Do campus pro days make a difference? Probably not for the players who received and went through the NFL Combine last month. Guys like Nate Peterman, James Conner, Ejuan Price, etc. who had their measurables taken in that setting probably won’t do much to change things. Any changes for them in the draft board will come from private team workouts and evaluations of their game film.
For the next tier, though, it is about getting noticed. Raising an eyebrow. Getting teams to reevaluate them.
Arguably, no one did a better job of making that happen then Ryan Lewis.
Ryan Lewis always knew he was fast, but his form was flawed. He was a high school running back who never played defense until he got to Pitt, where he didn’t crack the starting lineup until his senior season.
But Lewis wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine, so he knew Pitt’s Pro Day was his final chance to show scouts, like his father, what he could do.
Ryan ran the 40-yard dash, the ultimate test of speed. Scouts clocked Lewis at 4.35 seconds his first time, then at 4.32.
“It was a surprise for me,” [proud dad and director of pro scouting for the Kansas City Chiefs] Will Lewis said. “I was thinking he’d run in the mid- to low-4.4s. When he was 4.32, everybody looks at their watch and then looks at you.”
All thinking the same thing: Ryan Lewis just made some money.
Thirty NFL teams were represented, including Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, on Wednesday at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side. They came to see Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman, running back James Conner or linemen Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson. They left buzzing about Ryan Lewis.
A Pitt cornerback was probably the last player expected to turn heads, considering that the Panthers finished next-to-last nationally in pass defense. But Lewis comes with pedigree, as the son of then-Seattle Seahawks vice president of football operations; nephew of former Pitt cornerback Tim Lewis, a first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in 1983 and former Steelers defensive coordinator; and cousin of former Panthers Louis Riddick, Ian Riddick and Tristan Roberts.
Man, you want to talk about one of the great Pitt families. They get overlooked. Maybe because they aren’t from Pittsburgh and/or didn’t stay in the area. But I’m not sure you can find a bloodline in Pitt’s history that has covered so many different periods.
Good for Ryan Lewis. At the very least he is going to get a chance somewhere as an undrafted free agent.
But what Nathan Peterman noticed was that even when someone like seldom-used William & Mary receiver Kevin Hart — no, not the comedian, but the Seton-LaSalle High School graduate — lifted alongside Pitt’s NFL hopefuls, there was one voice booming and imploring others to be just as supportive of Hart as they would their own.
Yes, even on Pitt’s annual pro day — an individual activity by nature, as draft prospects work out for NFL teams — James Conner’s presence was felt.
“Guys he just met today, he’s rooting them on, getting our whole team to cheer for them,” Peterman said. “He’s probably one of the favorite guys I’ve played with. Maybe we’ll get another chance one day to play with each other. … I’ve never seen a guy like him.”
Stop being so goddamn perfect that it makes the rest of us look so small and petty.
Standing outside the circle of NFL people, Narduzzi looked and talked like a proud father. Six of his players – Conner, Peterman, offensive linemen Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson, tight end Scott Orndoff and defensive end Ejuan Price — were at the NFL Combine and look like they could get drafted.
Asked what that would mean to his program, Narduzzi was honest.
“It would mean we probably should have won more games this year,” he said.
Said every Pitt fan after (almost) every loss this past season.
“It would be great for the University of Pittsburgh and for this program to have that many guys drafted.
“We just want to keep matching that with winning football games.”
It would definitely help, and yes.