TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — SEC Country offers a relative listing of winners and losers from Alabama’s Pro Day (Wednesday), a well-attended event that curiously coincided with one of the biggest days on the NFL calendar (more on this later).
1. DERRICK HENRY, RUNNING BACK
For today’s piece only, let’s forget about Henry’s immense potential as a workhorse NFL rusher and focus on the pass-catching angle.
At the Alabama Pro Day, Henry (6-foot-3, 247 pounds) looked surprisingly comfortable running various pass patterns for quarterback Jake Coker.
What’s more, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner seemed at ease with the notion of lining up as a slot receiver or sideline-hugging wideout.
That’s not to say Henry (17 career catches, three receiving TDs at Alabama) will suddenly morph into the next Matt Forte (100-plus catches in 2014), Le’Veon Bell (good chance at 2,000 total yards when healthy), Eddie Lacy (versatile Alabama alum) or even Marcel Reece (fullback with 4.42 speed) at the pro level — in terms of being receiving catnip for willing quarterbacks.
But it’s worth noting: Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson collected just 24 catches at Oklahoma (three college seasons); and yet, the future Hall of Famer has tallied 29 or more receptions five times in his pro career.
Depending on his draft-day fate (team, scheme, impending depth-chart battles), the supremely athletic Henry (large hands, 4.54 40 at the combine, 37-inch vertical leap) might experience a similar evolution in the passing game.
“I’m a fan of running (any receiving route). Just catching the ball, making myself more versatile, more useful. I’m all for it,” said Henry on Wednesday, just hours after interviewing with the Patriots, Browns and Dolphins on campus.
2. D.J. PETTWAY, DEFENSIVE END
There are two supposed knocks on Pettway’s long-term prospects at defensive end: Height and lack of athleticism.
Pettway (6-foot-2, 265 pounds) obviously can’t do anything about the first concern, but he addressed the second one on Wednesday.
For the 40-yard dash, Pettway (4.93) shaved six-hundredths off his official time at last month’s National Scouting Combine. And for the broad jump, Pettway hit the hallowed 110-inch mark for big linemen, eclipsing his 109-inch jump at Indianapolis.
Which brings us to this: According to NFL.com scouts, Pettway has a “powerful base” and could possibly be a fit at linebacker with clubs “looking for toughness and an edge-setter.”
I would counter with the experimental notion of converting Pettway into a run-stuffing nose tackle, assuming the necessary weight gain wouldn’t hinder too much of Pettway’s natural athletic gifts.
(For what it’s worth, Pettway must have practiced his broad jump 10-15 times, prior to the official leap.)
Either way, his size, quickness and overall versatility should intrigue defensive coordinators and D-line coaches … especially during the idle-hands time of the NFL offseason.
3. DILLON LEE, LINEBACKER
Lee didn’t need an invitation to last month’s scouting combine to turn some NFL heads.
On Wednesday, Lee (27 tackles, one sack as a senior) performed well in four crucial athletic tests.
He ran the 40 in 4.68 seconds, posted 20 reps on the bench press (225 pounds), 31 inches on the vertical leap and 113 inches on the standing broad jump — strong tallies for a 6-foot-4, 242-pound linebacker.
“I wanted to get into the 4.6s (on the 40-yard dash),” said Lee, who merited a healthy dose of positive feedback from NFL personnel throughout the Pro Day event. “Anything (faster) than that would have been a bonus.”
Lee’s rock-solid performance was a credit to his superb training regimen in advance of the Pro Day. It’s also a boon for the Crimson Tide coaches and trainers, who continually churn out quality NFL prospects.
In Lee’s case, Wednesday’s outing could vault him up to Day 3 draft status, or as a priority free agent after the draft concludes — when clubs engage in a bidding war for his services at linebacker and/or special teams.
“I wanted to compete, show my overall athleticism,” says Lee.
1. JAKE COKER, QUARTERBACK
On the surface, Coker (3,110 yards passing, 23 total TDs in 2015) had a productive throwing session inside Alabama’s gigantic indoor facility.
But here’s the deflating part: Wednesday also marked the inaugural day of NFL free agency, ensuring that few active head coaches or general managers would be on hand in Tuscaloosa.
Doing the math: No combine invite, plus limited on-site exposure to NFL decision-makers … means that Coker (6-foot-5, 244 pounds; perfect record as Alabama’s starter last year) might have to actively campaign his way into the hearts of pro personnel, essentially shaking every hand, kissing every (figurative) baby, answering every question and visiting every facility over the next 60 days — in the hope of securing a better draft slot.
2. REGGIE RAGLAND, INSIDE LINEBACKER
Take this one with a grain of salt.
According to AL.com, Ragland notched only 13 reps on the bench press Wednesday, while dealing with a minor shoulder ailment.
If Ragland had posted that number at last month’s combine, the subsequent chatter from the NFL community might have been louder; but Ragland — the draft’s top-rated inside linebacker — remains one of the safest, cleanest prospects for Day 1 (even if inside linebackers aren’t the sexiest choices for the prime-time stage in round 1).
(NFL Combine tallies: 4.72 in the 40, 31 1/2-inch vertical leap, 116-inch broad jump, 4.28 in the 20-yard shuttle.)
3. NFL SOCIAL CALENDAR
I’m not advocating for the NFL to push back its draft to mid-to-late May. It would be a great deterrent to football-loving families planning holiday vacations.
But it’s surreal to learn that, on the first day of NFL free agency, Alabama, Oklahoma and Wisconsin, among others, also hosted crucial Pro Day events.
This juggling act puts a terrible strain on the NFL scouts, personnel directors and cross-checkers (spread too thin). It’s also an exposure hindrance for players — like Coker and Lee — who essentially have one shot to make their cases as pro prospects.
As modest tweaks to the evaluation system/season, how about …
**Moving the NFL’s Indy combine up a few weeks? (Doubtful.)
**Moving the start of free agency up/down a few weeks?
**Creating a second national combine for the original listing of snubbed prospects?
**Extending the Pro Day calendar into mid-April?
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.