As SMU puts more players in the NFL every year, more scouts pay a visit to the Mustangs' pro day.
Wednesday, 25 NFL teams were represented at Ford Stadium to check in on 12 SMU draft hopefuls. Some big names were there, too, such as long-time Cowboys scout Gil Brandt, Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin and a couple of former Mustangs currently in the NFL like Aldrick Robinson and Sterling Moore.
The players who were participating—Chris Banjo, Kelvin Beachum, J.T. Brooks, Richard Crawford, Marquis Frazier, Bradley Haynes, J.J. McDermott, Josh LeRibeus, Justin Sorrell, Bryce Tennison, Taylor Thompson and Terrance Wilkerson—were the ones who made up June Jones' first freshmen class when he arrived on the Hilltop in 2008.
"These are the kids that have been here from Day 1 with me," Jones said. "They did a good job today, everybody."
Jones said that when Robinson and Emmanuel Sanders were preparing for the draft, there were probably about the same amount of NFL teams that attended their pro day, but that every year more and more are coming to check things out. Also SMU was wise in scheduling its pro day later in the spring so it didn't conflict with some other schools down the road.
The intriguing prospect
Last season, Taylor Thompson was a 278-pound defensive end with messy locks. But Wednesday, he showed off his transformation into a trim, 259-pound tight end with a clean haircut. Hardly recognizable from across the football field, by the way.
Back in November, Jones approached Thompson about playing tight end and it wasn't a hard sell. First of all, Thompson was a three-star tight end coming out of high school (Prosper) so he has the experience. Secondly, Jones believes that his 6-foot-6 starting defensive end would have a longer NFL career with a position change.
"The way he runs and his measurables are like the guy at New England," Jones said, referring to Rob Gronkowski. "Everyone is looking for that guy."
To lose almost 20 pounds, Thompson started running more and tweaked his diet.
"I was force-feeding a lot [while at defensive end] to keep weight on," he said. "So I started not eating as much and eating clean. It wasn't that hard, plus all my speed training [helped]."
Thompson, who said he was a little rusty when he first started running routes and catching balls again, has been getting solid feedback from scouts about his skills at tight end.
"Playing defensive end shows I can be athletic, play both ways and have that mental toughness to play in a 3-4 [defense], which is not easy," he said. "Plus I'm tall, athletic, have a long wingspan…they've just been telling me positive stuff."
Thompson said he has about 10 meetings set up with NFL teams in the coming weeks, but would not reveal which ones. On Wednesday, tight ends coaches from Dallas, Jacksonville and Baltimore were watching Thompson at pro day.
Also notable from Wednesday is that he ran a 4.55 40, had 22 bench press reps and a 37-inch vertical jump.
The undersized prospect
There are a lot of NFL organizations that probably wouldn't give a barely 5-foot-8, 174-pound receiver a fair look, but all Cole Beasley needs is one shot.
"All I need is a chance," he said.
Despite his size, Beasley, who says he's always been strong for his weight, had some good numbers at pro day, getting 17 reps in the bench press (he said he wanted 20), slapping the 38-inch mark on the vertical jump and running a 4.52 40 (Jones says with the ball in his hands, though, Beasley runs a 4.4).
He's a hard worker that will probably end up at a team's camp and stick around due to his pure hustle and athletic ability.
"Guys have had success in the league like him and they're comparing him to those guys," Jones said, referring to players like Wes Welker. "Beas, when he gets in there, as long as everyone understands he's a special slot play on third down, play on second-and-long or on fourth down on the inside receiver, he'll be as good as any of those other guys there."
Beasley said his dream opportunity would be to get scooped up by the Patriots and learn under Welker.
As he waits for draft day, Beasley will keep grinding, running routes and catching balls with any quarterback who will throw with him. He said he's been working with McDermott almost every day.
"I gotta stay hungry," Beasley said. "I've been dreaming about this day and going to the NFL since I was itty bitty."
The sure-thing prospect
Josh LeRibeus could be the highest drafted SMU player since the Death Penalty. At least, that's the scuttlebutt.
LeRibeus has had multiple private workouts and has a bunch more planned before draft day. Though he wouldn't say which teams he's been talking to, he smiled when discussing the feedback he's received.
"They say they're most impressed with my quickness and playing strength," he said.
"I was talking to Gil Brandt today and he thinks Josh will be the guard that ends up playing in the league the fastest and longest of this draft, which says a lot," Jones said. "He thinks third or fourth round."
LeRibeus has undergone quite the transformation. He once upon a time weighed 380 pounds and lost 70 of those before last season started. And he's been able to stay focused and keep it off, which is impressive to scouts.
"They asked me what the heaviest I've been was, thinking I'd probably say 320," LeRibeus said. "The biggest issue for them is me not getting like that again, but it's been a year and I've kept it off and that's a positive because it shows what I've been able to do up to this point."
LeRibeus, who measured in at 6-foot-3, 318 lbs. Wednesday, says that the weight loss has not only affected him physically, but probably even more so mentally.
"Before I'd say, ‘Screw it, I don't want to work out,'" he said. "And now, even if I don't want to work out I work out anyway."
The sleeper prospects
Asked which players he thinks are hidden gems among this class, Jones said receiver Bradley Haynes (who can also play tight end and H-back in the NFL) and cornerback Richard Crawford.
"Richard has a chance to get drafted late or get in camp and get in late," he said. "They both have a chance to make it."
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