INDIANAPOLIS – Ryan Flaherty's secret was out on Sunday morning.
The track and field coach who trains select draft prospects for the combine knew how well Texas A&M teammates Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans would do in physical drills, especially the popular 40-yard dash. Flaherty understood there would be no more questions about Evans' breakaway speed once he ran. He knew that Manziel's athleticism would solidify his resume as perhaps the top quarterback in the draft.
Evans, expected to run maybe a 4.7-second 40-yard dash, ran a 4.47 on Sunday morning. That's fairly incredible for a 6-foot-5, 231-pound receiver. Manziel ran a 4.56, a great time for a quarterback. That validates the great running ability the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner showed in college.
Flaherty worked with both of them at Prolific Athletes, his training complex in San Diego, and was thrilled at the results, just not surprised.
"This is why I do what I do," Flaherty said. "This is the part I enjoy the most, seeing guys do well and hopefully setting them and their families up for a long, long time."
Evans' performance might literally be worth a few million dollars. As Flaherty pointed out, if Evans has a similar 40 time to top receiver prospect Sammy Watkins, who is 211 pounds, it gives teams something to think about (Watkins ran a 4.34 40 later on Sunday, which might solidify him as the top receiver in the draft). After Sunday's great performance, Evans might not get past the Rams, who have the 13th overall pick. He might even go a few spots higher.
Flaherty revels in that. He talked about knowing Manziel since "he was wearing No. 15" before he switched to jersey No. 2 at Texas A&M. He has gotten to know Evans, who had a hard upbringing in Galveston, Texas, and has a 2-year-old daughter. He feels good about helping them.
He also uses an approach that is a bit different. Many trainers who get football players ready for the combine focus on running form, and that can help shave some time off a 40-yard dash. Flaherty focuses on making sure that they have a better physical foundation for the improvement. He talks at length about strength-to-weight ratio. He uses a machine that replicates a deadlift to measure force compared to a person's weight. Someone with elite speed should produce at least three times more force than their body weight, Flaherty said. He says that ratio allows him to predict 40 times with 100 percent accuracy, because strength-to-weight ratio is all the 40 is.
That means the improvements in speed should stick and be more functional on a football field, rather than teaching a player how to get out of the blocks to run a 40.
Evans did run a 4.7-second 40-yard dash when he came to Flaherty. He improved his lower body strength and got faster. Flaherty said last year the players he worked with shaved an average of sixth tenths of a second off their 40 time. Manziel improved dramatically over the past few weeks in San Diego too, Flaherty said.
"If you produce more force, every step is more powerful," Flaherty said.
Flaherty has had a chance to be around Manziel often the last few weeks getting ready for the combine, and he's convinced Manziel should be the first pick. He's biased, of course, but he has worked with players like Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck, and he marvels and Manziel's competitiveness, whether it's ping pong or H-O-R-S-E. Manziel also compares well with those players athletically.
He said Manziel doesn't look like a great athlete on first glance, not like Newton does, for example. But he said he has a tremendous amount of strength, especially for a man his size, and for a quarterback. He also has a tremendous amount of quickness and as he proved on Sunday morning, he has fantastic speed as well.
"I have no doubt in this draft he should 100 percent be the No. 1 pick," Flaherty said. "He's that good of an athlete and that good of a competitor."
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