AUSTIN, Texas — Inside the Bubble on Wednesday, representatives from at least 20 NFL teams watched 19 former Texas Longhorns players go through athletic testing and position drills in preparation for the draft in April.
The attendees included graduate transfer defensive back John Bonney, who finished his career at Texas Tech, and Daje Johnson, who last played for Texas in 2015, but still has his signature speed.
For the five players invited to the NFL Combine, it was a chance to improve on any poor performances in Indianapolis, with early entrant wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey’s 40 time the most-discussed subject of the day. For the players not invited to the NFL Combine, it was a chance to draw consideration for a late-round selection or look as an undrafted free agent.
As always, numerous former players were in attendance, including Malik Jefferson, Poona Ford, Deshon Elliott, Holton Hill, Michael Dickson, Jackson Jeffcoat, Brian Orakpo, Jeremy Hills, Fozzy Whittaker, and Michael Griffin.
The other major storyline every year? The quarterback for the offensive skill position players. In past years, Vince Young and David Ash have made appearances, but this year it was graduate transfer Shane Buechele, who will finish his final two seasons of eligibility at SMU.
Humphrey drew the biggest crowd of scouts once position drills were done after running a 4.75 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. On Wednesday, Burnt Orange Nation timed him at 4.61 on both runs, but that’s an extremely unofficial result and hand times varied widely — another had him at 4.55. After testing was completed Humphrey said he thought his times were in the 4.6s.
For cornerback Kris Boyd, the 40 time is irrelevant. For him, it’s all about what Humphrey has already put on film.
“That don’t mean nothing,” Boyd said of Humphrey’s 40 time. “I bet no one was questioning his 40 when he was out there catching on somebody’s head every week. He was on ‘You Got Mossed’ three weeks in a row — I bet you weren’t talking about his 40 then.”
What makes him tough?
“Have you seen him play?” Boyd responded.
During Humphrey’s interview, Boyd came over and demonstrated how Humphrey kept catching balls off the heads of opposing defensive backs. Humphrey laughed.
However, as much as Humphrey’s film could outweigh his testing numbers, he made the odd decision not to run routes on Wednesday and said that he hadn’t been working on that aspect of his game in recent weeks, instead going through drills with the tight ends to prove that he can block. He also understands that he needs to get faster.
NFL teams have been giving him some positive feedback on the question of his speed.
“They’ve been the ones to tell me not to worry about the speed,” Humphrey said. “Football is football and you can either play or you can’t.”
Defensive end Charles Omenihu may be the highest draft pick in this group and used the Texas Pro Day to go through full testing, improving his 40-yard dash from 4.92 to 4.83 and running a better three-cone drill. In the bag drills, he needed some coaching, but showed enough violence with his hands to back up the film that made him the Big 12’s Defensive Lineman of the Year after recording 8.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss.
“It’s all plus-plus,” he said of his workout.
One intriguing upcoming meeting for Omenihu is with the Steelers, but he’s also set to work out with the Saints and Texans. Teams are looking at him to play in three-down or four-down schemes and he’s spoken with every team in the league, so it doesn’t sound like he will miss out on opportunities due to projections in one scheme or the other.
With a wingspan of over 86 inches, Omenihu is one of the longest players in the draft.
“Length is something that you can’t coach,” Omenihu said. “Separation — if you can’t touch me, you can’t block me.”
The separation for linebacker Gary Johnson comes as a result of his speed, as the junior college product ran a 4.43 40-yard dash the NFL Combine at 6’0 and 226 pounds. As a result, Johnson focused on drill work, looking fluid with his pass drops, playing the football well in the air, and finishing with catches.
“Show guys that I can move and I’m not stiff, things like that, as well as that my height and weight don’t matter,” Johnson said of his goals on Wednesday.
Some teams talked to him about moving to safety or dime linebacker at the Combine. Johnson is willing to play anywhere and understands that excelling on special teams can lead to opportunities on defense.
Johnson has some extra motivation for the draft process, as displayed on a towel he wore on his waistband that featured pictures of both of his children, including his infant son, G’amir, whose godfather is Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
Like Omenihu, Johnson is also set to meet with the Steelers, as well as the Dolphins and Raiders.
Boyd showed the expected explosiveness in position work while sitting out of testing, as did cornerback Davante Davis. Both players have major question marks going through the process — Boyd with his ability to avoid mistakes and Davis with his athleticism.
The two players who probably helped themselves the most were tight end Andrew Beck and defensive back PJ Locke III.
Beck tested extremely well — 4.55 to 4.63 in the 40-yard dash, with a 34-inch vertical and elite 4.19 short shuttle. He said the feedback he received from scouts was positive, as he was able to show more running routes and catching passes than he did at Texas, though he did catch 28 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns as a senior. With his strong Pro Day, Beck might have a chance to get drafted now.
The same might apply to Locke, who showed strong punch at nickel last season and said he molds his game after former Texas standout Quandre Diggs. Locke also tested well, putting up 22 reps on the bench press and posting an official 36.5-inch vertical after a 39-inch effort was disqualified. He ran well, too, with times ranging from the high 4.3s to the low 4.5s. Whether he can sneak into the back round of the draft remains an open question, but he’s received positive feedback about his versatility, so that will help his cause.
Offensive tackle Calvin Anderson also helped himself with 30 reps on the bench press to answer questions about his strength. Based on the feedback that he received, scouts liked his lateral agility and explosiveness. He’s been working on snapping the football in an effort to convince teams that he can play inside, too, if necessary. However, he struggled at times run blocking last season and excelled as a pass blocker, so if he’s going to make a roster, it will almost certainly be at left tackle.
After playing defensive end the last two seasons, Breckyn Hager worked out with the linebackers in an effort to show his movement ability. And that could be intriguing to NFL teams, as his most productive season came as a sophomore when he played Fox end for Charlie Strong and led the team in sacks (6) and tackles for loss (13.5).