OXFORD, Miss. — SEC Country empties out the observational notebook from the Ole Miss pro day with a winners-and-losers assessment of the Rebels’ NFL prospects — covering the present day … and perhaps 10 years into the future (more on that later).
For what it’s worth, Ole Miss safety Trae Elston drew the loudest cheer from the pro day onlookers (family, friends, teammates), immediately after registering a lightning-quick 40 time of 4.46 seconds (unofficial).
WINNER: Head coach Hugh Freeze
Freeze didn’t have any on-field coaching obligations during pro day, similar to his role for the annual spring game (semi-neutral observer).
However, the event was still a triumph for the head coach (three straight seasons of eight-plus victories; back-to-back wins over Alabama), citing two key reasons:
1) The Rebels, led by offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, receiver Laquon Treadwell and defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, had a slew of top-notch prospects for the scouts, general managers and NFL cross-checkers to explore.
2) Ole Miss had the proper depth (18 overall participants) for substantial drill work, enabling attending NFL coaches to see the prospects operate in the proverbial trenches. In fact, relative to offensive line movements, this was the most intense pro day I had covered all spring.
“We hadn’t had a draftable class yet,” said Freeze, when asked why Monday’s pro day had more grandeur than previous years. “This is our first (NFL-worthy) class.”
Freeze arrived to Ole Miss ahead of the 2012 season, aiming to reverse the Rebels’ inconsistent fortunes; and that process was fast-tracked a year later, when Nkemdiche, Tunsil and Treadwell comprised the greatest recruiting class in school history (2013). And that trio got to experience one last unified event with the Rebels program.
“This was a great day for Ole Miss football,” marveled Freeze. “Our program is taking another step in our journey. … We have a beautiful place to showcase (The Manning Center), and it looks really good on TV.”
WINNER: The Laquon Treadwell-Dez Bryant comparison
Here are the reported measurables from Bryant’s pre-draft workouts, circa 2010:
Height: 6-foot-1 1/2
Weight: 224 pounds
Vertical leap: 38 inches
Broad jump: 133 inches
Short shuttle: 4.48 seconds
40-yard dash (median): 4.52 seconds
Weight: 221 pounds
Vertical leap: 33 inches
Broad jump: 117 inches
Short shuttle: 4.29 seconds
40-yard dash (median): 4.64 seconds
Outside of Dez’s freakishly long effort in the vertical leap, Bryant and Treadwell compare favorably as entry-level prospects.
And yet, there was a palpable malaise surrounding Treadwell on satellite radio Tuesday, as a number of fans from high-drafting teams viewed LT as a reach in the first 15 picks. (Bryant, perhaps due to some off-field concerns in 2010, fell to the 24th slot in Round 1.)
Is that fair? Were the Treadwell rumblings from Tuesday based on Monday’s 40 results? And for that matter, what would it take for Treadwell (six 100-yard outings last year; six-game TD streak late in the season) to reverse his public perception in the next few weeks?
Does he need to be an NFL team’s best receiving option midway through Year 1?
Should Laquon be a viable threat for double-digit touchdowns by Year 2?
And should Treadwell be a dominant real-world/fantasy force sometime in Year 3?
It’s crazy how a middling 40 time can obscure three years of eye test analysis, in the form of saying, “Now that’s what an alpha-dog NFL receiver looks like!”
For what it’s worth, Bryant averaged 54 catches, 744 yards and 7.5 TDs in his first two NFL seasons. After that, Dez took a major step forward, notching a three-year average of 91 catches, 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns from 2012-14.
LOSER: The TV networks
Are pro days really that exciting to watch on TV?
This question haunts me whenever visiting places like Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss or South Carolina. Sure, it’s worthwhile to cover these pro day events, given the tremendous springtime access to coaches, players and famous attendees.
But for the regular TV viewer, do they care that Tunsil — perhaps the draft’s No. 1 overall pick (Tennessee Titans) — didn’t run a 40 or any shuttle drills?
Were they disappointed Nkemdiche didn’t attempt to break his bench-press mark of 28 reps from the NFL Scouting Combine in February?
Or, are the viewers simply content to watch anything football-related in late March — whether it entails Treadwell’s 40-yard dashes (both in the 4.6 range), Tunsil executing 34 reps on the bench press in record time or an all-knowing TV draft guru filling in the blanks during breaks in action?
WINNER: Defensive back Chief Brown
NFL teams can never have enough athletic defensive backs with the versatility (and desire) for special teams, and Brown (career numbers: three INTs, 45 tackles) fits the bill on both ends.
On Monday, Brown fared well in three physical categories, posting a 4.6 40 (source: Red Cup Rebellion), a 37-inch vertical leap and 125 inches on the broad jump. It was a good showcase for the NFL scouts, eradicating some concerns about Brown’s recovery from a torn Achilles from 2014.
After his workout, Brown (6-foot-1, 202 pounds) wanted to prove he “can still run with a torn Achilles, and that I can still move, for a big guy.”
Brown could be a popular asset as a late-round pick or undrafted free agent.
LOSER: NFL scouts and offensive line coaches
Mammoth offensive tackles, like Tunsil (6-foot-5, 310 pounds), don’t need a 40 time to cement or enhance their draft standing.
Nevertheless, NFL scouts would have enjoyed studying Tunsil’s first 10-yard split in the 40, which best simulates quickness and explosion off the ball.
Tunsil didn’t run Monday because of an apparent hamstring malady. But if that’s a genuine deal-breaker, relative to his chances of locking up the No. 1 draft slot, perhaps the entire Titans organization can make another short trip to Oxford before April 30.
WINNER: Ole Miss … for already having a quarterback in 2022
There was an interesting sideshow at the Manning Center: During the shuttle-run portions of pro day, Cooper Manning’s young sons (three sideline observers confirmed them as Manning offspring) were tossing a football off to the side.
And I swear, when watching the elder son (12-year-old Arch) pass the ball … the throwing motion and tight spiral were eerily reminiscent to that of Eli Manning, aka Uncle Eli.
The velocity with mid-range passes was noticeably good, too.
That’s when it hits you: The Ole Miss legacy of Archie and Eli Manning might not end with the most prolific passers in school history. The Book Of Manning could easily have a few more chapters down the road, if the children of Cooper, Peyton and/or Eli pursue the art of quarterbacking.
According to TheSixThirty.com, young Arch (presumably named after his famous grandfather) is a big LSU fan … but that shouldn’t deter Rebels fans for the time being.
Especially if the offensive-minded Freeze stands as the SEC West’s longest-tenured head coach five years from now.
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.