UCLA prospects hope Chip Kelly’s training will translate to NFL draft success
Since announcing his departure from UCLA in January, Greg Dulcich wowed scouts from Mobile, Ala., to Indianapolis. The tight end starred at the Senior Bowl and ran the fifth-fastest 40-yard dash within his position group at the NFL combine this year in Lucas Oil Stadium. Reporters lined up to speak to him at a podium in the NFL stadium.
Where Dulcich, a former walk-on from St. Francis High in La Cañada Flintridge, feels most comfortable is the 80-yard practice field on UCLA’s campus. With the NFL draft coming in five weeks, Dulcich returned Tuesday, as he and fellow top UCLA prospects such as receiver Kyle Philips and offensive lineman Sean Rhyan headlined UCLA’s pro day hoping to reverse the recent trend of limited draft success in Westwood.
UCLA’s pipeline to the NFL was reduced to a slow trickle the last three years. After getting 18 players drafted between 2016 and 2018, the Bruins had just six in Chip Kelly’s first three seasons. No Bruin has been drafted in the first round since quarterback Josh Rosen and offensive lineman Kolton Miller in 2018.
The first-round drought will likely continue this season as no UCLA player is projected to hear his name called on the first day of the draft. But Dulcich, whose 17.3-yards-per-catch average was third among the nation’s tight ends, is the No. 2 prospect at his position, according to CBS Sports. After impressing scouts at the combine in Indianapolis, the 6-foot-4, 243-pound Glendale native opted out of general drills Tuesday to focus on position-specific drills that showed his route running, athleticism and catching skills.
Through Senior Bowl practices and the combine, Dulcich said he met with all 32 teams. They commented on his ability to stretch the field vertically and appreciated the way he worked his way up from a walk-on to go-to star, but he left the biggest mark with his knowledge of the game.
“They’re impressed by how well I know our whole offense,” Dulcich said. “You talk to teams like, ‘You wouldn’t imagine how many guys we talk to and they just don’t really have as good of a grasp as you [UCLA] guys.’ And that’s a credit to Coach Kelly.”
Kelly, who watched Tuesday’s workouts in the background alongside his large black dog, has been known as an offensive guru since his Oregon teams revolutionized college football more than a decade ago. This draft class will be UCLA’s first that’s predominantly composed of Kelly’s recruits.
Dulcich and Philips said they did a joint interview with the Philadelphia Eagles this week when they were quizzed on information from a packet they received in advance. Philips, a speedy 5-11 slot receiver who led the team with 59 catches for 739 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, answered questions about his role during certain play calls. Dulcich was expected to say whether Philips was correct.
The format was similar to what the Bruins called their “48-hour question game” where coaches quizzed players 48 hours before each game for detailed explanations of plays and formations. They had to answer in front of the entire team and coaching staff.
“That was honestly more nerve-wracking than anything I’ve had to do with [NFL] teams,” Philips said. “So I felt very well prepared.”
While top prospects such as Philips, Dulcich and Rhyan — who was quickly whisked away to a series of interviews after his workout Tuesday — used their pro days as another opportunity to impress scouts they have already met, many of their former teammates were making their first post-college impressions.
The need to have a near-perfect pro day performance created months of anxiety for Ethan Fernea, a career backup who bounced between receiver and running back who earned a scholarship after beginning as a walk-on under former coach Jim Mora.
“I feel like there’s not as much stress because, for the last three months, you’re just kinda, ‘Am I gonna run this time? Am I doing enough? Am I working hard enough?’ It’s a constant internal battle,” Fernea said. “And so now that the pro day’s over, I feel like there’s a big weight lifted off me and at this point, it’s just stay hopeful.”
The Jacksonville Jaguars have the No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft, which will be held April 28-30 in Las Vegas.
Fernea said he’s open to playing any position an NFL team asks of him. He scored a meeting with a scout from the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday, but it was short.
The scout told the NFL hopeful that he would be in touch.
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