With the 2021 NFL Draft less than a month away and the in-person combine eliminated due to COVID-19, individual pro days are more important than ever. Testing well in front of team scouts has always been a key factor in draft order, even if pro days don't always tell you much more than that. They're the perfect environment to showcase skills, and that's about it.
While you can't take everything from pro days too seriously, they can produce some "wow" moments. In the last week, BYU quarterback Zach Wilson and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields -- two consensus top-10 picks -- threw practically the exact same pass at their respective pro days. Both were absurd, even against air:
That got our college football team thinking: which college football stars set to shine in the 2021 season are going to blow scouts away at their pro day next spring? Because athleticism is such a focal point, it should be no surprise that there are some crossover answers from last week's staff picks: college football players we'd like to see on the hardwood.
Chip Patterson: Oregon DE Kayvon Thibodeaux
As if the production -- being the first player to lead Oregon in sacks and tackles for loss in back-to-back seasons in more than a decade -- isn't enough to get you going, the All-American defensive lineman is going to blow scouts away at his pro day when that moment comes. It's expected that, after two wildly productive seasons in college, Thibodeaux will be making that jump after 2021. But that's not for me to project or decide. Whenever he makes that decision, the NFL will be dialed into the testing numbers for the 6-foot-5, 250-pound edge rusher. The former consensus five-star prospect has been a pass-rushing phenomenon since his early days of high school ball in Los Angeles and his athleticism was too special to keep off the field, so he also contributed as a touchdown-catching tight end. Explosion off the line, active hands and great versatility all pop on tape, so I can't imagine the pro day setting to be any less awe-inspiring.
Tom Fornelli: Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton
You don't often see safeties going early in the NFL Draft, as it's never been seen as a position of such great importance that you would use so valuable a pick on one. Jamal Adams was the last safety to go in the top 10 in 2017, and only 11 have been selected in the first round since 2015. Kyle Hamilton will join that group in 2022, and he could even join Adams as a top-10 pick. He's one of those players who combines all the eye-popping stuff you see off the field in workouts with legitimate production on the field. In an era where defenders need to be more versatile, Hamilton is a glimpse into the safety position's future.
Ben Kercheval: Miami (FL) QB D'Eriq King
I truly can't believe that, given the baseline of this piece was two quarterbacks throwing insane passes in a controlled environment, no one else picked King. No, he doesn't possess the ideal size for the position at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds (listed). But prototypical size isn't the catch all for quarterback evaluation like it used to be. I also attribute his decision to return for one more NCAA-granted year based on this year's loaded quarterback class.
King is a twitchy athlete and he showed off some nice ball placement on his throws last year, including times when he was rolling to his left. He doesn't possess the pure live arm that Kyler Murray, another undersized quarterback, does, but he makes up for it with his mobility. Next year's quarterback class figures to be a step back. I think when scouts see King's athleticism in person, his stock will rise considerably.
Barrett Sallee: Ohio State WR Garrett Wilson
Garrett Wilson burst on the scene as a true freshman in 2019, which included a ridiculous leaping grab over Derion Kendrick in the Fiesta Bowl national semifinal against Clemson. Yeah, that's just what he does. He has hands like velcro, hops like LeBron and, in addition to being one of the top receiving prospects in the country, could probably make a run at the NBA if he really wanted. He will be the darling of the draft process and make one NFL team very happy in 2022.