What pro days mean for top QBs like Anthony Richardson; Jaxon Smith-Njigba may be top WR on board; and a Cam Newton cameo
March is ending, pro days are winding down and the final stretch for the 2023 NFL Draft is officially underway. Just about all of the top prospects have worked out in some fashion since the NFL combine, giving scouts, coaches and media more information about this class as it prepares to enter the league. There’s a lot of information to learn about the draft, which begins April 27, and the players that make it up, but it’s OK to have fun with a good chunk of this as well.
It’s OK to enjoy the quarterback workouts
By now, everyone knows the game with these quarterback pro days. They’re going to show up, throw to some receivers they already know well, and have a top-tier workout in front of the NFL teams that are vying for the chance to draft them. The reports after quarterback workouts are usually all the same: They looked great, accurate on the run, had a big throw at the end. That’s how they should be considering a player working out for NFL teams is NFL-caliber.
There isn’t much to glean from quarterback pro day workouts, but that’s OK. They can still be enjoyable without a heavy level of analysis resulting from them. If a quarterback came out and bombed their scripted workout, that would be more noteworthy, but it almost never happens. There might not be much to learn about each prospect by watching them throw against no one, but it is fun to just watch top athletes be top athletes every once in a while.
There’s a reason why videos of quarterbacks throwing bombs and hitting the ceiling go viral every year: it’s fun! Most people can’t throw a football with the same velocity as Anthony Richardson or Will Levis, but there’s a chance to visualize the talent for a brief second and awe at what some of these guys are capable of. Of course, those arm talent displays are available through the tape, but it’s fun to watch the big-time throws in any arena — even if it isn’t indicative of what’s to come in each player’s career.
Anthony Richardson's gonna need a higher ceiling. 😂 @GVOaant
📱: NFL Pro Days Live on NFL+ https://t.co/btRyV5Q4Ok pic.twitter.com/7xh0WZOFFC
— NFL (@NFL) March 30, 2023
Highlights are fun. Sports are fun. Even pro days can be fun. This is all just an extension of a sport that consumes way too much of our time and money every fall. All hail football, the sport we’ll watch even when no one is playing.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba did exactly what he needed to do
After missing most of the 2022 college football season due to an injury, former Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba needed to have a strong draft season to certify his status as a first-round pick. He’s done that and then some, quieting some concerns that people had about his athleticism and speed coming into the NFL.
At the NFL combine, he posted elite agility times with a 3.93-second 20-yard shuttle and a 6.57-second mark in the three cone drill. He checked off boxes surrounding his speed and ability to run against NFL secondaries by running around a 4.5 40-yard dash at his pro day workout. That’s not the fastest time, but just fast enough to match his profile as a coveted slot receiver prospect in the NFL.
Smith-Njigba answering questions about his athleticism really rounds out his profile as a draft prospect because the film shows a player that should be ready to go from Day 1, so long as his time away from the field didn’t hurt him too much. Remember, in his most recent healthy action, he had 347 receiving yards and three touchdowns against Utah in the 2022 Rose Bowl. There were just a few questions concerning exactly how athletic he was and what type of shape he would be in after not playing much football this past season.
Now, Smith-Njigba has a strong chance to be the first wide receiver off of the board when the draft kicks off. He’s almost certainly going to be a first-round pick and with the top of this receiver class being a little weak, his profile as a slot receiver won’t hurt him much. His ceiling is as high as the top 10, where a team like Chicago would make sense for him.
Stanford has a couple underrated prospects that are picking up steam
Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee has been the most publicized draft prospect on the Cardinal, but he’s not the only player they have that NFL teams are interested in acquiring. To go along with McKee, wide receiver Michael Wilson and cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly have scouts buzzing a bit after strong pro day workouts in March.
Wilson, who is already getting looked at as a potential post-first round steal, clocked elite times in the agility drills during his pro day workout. Wilson ran the three-cone drill in 6.81 seconds and the 20-yard short shuttle in 4.17 seconds — both of those marks are among the top times for all prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft. Wilson didn’t have a lot of production at Stanford, but he did average almost 70 receiving yards per game in the six games he played this season. He’s a bigger bodied receiver at nearly 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds, making those times even more impressive.
Kelly helped himself with a strong workout at Stanford’s pro day as well. He had ideal measurements to play either slot or outside cornerback coming in at around 6 feet and 190 pounds. Like Wilson, he performed well in the agility drills, posting a time of 6.93 seconds in the three cone drill. Kelly made second-team All-Pac 12 in each of the past two seasons and should be a target for teams needing legitimate cornerback depth in the later portions of the draft.
This is where the pro day circuit can be valuable for players and teams alike. Stanford wasn’t very competitive this year, going 3-9 and losing five straight games to end the season. It can be hard for talented players to consistently show out in situations where the team struggles, so these opportunities to present the best version of themselves can make or break the start of their career. Wilson and Kelly both took advantage of their opportunities and should receive life-changing phone calls at the end of April.
A couple of NFL players trying to get back into the league worked out at pro days
It’s good when colleges do right by the players that helped them gain truckloads of money, even well after their playing days. Draft prospects aren’t the only players with things to gain at pro days. Sometimes veteran NFL players come back to campus to get reps in front of NFL scouts and coaches that are already in attendance scouting college players.
This year, Cam Newton was the quarterback for Auburn’s pro day as he attempts to get back into the league. Newton hasn’t played since he made a brief return to the Carolina Panthers during the 2021 season, but clearly still has a desire to play in the NFL. Going back to Auburn for this workout is a way to guarantee NFL eyes on him in this last attempt to save his professional career and get back on an NFL roster.
Former Alabama guard D.J. Fluker also worked out in front of NFL scouts during the Crimson Tide’s pro day this March. The clips of Fluker stonewalling college kids in the bag drills are funny, but it was important for Fluker to show that he was still in shape and able to contribute to an NFL offensive line in a meaningful way.
It’ll be interesting to see if NFL veterans that are in similar positions as Fluker and Newton will take more advantage of pro days happening at their former colleges and universities. If teams aren’t calling to book players for a workout, this is a more proactive way to work out in front of a multitude of teams at the same time. As long as it doesn’t get in the way of the college players that are the main focus of the workout, this can be a savvy way for veterans to get back in the shape.