The NFL Draft draws ever closer (as a reminder, it’s scheduled to be held from April 29th to May 1st), and the month ahead of it, in lieu of a potentially super-spreading Combine, colleges are holding Pro Days for teams to send personnel to to watch their favorite prospects go through anthropometric testing and position drills, as well as get a chance to talk to them and their coaches. Some of them have already happened, and revealed some eye-popping results (Pro Day numbers being treated as official instead of adjusted for home-field advantage is definitely going to skew some numbers this year), like defensive end Micah Parsons reportedly running a sub-4.40 40-yard dash at 250+ pounds earlier today. UNC is holding theirs on the later end of things, on March 29th, and, like some of the other big ones, it will be televised: on NFL Network, according to this Tweet from UNC Football:
Excited to welcome Steve Smith Sr. and the @nflnetwork crew to Chapel Hill for our Pro Day on March 29.— Carolina Football (@TarHeelFootball) March 23, 2021
They’ll have coverage on all their shows throughout the day. #CarolinaFootball #ProHeels pic.twitter.com/uaIAcFeQ7c
Longish-time fans of North Carolina sports will be happy to see a familiar face in the embedded picture, that of Steve Smith Sr: arguably the greatest Carolina Panther of all time (he’s certainly top 4, and quibbling about the order is a project for another place and time). Smith’s been an entertaining presence on NFL Network for several years now, with some really on-point draft takes (correctly identifying Cooper Kupp as the breakout receiver of his draft class) and some fairly incorrect ones (saying D.J. Moore had a PhD in route running when that was the primary thing he wasn’t really good at), but always offering unique insight into what it takes to make it in the NFL as a player and person. He’s been a mainstay in Charlotte public life since his retirement from the NFL, so it’s cool to see him expanding his reach a little bit into UNC. He may have some unique insights into at least one of UNC’s Pro Day participants, Dyami Brown, who is both a player at his position of expertise and someone from Charlotte, where Smith might have some ties. Whatever we get, it’s not going to be a boring broadcast with Smitty on the air.
As a reminder and refresher, UNC has 5 players with serious draft aspirations: running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, wide receivers Brown and Dazz Newsome, and off-ball linebacker Chazz Surratt. I wrote an initial primer on their draft expectations in January, and some things have changed since then, but not a whole lot. Brown and Carter have seen their stock rise relatively dramatically compared to the rest. Brown seems to be more and more a sure thing to be taken on Day 2, if not the second round, and is generally making a name for himself as one of Draft Twitter’s primary crushes. We’ll hold off on our own draft breakdowns until after the Pro Day, but I’ll say that to me, it’s absolutely warranted. Carter’s also getting positive buzz that’s making those lofty RB4 placements that I called “too rich” at the time a lot more common. He also gave a fantastic interview to The Draft Network that I encourage you to check out — it dropped on Monday.
Williams and Surratt have stayed pretty much where they’ve been, but as they’re projected near the top of their position groups, that’s not super surprising. Surratt participated in House of Athletes’ combine earlier this month, and his 40-yard dash was notable for some people for being slower than people expected: a hand-timed 4.7 + that was adjusted to an official time of 4.64 later, according to Paige Dimakos. One of his primary selling points at the next level is his athleticism and sideline-to-sideline potential, so I’m sure he’ll look to improve on that time on Monday. On the other hand, he put up 27 reps on the bench press, which is pretty outstanding for the position. It will be interesting to see how all of these prospects test: Carter has now put out that he expects to run a sub-4 second short shuttle, which would be in about the 99.9th percentile for all draft prospects that Mockdraftable has tracked. If he can make good on that promise, that’s really exciting. Everybody else has some nagging speed questions. Dazz Newsome, to make a name for himself as a late-day slot receiver who can outperform his draft spot, will have to do similarly with his agility testing as well as prove that he has functional long speed. Brown, the deep threat, will have to show his long speed is closer to great than just good, and Williams, known more for his yards after contact and toughness than for breaking away from defenders, will have to prove that he’s at least fast enough to thrive in the NFL. For all of them, drills aren’t going to make or break them, but they are going to be able to answer some questions and make it less likely that they fall unexpectedly.
Just as important, of course, is who comes to the Pro Day, which we won’t know until the day of. Players have already been interviewing with teams over Zoom and such in lieu of private visits, which has made it impossible for Twitter detectives to guess at who’s interested in who. Carter said he’s been talking to basically everybody, but that’s not really news, because a Zoom call takes about zero actual investment in a prospect. We’ll have more on that after the day happens, as well as a recap of all the important numbers and moments from the day. Again, it’s going to be on Monday, all day, on NFL Network.