Each year the University of South Florida hosts a Pro Day at the Frank Morsani Practice Complex. It gives USF Football's graduating seniors and other former Bulls a chance to work out and show off in front of pro scouts before next month's NFL Draft.
Coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons, the first two in the history of the program, several USF football players have already drawn the interest of NFL scouts. Defensive tackle Deadrin Senat, cornerback Deatrick Nichols, running back D'Ernest Johnson, and quarterback Quinton Flowers were among the 20 current and former Bulls to perform at the USF Pro Day as they look to begin or extend their NFL careers.
Nichols may have done himself the most good. He wasn't invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, the league's formal pre-draft evaluation. But he turned some heads by unofficially running the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds, which would have tied for the fastest time anyone ran at the Combine. (We don't know the official time because USF did not release official results.) Nichols also showed off a 37" vertical jump, which may help quell concerns about his height. At 5'10", he would be pretty short for an NFL cornerback, which is why most draft experts have him being picked very late in the seven-round NFL Draft, or signed as an undrafted free agent.
Senat is USF's most highly-regarded NFL prospect this year. The 314-pound defensive tackle built upon his showing at the NFL Scouting Combine with another good day of workouts at the USF Pro Day. He's more of a traditional, run-stuffing nose tackle prospect, even though he had a terrific game rushing the quarterback when USF beat Texas Tech in last year's Birmingham Bowl. Senat has a chance to be picked in the middle rounds of the NFL Draft.
Flowers, undoubtedly the best football player in USF history, is unlikely to get a chance to play quarterback in the NFL. The offense he mastered at USF took advantage of his running skills and minimized his weaknesses throwing the ball. Flowers may not have changed many minds during his passing drills, but he is willing to change positions to play in the pros and he looked good in running back drills. It makes sense for Quinton to try and latch on as a running back -- he holds USF's single-season and career rushing records, and his running ability has never been questioned. If he isn't chosen near the end of the NFL Draft, someone will sign him up as an undrafted free agent.
Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling had an excellent Pro Day. He has the measurables and the speed to make it in the NFL. He's 6-foot-5, and he ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at the Combine. He's still pretty raw, though. After transferring to USF, Valdes-Scantling played in a pair of offenses that didn't use a full route tree, and Flowers wasn't always the most accurate passer, so there are some questions whether MVS can learn NFL wide receiver skills. He did set the school's single-season receiving record last year, and you can't teach that size and speed. Valdes-Scantling is projected as a late-round project for a team to see if he can be coached up.
USF's two primary running backs from last year, Johnson and Darius Tice, also worked out at Pro Day. Johnson thrived in former coach Willie Taggart's system as an all-purpose threat, but his receiving threat out of the backfield was wasted by current offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert. Johnson is a jack-of-all-trades player, but he may not be enough of a master of any one thing to grab a roster spot in the NFL. Tice impressed the scouts by bench pressing 27 reps at 225 pounds, a number only two running backs topped at the NFL Scouting Combine. He doesn't have breakaway speed, but he was the most productive back USF had last year and he could get a look as a runner who can grind out tough yards.
USF's Pro Day wasn't limited just to graduating seniors. Past players like Austin Aikens, who is not draft-eligible, worked out in the hopes of impressing one of the 30 NFL teams or two CFL teams who attended. Former USF quarterback B.J. Daniels worked out as well. Daniels missed the 2017 season with an injury and is looking to catch on with a new team. He ran drills as a quarterback, and also fielded some punts from graduating USF punter Jonathan Hernandez. His versatility gives a chance to rejoin an NFL team in 2018, but don't discount Daniels as a good-luck charm, either. In his four NFL seasons, mostly as a practice squad player, his team has reached the Super Bowl three times.
How many Bulls will be selected in the 2018 NFL Draft? Tune in April 27-29 to find out when and where these USF football stars will pursue their dreams of becoming NFL players.
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