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    Ranking the 5 Best Pro Day Performances of All Time: Ryan Shazier, JaMarcus Russell, and Others Shined

    What are the best pro day performances of all time? This list highlights some of the most notable QB and non-QB showings to take place over the years.

    What are some of the best pro day performances of all time? There are almost too many NFL draft prospects to sift through on the pro day circuit. But here, we’ll go through some of the most notable pro day showings over the years — as well as some of the cautionary tales.

    Ranking the Best Pro Day Performances of All Time

    The term “ranking” comes with a caveat here. Every cycle, there are hundreds upon hundreds of prospects who take part in pro days across the nation. It’s such a volume that, when accumulated over several decades, it can become nearly impossible to definitively rank the best. Additionally, many of the top athletes perform first at the Combine.

    That said, there are a few prospects who’ve stood out as top performers at their pro days over the years. And a good pro day can be just as valuable for boosting a prospect’s stock and ultimately giving them a chance to succeed at the NFL level.

    Ryan Shazier, Ohio State, 2014

    Ryan Shazier was a phenomenal football player, but sometimes people forget just how athletic he was. Shazier was truly the perfect marriage of size, speed, and instincts at the LB position, but his athletic foundation is what enabled him to ascend to such great heights.

    At the NFL Combine, Shazier got off to a strong start in testing with a 42″ vertical, a 10’8″ broad, and a 6.9 three-cone. His most impressive number, however, he saved for his pro day. At 6’1″, 237 pounds, Shazier ran a blazing 4.38 40-yard dash — the best recorded mark of all-time at his position.

    MORE: What Are Pro Days? Do They Really Matter to NFL Teams?

    Shazier ended up going 15th overall to the Pittsburgh Steelers that year. His career was unfortunately cut short by a neck injury, but before he left the NFL, he played four seasons, was a two-time Pro Bowler, and amassed 299 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, seven sacks, seven picks, seven forced fumbles, and 25 pass deflections.

    You’d be hard-pressed to find a close comp to Shazier, and his pro day is proof of that. In the 2023 NFL Draft, however, there is a freak athlete to know in Michigan State’s Ben VanSumeren. He doesn’t have the instincts that Shazier had, but at 6’1″, 237 pounds, with 4.4 speed and a 42″ vertical, he’s as close as you’ll get, physically.

    Tyron Smith, USC, 2011

    Tyron Smith was a top-tier prospect from the get-go in the 2011 NFL Draft cycle, but his pro day was what truly locked in his stock. He only participated in the 40-yard dash and the bench press at the NFL Combine that year, leaving the rest of his testing to his USC Pro Day later on.

    At his local showcase, Smith re-ran the 40, logging a 4.93 at 6’5″, 307 pounds, with a 1.67 10-yard split in the 99.5 percentile. He also put up a 29″ vertical, a 9’1″ broad jump, and a terrific 7.47 three-cone time. Those numbers, combined with Smith’s 36 3/8″ vines for arms, put him comfortably over other tackles like Nate Solder and Anthony Castonzo.

    Fast forward to today, and Smith is an eight-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, with 148 starts under his belt for the Dallas Cowboys.

    Rashawn Slater, Northwestern, 2021

    The 2021 NFL Draft cycle was unique, as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the traditional NFL Combine plans. Many official results that year came from the pro day circuit itself. And naturally, some of the best pro day performances of all time came through that process. On offense, Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater stood out above the rest.

    At Northwestern’s Pro Day, Slater ran a 4.91 40-yard dash with a wicked 1.68 split and put up a 33″ vertical and a 9’4″ broad jump. His 4.45 shuttle time was near the 97th percentile, and he also racked up 33 bench reps, while measuring at the 33″ arm length threshold.

    Slater’s numbers were incredibly strong, but measuring in at 33″ was just as notable for him, as his arm length was a big talking point in 2021. His pro day played a large part in him going 13th overall to the Chargers, and he made the Pro Bowl in his rookie year.

