(NFLDraftScout.com is following Jermaine Gresham's road to the NFL from the combine to his pro day workout to the draft April 22-24. This is the first in a four-part series.)
Jermaine Gresham is 6-feet-6, 257 pounds and has been timed in the 40-yard dash in less than 4.8 seconds. Simply put, he's built in the mold of the seam-busting tight ends coveted by NFL teams. The former Oklahoma star is the top-rated tight end by NFLDraftScout.com, and is expected to be a first-round pick in April.
|Gresham: 'I am looking forward to going to the combine. I'm looking forward to shedding any of those doubts about me.' (Getty Images)|
Gresham didn't play a down of football in 2009 after injuring his right knee during spring practices and then learning two days before the Sooners' season opener that he had a torn meniscus.
Since his surgery in early September, Gresham has been waiting for his next opportunity to impress scouts. He remained with the Sooners throughout the season, but shortly after Oklahoma's victory over Stanford in the Sun Bowl, Gresham arrived at the renowned Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona.
While the official API training docket ended a few days ago, giving athletes the time to spend with friends and family before the combine, Gresham has remained in Phoenix.
"I am looking forward to going to the combine," Gresham said. "I'm anxious to do the medical and prove that I'm good; that I'm the same guy I was before. I'm looking forward to shedding any of those doubts about me."
The guy "before" was a highly recruited prospect out of Ardmore High School who spurned offers from several elite programs to remain with the in-state Sooners. He set a single-season school record for tight ends with 11 touchdown catches as a sophomore in 2007, and considered leaving for the NFL Draft after his first-team All-American junior season in which he led Oklahoma with 66 catches for 950 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2008.
"[Leaving early] was something that went through my mind, I'm not going to lie," Gresham said. "And all of the individual stuff, that's great, but to us, the goal was always winning the Big 12 championship and playing for the national championship. That's how you stay hungry and driven. I love my people at Oklahoma and we felt we had a good shot. We wanted to be world champions. That's why I returned for my senior year."
Gresham's senior season ended before it started as quarterback Sam Bradford was lost a few games into the schedule and Oklahoma scuffled to an 8-5 record.
Gresham remained with the program to support his teammates, but his focus now is to prove to NFL scouts that he's the same receiving threat who forced opponents to alter their defensive game plans to account for him in 2007-08.
Like every athlete preparing for the myriad of drills at the combine, Gresham has worked on his strength, speed and explosiveness. He understands that the time everyone is going to talk about is from the 40-yard dash.
"Everyone wants to be faster, so working on the 40 is definitely something I've focused on," Gresham said. "I know that is a number that we're all going to be judged on."
Straight-line speed, however, isn't the drill he feels scouts should be focusing the most attention on. When it comes to tight ends running routes, Gresham believes their ability to get out of their breaks and accelerate is a better indicator of how they'll perform on game days.
That's why Gresham has been working extensively on changing directions. Considering his recovery from the knee surgery, he knows it's a question scouts will have about him.
Another question scouts have is whether a player with a 6-6, 257-pound frame can display the agility and quickness necessary to gain separation against NFL linebackers and safeties.
"That's why I think the three-cone drill is an important drill," Gresham said. "I think for a big guy, a lot of people will think I can't do very well in that drill. I'm pretty sure I'm going to surprise some people in that one."
He also understands that one of the knocks on him is that he isn't yet the blocker some might assume considering his size. So adding strength and refocusing on his technique as a blocker have been areas Gresham has worked on, while other prospects have focused more on drills conducive to the combine.
"I want to be an every-down guy. You don't see too many spread offenses in the league," Gresham said. "I pride myself on being able to contribute on every play, whether that means catching the ball or making a block."
Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.