Due to COVID-19, for the second year in a row, there will be no NFL Combine, so instead, players are having their own hometown Underwear Olympics in an even more important version of their university pro days than we are used to seeing.
The Ohio State Buckeyes held their cattle call on Tuesday, and 14 players participating to some degree in strength, speed, and agility drills — which often do little to show how good of a football player you are — and also position-specific drills to show what they are capable of in non-contact, non-game practice sessions.
The Buckeyes participating in the event were Tuf Borland, Baron Browning, Drue Chrisman, Jonathan Cooper, Wyatt Davis, Luke Farrell, Justin Fields, Blake Haubeil, Jake Hausmann, Justin Hilliard, C.J. Saunders, Trey Sermon, Tommy Togiai, and Pete Werner.
Shaun Wade, who desperately needs to impress NFL scouts and decision-makers following a sub-standard season on the outside will be holding his own pro day later in the spring, as he is currently rehabbing a turf toe injury.
Ohio State has anywhere from 8 to 12 players who very easily could hear their names called when the NFL returns to a semi-normal Draft Day with some fans and players in attendance as picks are announced in Cleveland from April 29 through May 1.
So, let’s run through some of what we learned on OSU’s Pro Day, from the workouts, drills, coverage, and interviews.
Quarterback Justin Fields
As is always the case, the player garnering the most attention before, during, and after the pro day festivities was the quarterback; in this case, Justin Fields.
In terms of the measurables, Fields is no doubt a specimen:
Hand: 9 1/8
Arm: 32 4/8
Wingspan: 74 1/8
After the QB was fully measured, it was time to run. Reports had been “leaking out,” that the fleet-footed Fields was hoping to run a 40-yard dash time in the 4.3s. Unfortunately, he did not meet his goal, but his unofficial 4.43 on his first attempt was still incredibly impressive.
Fields slipped a bit coming out of the block on his second shot at the 40, but still managed a 4.45. The QB admitted afterwards that he was a bit disappointed with his times, but thought that the rest of his performances on the day were “solid.” His official time was the best for a QB since Robert Griffin III’s 4.33 nine years ago.
Next up was the throwing portion of the proceedings. During his session, Fields kept up an impressive pace, throwing the ball much more frequently than we are use to seeing in these pro day sessions. The script had him throwing to tight ends, running backs, and wide receivers, often with faux pressure coming at him from different angles.
He was asked to make quick timing-throws over the middle, deep outs to the sidelines, scrambling passes across his body, and more, but what will likely be talked about and replayed more than anything else will be his precision deep balls.
While that bomb is impressive, this next one might be the best passes of any pro day this year — yeah, I’m looking at you Zach Wilson. This one came late in his 20+ minute throwing session — maybe his second or third to last throw — and resulted in audible cheers from the folks in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, and bouquets of platitudes on TV.
Of this throw, Ryan Day said afterwards, “As a former quarterback, I might’ve broken my hip [out] on that one.”
While Fields certainly has things that he needs to improve upon to become an elite NFL quarterback, arm strength, accuracy, and athleticism are not among them. But, in talking to former Buckeye Joshua Perry on the Big Ten Network after he was done throwing, Fields didn’t talk about those strengths when asked what he brings to a team, instead he focused on his leadership and intangibles as to what he will add to whatever franchise ends up picking him.
"They're going to get a leader."— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) March 30, 2021
Take the Pro Day standout's word for it - @JustnFields spoke with fellow @OhioStateFB alum @RIP_JEP following his impressive performance Tuesday. pic.twitter.com/2EGvJMJwsM
When all was said and done, scouts and analysts alike were gushing about Fields’ performance. I was flipping between the always slobbering praise on BTN and the NFL Network, and while the latter found ways to push the narrative that Fields has deficiencies in his game, they admitted that they weren’t things that would show up in a pro day, and Fields might have had the best performance of the entire off-season.
Even ESPN’s Louis Riddick was impressed by what he saw on TV:
In the context of what pro days are/ what they aren’t, Justin Fields was today. Even more importantly, what I loved most was what his coaches said about Justin and where he is at in his development. With good #NFL staff, he is going to be a star. Super impressive young man.— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) March 30, 2021
And NFL Draft reporter Matt Miller said that even though everybody was masked up, scouts were still talking about how impressed they were by Fields’ performance:
Just had a scout text me from the Ohio State pro day.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 30, 2021
“That was the best QB workout I’ve seen in a while”@justnfields
Will that be enough for him to jump the incredible, monumental, generat talents of BYU’s Wilson, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, and Alabama’s Mac Jones? Who knows, but after some idiotic mock drafts have Fields falling to the mid or late first round, it was hard not to take some pleasure in seeing the Buckeye show just how special of a talent that he is.
Defensive Tackle Tommy Togiai
Look, Tommy Togiai is strong, like legendarily strong. So, he came into Tuesday’s pro day with some really big goals, specifically in the bench press. Though he ended up being a “little disappointed” in his performance, Togiai threw up a monstrous 40 reps of 225 pounds on the bench.
Oregon State’s Stephen Paea holds the NFL Combine bench press record with 49 reps back in 2011, but Togiai’s 40 would have been the most for any defensive player at the 2020 combine; seven more than former teammate DaVon Hamilton’s 33.
