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WSU's Hicks, Jackson improve their draft stock at NFL Pro Day

Mar. 28—More than 20 NFL scouts, clipboards and stopwatches in hand, eyes glued to a player's one or two attempts at putting out a time or a mark worthy of consideration to be a professional athlete.

That was the scene for two dozen NFL hopefuls from Washington State, Idaho, Eastern Washington and Central Washington at the teams' Pro Day on Wednesday at the P1FCU Kibbie Dome in Moscow.

Pro Day is a rare opportunity for former college athletes to showcase their talent and catapult themselves up — or onto — the draft boards of potential NFL suitors.

Two of the Cougars present, edge Brennan Jackson and safety Jaden Hicks, have caught the attention of NFL scouts and may have improved their draft stock with solid marks.

"It's everything you dream of as a kid to be out here and be with your brothers doing this kind of stuff," Jackson said. "Obviously, there's the stress of it being Pro Day and there's eyes on you, but we thrive in that. That's what football is.

"You're in front of 37,000 strong at Martin Stadium, so a couple scouts is no different."

Washington State held its Pro Day with the Vandals because the Cougars don't currently have an indoor football facility. WSU demolished the Cougar Football Complex, also known as "the bubble," last fall to begin construction of the new Taylor Sports Complex at the same site.

Here's a look at how Hicks, Jackson and a couple of the other 10 WSU players fared at Pro Day:

Hicks ups stock with 40 time

Hicks made his mark as one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the Pac-12 during his two seasons with the Cougars.

Hicks, along with Jackson and cornerback Chau Smith-Wade, received invites to the NFL Scouting Combine, where they participated in a variety of events, drills and interviews alongside some of the best 2024 NFL draft prospects Feb. 29 to March 3 in Indianapolis.

But one event Hicks didn't compete in is the one the combine is most famous for — the 40-yard dash. Hicks chose to save his 40 for Pro Day, where he hoped the extra month would give him time to put out his best effort in the event everyone seems to say matters the most.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Hicks sprinted to a 40 time of 4.48 seconds, which would have tied for seventh among safeties at the combine.

"It was exciting seeing all the guys. We all did well, so that's a blessing," Hicks said. "But running out here doing the 40, I couldn't be more happy. It's a long journey that I came from and it was a good feeling today."

Hicks spent about 20 minutes sitting in the Kibbie Dome stands talking with a scout from the New York Giants — a sign he may be moving up the draft boards.

The safety's combine profile on NFL.com considers him to be a prospect in the middle rounds of the NFL draft.

Hicks competed in position drills at Pro Day, but chose not to compete in the other timed and measured events since he participated in those at the combine, where he finished mostly in the middle of the pack among safeties there.

During his sophomore season in the fall, Hicks was second on the team in tackles (79) and tallied six tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, four pass breakups and a forced fumble.

Jackson improves his bench

Jackson's combine profile calls him a "sixth-year senior who plays like he loves football and never wants the game to end."

That's the perfect description for the 6-4, 266-pound Jackson, whose charisma, leadership and high motor powered the Cougar defense year after year.

At the combine, Jackson posted a 4.69 40, which is solid for a player of his size.

One of his focuses at Pro Day was improving his 225-pound bench press. Jackson upped his mark from 21 reps at the combine to 26 at Pro Day — a number that would've tied for second among edges at the combine.

Scouts were also impressed with his short shuttle time of 4.34.

"Being able to hear the guys cheer me on while we're benching, doing the same thing for them (and) being out here to support the guys (is great)," Jackson said. "It's a stressful time, but when you know you've been doing hard things for the last six years, it makes it so much easier for your mind. You're just able to go out there and excel."

Jackson's most notable stat during last season might've been his three defensive touchdowns. His 12.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks weren't too shabby either.

"I think the biggest thing is once draft day comes, just getting into a camp and just really showcasing the improvements I've been making since last season," Jackson said.

Other notable Cougar results

LB Devin Richardson made 24 bench reps, which would've ranked No. 1 at the combine among linebackers. His broad jump of 10-6 would've ranked third.

WR Lincoln Victor's three-cone drill (6.82) and short shuttle (4.11) times would've ranked fourth among receivers at the combine.

Odds and ends

Scouts representing more than 20 NFL teams were presenting, including the Browns, Jaguars, Cowboys, Packers, Cardinals, Dolphins, Steelers, Commanders, Eagles, Titans, Jets, Bears, Bills, 49ers, Buccaneers, Colts, Raiders, Lions, Giants, Ravens, Panthers and Chargers. ... WSU coach Jake Dickert went straight to Idaho coach Jason Eck for a chat when he arrived at the facility. The two, who were on the staff together at NCAA Division II Minnesota State in 2014, talked together for several minutes.

Quote of note

"Teams are all about stopping the run first, but (they're) getting guys who can cover and run as well. It's becoming a passing league and getting faster and faster each year, so they want guys who can go up and make a tackle and also go cover." — WSU's Jaden Hicks on how the NFL game is changing for safeties.

Wiebe may be contacted at (208) 848-2260, swiebe@lmtribune.com or on Twitter @StephanSports.