The moment that Reggie Nelson crossed the finish line and the pro scouts checked the number on their stopwatches, they started looking at each other and shaking their heads. The lowest number read 4.22. The highest read just a shade under 4.3. Nobody was the least bit surprised thirty minutes later when Nelson declined to run again. That sub-4.3 40 was all the statement he needed to make.
Figure those 40 yards were worth about $25,000 a yard to Nelson. Already certain to be a number one pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, Nelson’s stock spiked Wednesday morning at Pro Day at the University of Florida and that impressive 40 time is going to cost some owner another million dollars. After an NFL Combine in Indianapolis where his 40 time was in the 4.4 to 4.5 range on spongy artificial turf, Nelson turned on the jets running on familiar grass in a familiar place.
Nelson was easily the star of the show at Pro Day. Several of Florida’s draft-eligible players helped themselves but Nelson’s performance was definitely the most impressive.
“I love how our coaches go around and we’re asked questions and it’s so easy to say phenomenal things but we’re truthful,” said Florida football coach Urban Meyer who added that he wasn’t the least bit surprised that Nelson would come up big with the scouts on hand. “We’re going to tell you the truth about a player. The comment I’ve made for a long time is that he’s arguably the best football player I’ve ever been around.”
Defensive tackle Ray McDonald sent his pre-draft stock soaring, too. In recent weeks, McDonald has been climbing up the charts. Coming into Pro Day Wednesday, McDonald was listed on most mock drafts as a fairly early second rounder that had a chance to move into the late stages of the first round. McDonald may have solidified the move into the first round with times of 4.88 on his first 40 and 4.81 on the second go-round.
“I think Ray McDonald really helped himself,” said Florida strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti. “He really didn’t do anything at the combine because he was sick. He tested out of the wazzoo today. At 282 pounds he really did good.”
Wide receivers Dallas Baker and Jemalle Cornelius also improved their stock significantly on the familiar turf. Both were slower than expected at Indianapolis but they turned in much better 40 times Wednesday. Baker ran a 4.47 and followed that up with a 4.52. At Indianapolis he had turned in times in the high 4.5s to low 4.6s.
Cornelius, who will probably make an NFL team even if he isn’t drafted because of his special teams skills, ran two times in the high 4.6 range at Indianapolis. He bounced back Wednesday with a 4.35 on his first 40 and followed that with a 4.34.
Linebacker Earl Everett, whose 40 times in Indianapolis were high 4.7s to low 4.8s, turned in a 4.65 on his second 40. Defensive end Jarvis Moss, a 4.75 guy at Indianapolis, did a 4.68 and a 4.69.
“I think Jemalle helped himself a lot and I think Dallas did,” said Marotti. “Earl Everett helped himself a lot, he ran way better than he did at the combine.”
Running on familiar turf in familiar settings was a real plus, said Meyer.
“You’re home, you’re used to the grass, the surface, the environment and people that care about you,” said Meyer.
Defensive tackle Steven Harris had a slight groin pull so his 40 time (5.3) wasn’t what he hoped for but his status should be helped by game tapes, particularly the tape of the national championship game where he consistently blew up Ohio State’s All-America center Doug Datisch.
“I’ve heard some good things from the scouts,” said Harris. “I had a slight groin pull and I couldn’t run like they know I can but they said they were impressed that I got out here and tried to run even though I’m hurt a little bit. I did pretty good considering. If they watch the film and then give me a chance, I think they’ll see I can play. That’s what I’m hoping for.”
Meyer said that he’s amazed when he finds an NFL team that doesn’t do its homework by watching plenty of film and asking tons of questions to the players and their coaches.
“There’s NFL teams that never call and ask a coach,” said Meyer. “What is it? You spend 80 hours a week with a player for four years, three years, two years … what ever it is. It’s like recruiting a kid and never asking a high school coach or his position coach. Then I watch those teams lose every Sunday. Other guys come in and work their butts off and do thorough research and they happen to win. I love to talk about these guys [his players] and to the good teams I get to.”
Others who stood out were corner Reggie Lewis (4.5/4.53), fullback Billy Latsko (4.6, 4.71) and center Steve Rissler (5.15). Latsko showed the scouts that he’s a fairly proficient long snapper and that should increase his chances to get at least a free agent look.
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Meyer said that running back Markus Manson will get a look at cornerback in the spring practice, which begins in just a couple of weeks. Manson is a fourth-year junior from Tuscaloosa, Alabama that’s had a problem getting on the field the last two years. He has plenty of speed and according to Meyer, wanted to switch to a position of need as a way of helping the team and helping himself get on the field.
“They came to me, the player and a couple of coaches,” said Meyer. “That was not my idea. So we’re going to take a look at him. He’s a great person that works hard and he’s an athlete so we’re going to look at him somewhere back in the secondary.”
Freshman Joe Haden might see action on both sides of the ball according to Meyer. A record-setting quarterback in Maryland, Haden projects as a wide receiver at Florida but he requested an opportunity to see if he can play both sides of the ball.
“He went out there today and worked out with the corners and it’s his choice,” said Meyer. “Great athletes want to play.”