Zech McPhearson wowed Rex Ryan, Eagles at Hula Bowl

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How McPhearson's Hula Bowl performance led to Eagles' drafting him originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Rex Ryan admits he didn’t know much about Zech McPhearson in January as he flew to Hawaii to coach Team Kai in the annual Hula Bowl.

He learned quickly.

“This kid jumped out,” Ryan said to NBC Sports Philadelphia last week. “In 1-on-1s, he jumped out in that, he jumped out on the field. He’s not the biggest guy, maybe 5-11ish, around that, but he can run and, man, he can shadow and mirror and he has ball skills. To me, I was like, ‘Hell, this kid looks pretty damn good to me.’

“I heard he was a fourth-round pick and I was like, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’ The kid’s got cover skills, seems like a really nice young man. So, shoot, I think they got a chance with this kid.”

Despite an obvious need, the Eagles did not select a cornerback on Day 1 or 2 of the draft. Instead, they used the 123rd overall pick (fourth round) on McPhearson, who began his career at Penn State and finished at Texas Tech as a two-year starter.

Opinions from draft pundits were really split on McPhearson but the Eagles felt like they got a steal in the fourth round, saying they even thought about trading back into the third to take him.

The Eagles obviously knew about McPhearson before the week in Hawaii, but seeing him shine on Team Kai definitely helped improve his stock in their eyes.

As teams scratched for every bit of information in this unusual pre-draft process without a combine, the Eagles sent two scouts to Honolulu for the 2021 Hula Bowl: Northeast area scout Phil Bhaya and NFS scout Lee DiValerio, who reported back to the Eagles about the impressive performance McPhearson had against the competition in Hawaii.

“That was a big piece of the puzzle, what he did out there, his performance in the Hula Bowl out in Hawaii,” vice president of player personnel Andy Weidl said on the Marks & Reese show on WIP this offseason. “Our scouts getting that information and spending that time with him personally and sharing that with us went a long way in us taking him in the fourth round.”

What stood out about McPhearson that week?

“His athleticism,” Ryan said. “He’s got the change of direction and change of speed, change of quickness any of those types of things. He’s got the movement skills on top of having the ball skills also. Those are things to look for. Anytime you evaluate a corner, you want to find out can they find the football and can they catch it? He can do that as well.

“To me, he has the athleticism you look for in a slot corner, a guy with terrific movement skills, and he has the ball skills of an outside corner. So I wish he was a little taller but I think he’s gonna have a shot. He definitely has the athleticism that you look for.”

Despite not knowing how McPhearson tested at the Texas Tech pro day, Ryan guessed he ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.4s. He was right. McPhearson put up a time of 4.48 at his pro day. Ryan remembers watching McPhearson consistently beat receivers to the ball during their week together in Hawaii.

“Anything vertical, there’s some guys who have burst to close,” Ryan said. “He had burst to finish. That was kind of an unusual thing for corners to have but he certainly showcased that during that week.”

Ryan, who last coached in the NFL as the Bills’ head coach and before that as the Jets’ head coach, is now an ESPN analyst but has coached in the Hula Bowl for the last couple of years. His main goal at the event is simply to give draft prospects a chance to showcase their skills. McPhearson did just that.

“They had to see the same things I saw in him,” Ryan said. “We have competitive practices, it’s not just the game. Our guys compete. I’m there to help showcase these kids. That’s what I think my job is. I want to give guys opportunities to show what they can do, show all these scouts. These teams travel all the way to Hawaii to see these kids and, shoot, we give them a chance to evaluate them. And the Eagles, in this case, took advantage of it.”

McPhearson, 23, was one of four players from this year’s Hula Bowl to get drafted, along with CB Nate Hobbs (5th round), DT Phil Hoskins (7th), and DE Chris Garrett (7th). Fifty-three players from the game also signed as undrafted free agents, according to the Hula Bowl’s Instagram account.

For McPhearson, his trip to the Hula Bowl was the first time he had ever left the continental United States. But it was more than a vacation; he made the most of it.

“The Hula Bowl was real fun,” McPhearson said. “I really enjoyed my time down there … just being able to have that experience with players from all over the country. And being able to be coached by Coach Rex. It was a good time. I really had a good week on the field and it paid off well for me going into the draft.”

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