    Tyreek Hill, West Alabama, 2016

    The best pro day performances are often reserved for the best, most recognizable prospects, but that’s not always the case. Pro days are just as much an opportunity for lesser-known players to announce themselves to NFL evaluators. And in the process, gems can be unearthed. There’s no better current example than Tyreek Hill.

    After playing as a return specialist and offensive weapon at Oklahoma State in 2014, Hill was dismissed on account of an arrest on domestic violence charges. He pled guilty and was placed on probation, playing out the 2015 season at West Alabama.

    MORE: What Is the Difference Between the NFL Combine and Pro Days?

    Hill fell under the radar for a time but launched back into the spotlight with a 4.29 40-yard dash, a 40.5″ vertical, a 10’9″ broad jump, and a 99th-percentile 6.53 three-cone at his pro day. His testing was enough to earn him a Round 5 selection from the Chiefs, and the rest is history. He was a three-time All-Pro in Kansas City and earned his fourth All-Pro bid with the Dolphins this past year.

    Odafe Oweh, Penn State, 2021

    While Slater led the pack on the offensive side in the 2021 NFL Draft cycle, it was Penn State’s Odafe Oweh who turned heads and dropped jaws with his performance for the Nittany Lions. Many had come to expect Oweh to test out of this world, but even with that expectation, the numbers were still awe-inspiring.

    Oweh measured in at 6’5″, 257 pounds, with 34 1/2″ arms. And at that size, he registered a 4.37 40-yard dash, a 39.5″ vertical, an 11’2″ broad jump, and a 6.9 three-cone — all good for a Relative Athletic Score of 9.92. His absurd size/speed combination lifted him into Round 1, where the Ravens took him off the board. He’s still developing in the NFL, but his pro day performance — a showcase of athleticism — was second to none.

    Pro Days Are Especially Advantageous and Polarizing for Quarterbacks

    Pro days aren’t just about athletic testing. That’s a big part of it, but for quarterbacks in particular, the positional drills are incredibly important. We’ve seen pro days make and break QB evaluations before. For better or worse, the throwing sessions against air make a strong impression on evaluators, especially if they’re already leaning one way.

    Falling for tools at the QB position is a double-edged sword. It can lead you to make a bountiful gamble on a player like Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen, or it can lead you to drastically over-inflate the stock of a player like Zach Wilson or JaMarcus Russell. Pro days played a large hand in the latter outcomes.

    Pro days are inherently weighted in favor of QBs — to a large degree. There’s no pass rush. There’s no coverage. And some pro days are inside as well, mitigating the effect of the elements. That confined setting is good for evaluating a prospect’s raw tools, but it sometimes isolates those tools to a fault and causes evaluators to overlook concerns on tape.

    Everyone remembers Wilson’s pro day — he made beautiful bucket throws 50-plus yards down the field while rolling to his left. That pro day helped make Wilson the No. 2 overall pick for the New York Jets — a decision that would live in infamy, as Wilson quickly flamed out in just two seasons.

    MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board

    Wilson was far from the first QB to be over-valued after a pro day, however. Johnny Manziel was a notable example in the 2014 NFL Draft class. He was polarizing heading into that event and was under a lot of pressure, with all eyes on him. He ended up completing 62 of 65 passes in front of scouts, showed off his mobility, and elevated himself into Round 1.

    Another example? LSU QB JaMarcus Russell, from the 2007 NFL Draft. Russell went No. 1 overall to the Oakland Raiders that year. Much like those named before him here, his pro day was crucial in securing that outcome. Mike Mayock has said that Russell’s pro day was “the best ever for any quarterback”.

    After flexing his arm strength with a barrage of deep passes, Russell sold owner Mark Davis on his future as the Raiders’ quarterback. But within three seasons, he’d be out of the league.

    The moral of the story is this: Certainly watch the pro days, and take QB performance into account. But the tape always comes first. That doesn’t mean you can’t get excited about a tools-rich prospect like Anthony Richardson or Will Levis. But make sure there’s evidence on tape that prospects can expand beyond their raw foundation in the right situation.

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