Togiai also used the event as an opportunity to raise money for Ohio State’s LiFEsports initiative. With 40 reps down, he raised $3,600 for the cause.
While he did get to his goal of 50 in the bench, Tommy was pleased with his showing in the 40-yard dash. “Everyone thinks I’m just strong, but I got speed that comes with it,” he said.
The DT ran a 4.97 on his second attempt (5.05 on his first). When you put that together with his bench press, you realize this dude is an absolute freak.
Arm: 33 1/4
Wingspan: 79 1/4
Vertical Jump: 32”
Broad Jump: 8’9”
Linebacker Baron Browning
Another Buckeye who turned some heads at pro day was Baron Browning. Though his time in Columbus has been oft-hampered by injuries, on Tuesday, he showed why he has always been intriguing to fans; he is ridiculously athletic.
Weighing in at a svelte 245, Browning ran a pair of impressive 40s, putting up a 4.58 and 4.59 in consecutive attempts, but he wasn’t done there. In the vertical jump, Browning clocked a whopping 40” and then on the broad jump, he came in at 10’10”.
Hand: 9 7/8
Arm: 33 1/2
Bench Press: 23
If you throw that in with some impressive drill work, Browning could be working his way up a lot of draft boards. “I think it helped me a lot,” Browning said. “I’m just glad I did what I did and made it out healthy.”
Linebacker Pete Werner
Another linebacker who might have impressed some folks with his athleticism is Pete Werner. Despite the fact that he has been a Buckeye for the past 27 seasons, his unique set of abilities has never really been appreciated, despite the fact that multiple defensive coaching staffs have trusted him to be the main constant in the LB corps.
Arm: 33 1/4
Wingspan: 79 1/4
40-yard Dash: 4.64/4.58
Vertical Jump: 39.5”
Broad Jump: 10’2”
Bench Press: 20
He also had a pretty good day in his position specific drills as well. One thing that Werner will be able to show NFL teams is that he is able to play multiple linebacker positions. In his interview session, he said that while he enjoyed his experience playing in the box in 2020, he knows that his skills allow him to play in space as well. The speed he showed on Tuesday might just allow him to do that at the next level.
Running Back Trey Sermon
Another player for which Tuesday was very important was Trey Sermon. After he morphed into Eddie George during the stretch run of the 2020 season, he was injured on the first play of the National Championship Game in January. So, the running back needed to have a good day on Tuesday to show NFL teams that he is ready to hit the ground running (pun intended) as soon as he is drafted.
“I feel like I showed what I was capable of,” Sermon said. “I’m proud of what I did today;” and he should be. The Oklahoma transfer put up some eye-popping numbers, especially in the jumping and three-cone drills.
Hand: 9 3/8
Arm: 33 3/8
Wingspan: 77 1/8
40-yard Dash: 4.60/4.57
Vertical Jump: 37”
Broad Jump: 10’5”
After the day’s festivities, Day said that one thing that Sermon has going for him that will be attractive for NFL teams is that despite putting up impressive numbers in his career, at both OU and Ohio State, he has always been a part of running back stables, so there is still plenty of tread left on his tires.
Alright, let’s wrap this up with the rest of the measurables, drill results, and some of the interview highlights for the other Buckeyes participating in the pro day.
Defensive End Jonathon Cooper
Hand: 9 5/8
Arm: 32 1/8
Wingspan: 77 1/4
40-yard Dash: 4.75/4.69
Vertical Jump: 33”
Broad Jump: 9’
Bench Press: 28
Cooper said that he has talked to NFL teams about moving to outside linebacker in 3-4 defensive schemes, even though he has played on the edge for his entire collegiate career. He knows that his size and speed make him a bit of a ‘tweener at the next level.
Linebacker Tuf Borland
Hand: 9 7/8
Arm: 33 3/8
Wingspan: 75 1/2
40-yard Dash: 4.98/4.99
Vertical Jump: 32.5”
Broad Jump: 9’1”
Bench Press: 15
Punter Drue Chrisman
Hand: 9 1/2
Arm: 33 1/8
Offensive Lineman Wyatt Davis
Hand: 9 1/8
Arm: 33 7/8
Wingspan: 79 1/2
Bench Press: 25
During his session with the media, Davis confirmed that rehabing his injured knee has been his priority since the end of the season— which is why didn’t do any of the drills — but that he was pleased with what he was able to show on his pro day.
Tight End Luke Farrell
Hand: 9 1/4
Wingspan: 78 7/8
40-yard Dash: 4.79/4.79
Vertical Jump: 36.5”
Broad Jump: 9’10”
Bench Press: 12
Linebacker Justin Hilliard
Hand: 8 7/8
Arm: 31 3/8
Wingspan: 75 1/4
40-yard Dash: 4.84/4.81
Vertical Jump: 34.5”
Broad Jump: 9’6”
Bench Press: 27
Offensive Lineman Josh Myers
Hand: 10 3/8
Wingspan: 77 3/8
Bench Press: 29
Cornerback Shaun Wade
Hand: 9 1/4
Arm: 33 1/2