Marc Daniels: UCF May Be Having Its Biggest Pro Day Ever


Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl - Central Florida v Marshall

At some point the power of television took over and our obsession with the NFL Draft made a workout of players in shorts and no pads to be a big deal. Quarterbacks face no pass rush and throwing soft deep balls to wide open receivers who have no defensive backs covering them. Welcome to Pro Days.

These days schools from Alabama to Akron put on a workout that attracts NFL head coaches, GMs, scouts, agents, teammates and the media. It's a marketing event for some and it's also a chance to make money for players.

You would think film of a player over the course of three to four seasons would highlight their strengths but you'd be amazed what four-to-five seconds can mean as well.

March 25, 2015 Breshad Perriman ran the 40-yard dash at UCF's Pro Day and that may have made him millions of dollars. In the 2014 season, Perriman caught 50 passes, including nine for touchdowns, for 1,044 yards. He was thought to be an intriguing prospect heading into the draft evaluation process but no one had him going in the first round. He skipped running the 40 at the NFL Combine because of a hamstring injury. But that Wednesday, Perriman ran the 40-yards and his life changed. He was clocked at 4.25. Then NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, now GM of the Raiders, had it at 4.17. NFL scouts at the Pro Day had it ranging from 4.19 to 4.27.

Within minutes the highlight went viral and within hours NFL talking heads were all over ESPN gushing over Perriman. A few weeks later the Baltimore Ravens selected him 26th overall in the first round. 

To this day, the Perriman 40-yard run is one of the great moments in UCF Pro Day history. There are other UCF Pro Days that stand out. The 2014 event drew team reps all across the league to watch Blake Bortles work out. The 2018 event was full of talent with most cameras on Shaquem Griffin in a draft class that also featured Mike Hughes(1st round), Tre'Quan Smith(3rd round) and Jordan Akins(3rd round).

But tomorrow will be UCF's latest Pro Day and it might be the most talented group to date.

After a 10-3 season in 2019, UCF felt it's strongest position coming back in 2020 would be its secondary. All AAC safety Richie Grant would lead a group that was hyped as one of the best in all of college football. But things changed.

Bam Moore was not physically ready to play coming back from a knee injury. Tay Gowan, thought to be one of the better cover-corners in the AAC, opted out to protect his family for COVID reasons. That led to UCF playing true freshmen all season long. The good news is the experience that group got makes the secondary one of UCF's strongest positions heading into the 2021 season. Corey Thorton played at an all-conference level by the end of the year. Divaad Wilson saw action late in the season and will be one of the best safeties in the league. Justin Hodges, Davonte Brown and others benefited by game experience.

But this about who will be among the players at UCF's Pro Day. Richie Grant, Aaron Robinson,Tay Gowan and Marlon Williams are a few of the players who will be showcasing their skills for the NFL brass.

As we get close to the NFL Draft, mock drafts begin to get more consistent as teams, agents and talent evaluators get serious. In addition, NFL talking heads on television also share the information they are hearing and the buzz on that trio of defensive backs is that all three could go in the top 100 picks, not one but all three.

Richie Grant was a four-year impact player. His record in games was 41-7(Grant did not play in the Boca Bowl this past season). Grant can play both safety positions. He can tackle anywhere on the field and plays the run exceptionally well. He had the lowest number on percentage of missed tackles in the American. He has good size and can play man coverage in the slot. Grant had a great week at the Senior Bowl and NFL teams believe he can step in and play now. Some project Grant to be a second round selection.

ESPN's Louis Riddick recently tweeted this about Grant:"The young man can do it all. You name it. He can do it. Cover. Tackle, Plays smart. Plays physical. Plays multiple positions. He makes watching tape damn fun."

Aaron Robinson transferred to UCF from Alabama and got off to a slow start. But once he figured out how important the nickleback position was, he got good quickly. He can cover slot receivers and can go outside as well and his run defense was superb. Known as a quick and physical player, Robinson has impressed NFL scouts and is thought to be a player who can go as high as early to mid-second round or third round.

Tay Gowan was lightly recruited coming out of high school and came to UCF after a JUCO stop. After playing in 2019, Gowan opted out of last season because of COVID and his concern of protecting his family. He has limited FBS experience but has great size, speed and athleticism and his workouts have impressed. Some project Gowan as a third round choice.

More from Riddick on the three:"The UCF DBs are ballers. Grant, Robinson and Tay Gowan. I would draft all three of them if I could. The kids can flat out play!"

Get an idea why BYU's Zach Wilson had a big day against UCF in the bowl game? He faced none of three players expected to get drafted early.

In the greatest passing era in NFL history, cover guys are a premium and that's what makes this Pro Day at UCF a little different. It's why so many NFL teams will at the football facility on Thursday.

Then there is Marlon Williams. He missed the final two games of the 2020 season after suffering an ankle injury. When healthy, Williams was one of the best pass catchers in the country. He has soft hands and makes the catch in traffic and is as physical as they come. Williams' speed is underrated and Knight fans saw him break free and outrun people all season long. He played just eight games but had 71 catches for 1,039 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Williams saw Gabriel Davis become a fourth round pick in 2019 and his former teammate had a great rookie season. Davis is taller than Williams but Marlon can make big plays and someone will be lucky to take him. 

It's also a chance for others to showcase their skills. 

Otis Anderson was an electrifying player for four seasons at UCF. Adrian Killins just got a new deal with the Eagles, so he can be used as the example of why a team could use a versatile player like Anderson. 

Greg McCrae averaged 9.2 yards a carry in 2018. He's a smart runner that cuts well and also has sneaky breakaway speed.

Jacob Harris caught 30 passes, eight for scores and averaged 18.0 yards a catch. He plays special teams, he's physical and his size makes him a threat in the red zone.

Receiver Tre Nixon, defensive back Nevelle Clark and kicker Dylan Barnas will also workout.

Since 2011, UCF has had 16 players drafted. Three of those picks have been first rounders. There may not be a first round player in this bunch. But Grant, Robinson and Gowan will all likely be gone when day two of the Draft ends. Williams will get drafted and likely two rounds later than he should be.

There was the attention Blake Bortles got back in 2014 and Shaquem Griffin's day in 2018 but the 2020 UCF Pro Day might be the deepest group performing in front of NFL personnel. It's a sign of the growth of the program where GMs, coaches and scouts make their way to east Orlando a few weeks before the draft because the next draft gem just might have a special day.

Final note: Why do we call it the "pigskin" at times when describing a football? In the early days of the game, a pig's bladder was used as the ball. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images


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