
Late-season injuries kept Love and Irwin from participating in on-field drills, but they were both available to take questions from teams.
“”Right now, I’m just focusing on the things I can control,” said Love when asked about concerns that his health may affect his draft stock. “At the end of the day, I’m making sure I am in the physical shape I need to be. From there, I know who I am as a player. I’m confident in that whatever team I go to, I know what I’m working for and towards.”
Though all 15 players have declared for the NFL Draft kicking off on April 25, only seven were invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, the televised weeklong showcase during which players undergo physical and mental tests in hopes of boosting their draft stocks. Though those seven – Arcega-Whiteside, Bailey, Herbig, Holder, Love, Okereke and Smith – may have the best chance of the bunch of being drafted, the other eight pounced on what is likely to be their last opportunity to show their skills for NFL evaluators on Thursday.
Shaw kicked the day off with a welcoming address before turning the stand over to the players who did not attend the NFL Combine. Then testing began, with the vertical jump, broad jump and bench press in the weight room.
Burkett and Fanaika led the group in the bench with 23 reps of 225 pounds. Alfieri and Okereke put up strong totals for their positions as well, lifting 17 and 16, respectively. Chryst’s vertical jump measuring 33.5 inches would have tied for third at the combine with potential first-rounder Daniel Jones from Duke, fellow Pac-12 veteran Gardner Minshew from Washington State, and small-school standout Easton Stick from North Dakota State.
Though the players put up solid numbers in the weight room, the highlights of the day came in the on-field testing and drills.
Considered one of the top wide receiver prospects in the draft and rumored to be a potential late first-round pick in the draft, Arcega-Whiteside has faced doubt and criticism for weeks from scouts, analysts and draft pundits who question his athleticism. The 6-foot-2, 223-pound pass-catcher put those doubts to rest on Thursday with a stellar 4.49 40-yard dash. A shock fell on the onlooking crowd and cheers erupted from the group of players standing by.
“I thought it went as good as it could go,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “I got mostly everything that I wanted accomplished.”
Arcega-Whiteside was equally impressive in on-field drills, reeling in every ball thrown his way, including an endzone post-up catch that showed off his impressive 33-inch wingspan.
“It definitely feels like a job interview,” he said. “But at the end of the day it’s just football. As soon as I stepped on the field, it was like no one was there. It was just me, Keller, Jesse and Kaden and we were just playing pitch and catch.”
In what may have been the most impressive and surprising performance of the day, Alfieri matched Arcega-Whiteside’s time, despite weighing in at 235 pounds. The 4.49 mark would have put Alfieri in the top-5 at his position at the combine, right behind Michigan’s Devin Bush Jr.’s 4.43.
Okereke also put on a strong showing at the event, improving upon his combine 3-cone time of 7.25 with a 7.03 that would have been good for seventh at the combine, just ahead of LSU’s Devin White, who is projected to be a high first-round pick in the draft.
“The transition of becoming a professional is fun,” Okereke said. “I’m no longer a college student so you spend time on your body and your craft … it has been a fun process.”
Stanford has produced a total of 25 first-round picks in the NFL draft in program history, and as more and more Cardinal players like McCaffrey and Andrew Luck go on to excel in the NFL, Stanford’s pro day will continue to be a must-see for NFL talent evaluators.
“They’re showing off all the hard work they’ve put in,” Shaw said. “We remind them your film is the most important thing. But you want to come out here and show you’re willing to work and execute. Our guys ran fast, jumped high, and as usual, knocked out all the interviews because they’re great kids. It’s been a great day.”
Contact Shan Reddy at rsreddy ‘at’ stanford.edu.