NFL scouts are obsessed with the 40-yard dash. Throughout the years, the timed sprint has served as a guillotine for draft prospects where only the speedy survive.
So, when Vincent Brown ran a cringe-inducing 4.71-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in February, his draft stock plummeted. Suddenly, Brown’s outstanding season didn’t matter as much anymore. Neither did his brilliant performance during Senior Bowl Week. Suddenly, after beating cornerbacks all year, Brown was considered slow.
If it weren’t for San Diego State’s Pro Day held on March 24, scouts would still believe that junk about Brown being too slow. But instead, the All-Mountain West Conference wide receiver squashed any doubt the scouts had about his speed, registering a time of 4.5 seconds at Pro Day.
Yeah, Brown’s 21-hundredths of a second improvement may seem miniscule to the casual observer, but to scouts, the difference is wider than the gap between Michael Strahan’s teeth.
“It’s a big difference,” Brown said of his new time. “A lot of people look real high on the 40 time so if you run a 4.7 and you’re a receiver they look at that like, ‘Oh, he might be a little slow,’ but I’m definitely improving.”
Brown is a projected middle-rounder in the draft. His performance at Pro Day in front of approximately 80 fans may have saved him hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not only did Brown show off his speed, but he also ran sharp routes and didn’t drop a pass.
“I felt good,” Brown said. “I felt real good. Honestly, it was a good day for us. We had a few guys come out and show what they can do and I’m just happy to be around my teammates and show my ability once again.”
Another SDSU alum that helped his draft stock during Pro Day was wide receiver DeMarco Sampson — the only other Aztec projected to get drafted.
Like Brown, Sampson’s performance at the NFL Combine a month ago was considered a disappointment. Sampson hadn’t fully recovered from arthroscopic knee surgery yet and elected not to participate in running drills. So SDSU’s Pro Day was Sampson’s only chance to impress scouts in person.
Before Pro Day, scouts had their concerns about Sampson’s speed. Chad Reuter of CBS Sports wrote this of Sampson:
“Slow feet and lack of straight-line speed are detriments, will be inconsistent eluding NFL defenders.”
But Sampson showed he had anything but slow feet and a lack of straight-line speed on Pro Day, clocking a 40 time of 4.41 seconds, which will be among the faster times in the draft. One scout even clocked Sampson with a 4.32. Like Brown, Sampson didn’t drop any passes either.
In contrast to what Reuter had ignorantly written about Sampson, San Diego Chargers head coach Norv Turner described Sampson as “explosive” with good up-field speed.
“(Brown and Sampson) had outstanding workouts,” Turner said, who was one of two head coaches in attendance at Pro Day (the other was Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera).
“I know they both ran a good 40 time, our guys were impressed with that,” Turner added. “And then getting to watch them run routes, they both have been extremely well coached. I think they’re in a system that prepares them to go play at the next level.”
While Brown and Sampson are the only SDSU players projected to have their name called during the draft, five other Aztecs showcased their talents for the NFL: Fullback Brandon Sullivan, safety Andrew Preston, offensive lineman Trask Iosefa, and defensive back Jose Perez participated. Also, despite calling himself a “long shot” for the draft, SDSU standout defensive end Ernie Lawson also performed in front of scouts. In attendance, but unable to do drills, was defensive lineman B.J. Williams, who is still suffering from a fracture in his right foot. If none of these players are drafted, they still have a chance to get picked up by an NFL team as free agents.
Pro Day began in the weight room for the athletes, where scouts from more than 20 NFL teams measured the players in terms of height, weight, leaping ability and strength. The players were then escorted outside around 11 a.m. to do speed drills and position work.
Sullivan, who said he worked his tail off for Pro Day, said the workouts began much earlier than expected.
“It was a pretty fast day, they bumped times up as far as drills and the time schedule so we really didn’t have enough time to prepare or warm up as much as we could,” Sullivan said. “But at the end of the day, I mean, that’s just going to happen at the next level.”
It will be interesting to see what “the next level” has in store for both Brown and Sampson.
When asked what team Brown wanted to play for in the NFL, his answer was humble as usual.
“Who am I? Whoever calls me, man, I’m just waiting for it,” Brown said.
It’s possible that call on draft day could come from Turner and the Chargers. The same goes for Sampson, too.
“(Wide receiver) is an area that we have some uncertainty,” Turner said. “We have some good young players, but I would think it’s an area where we’ll add a player.”