With no pro day, USC’s Christian Rector and Drew Richmond hope they’ve done enough for NFL scouts
For months, they built it up as the moment their draft fortunes would change, obsessing and meticulously preparing for when it finally came.
Christian Rector had been counting on USC’s pro day since the draft process began. He knew it was his best chance to show his progress. He was stronger now. Faster too. With a newfound agility he’d never quite realized as a defensive end for the Trojans.
After missing out on an invitation to the NFL combine, Rector, one of the team’s captains, was eager to prove he deserved a place in the league.
“I just needed to get in front of scouts,” Rector said.
Drew Richmond, too, had plenty to prove. The right tackle rebuilt his body since his lone season at USC ended in December. He cut fat and added muscle. His core was stronger. His balance was better. Pro day was “a chance to give [scouts] a second look,” he said.
Neither will have that chance now, with pro days across the nation canceled in the wake of COVID-19 and team officials prohibited by the NFL from visiting with prospects ahead of next month’s draft.
USC football coach Clay Helton isn’t concerned about losing spring practice time. His focus now is on keeping his players healthy.
That means no individual workouts. No top-30 team visits. No more opportunities for unheralded prospects to otherwise alter scouts’ perceptions.
On Wednesday, at 9 a.m., when scouts from every NFL team were set to descend on Cromwell Field, USC’s campus will instead remain deserted. For USC players like Michael Pittman Jr. and Austin Jackson, a canceled pro day is unlikely to impact their draft status.
But for prospects like Rector and Richmond, whose places in the draft are far from assured, it’s an especially cruel twist of fate.
“It was bad timing,” Richmond said in a phone interview. “This was my chance, my opportunity to display what I could do.”
Both prospects had a chance in January to impress NFL scouts. Richmond played in the East-West Shrine Bowl. Rector played in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. But without a combine invite, both were placing most of their stock in USC’s pro day, when they would go through the full gamut of tests.
“There’s just all this uncertainty now,” Rector said.
Last week, before Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all Californians to stay at home, USC briefly considered contingency plans that would involve one area NFL scout conducting filmed tests and workouts with local college players, all while adhering to social distancing guidelines. The details were being worked out when California’s stay-at-home order on Thursday rendered any such event impossible for USC to organize.
It didn’t stop Gary Cablayan from getting creative. The founder of EVO Sports Training set up a makeshift combine for a handful of Pac-12 players Friday at a park in Paramount. He wanted to provide an alternative to clients who might have missed out on one of their last chances to be scouted. He wasn’t the only one, either, as other impromptu, private pro days popped up around the country.
At Salud Park, Cablayan — who made sure players were kept at a proper distance — ran all the usual drills for the five prospects he was testing with a camera fixed not only on the player, but on an electronic timer as well.
For the 40-yard dash, he timed every 10-yard split, hoping to add credibility. Cablayan, who trains Philadelphia Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson, knows NFL teams might be skeptical of their results. That’s no different, he said, from some schools’ pro days.
“We tried to do it as strict as possible,” Cablayan said. “Even then, you know how it is.”
Utah running back Zack Moss came to Cablayan hoping to improve his 40 time, after his 4.65 at the combine sent his stock tumbling. On Friday, Moss ran a 4.52.
The question is how seriously teams will take those numbers. Players with no other options hope it was worth the effort.
If there’s a quarterback competition to be had at USC, it will likely be led by Kedon Slovis and JT Daniels, who are both coming back from injuries.
“We had to get something on film,” Cablayan said, “just in case in a few days, we can’t go outside anymore.”
Rector has discussed similar options with his agent. Until then, he’s trying to keep to his draft prep routine, staying as ready as he can for NFL offseason training activities that could still be canceled.
“It’s just all the uncertainty,” Rector said. “It’s tough not knowing what’s going to happen. Hopefully it clears up by the summer.”
Richmond is trying to stay as positive as possible, as USC’s scheduled pro day passes. With no more in-person testing, he wonders if scouts will lean on game tape more than usual. With four full seasons of starting experience on tape between Tennessee and USC, he wonders aloud, maybe he’ll look like the safe choice.
Until the draft, all he can do is cross his fingers.
“It’s out of my hands,” Richmond said. “For me, I’m fortunate I had the chance to play college football as much as I’ve played. Some guys haven’t played as much but would’ve displayed more on their pro day. They might get overlooked, but me, I’ve played. I’ve got film. Still, it’s unfortunate. Pro day was a time to reaffirm who I am, to add some boost to it.
“But I could be in a worse situation.”
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