Former Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley improved his draft status after dazzling NFL personnel men at the scouting combine and at the school’s pro day.
Back in 2012, former Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill had a similarly stunning combine workout. Hill’s workouts pushed him up into the second-round of the draft. But things didn’t work out for Hill with the New York Jets and he’s now on his second team, the Carolina Panthers.
NFL teams are making their final preparations for the draft, which is set for April 30 through May 2 in Chicago.
Most teams seem to be putting more stock on the player’s game film and are trying not being swayed by amazing athletic numbers like the ones Conley put up and Hill in 2012.
“Can they catch the football is probably number one,” said San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke when asked about evaluating wide receivers. “But, they come in all different sizes, as we know, different speeds and you really try to match that guy up with your quarterback and what your quarterback’s (skills) are.”
At the combine, Conley ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds, which was tied for third best among receivers. He had a 45-inch vertical, which was three inches better than any other receiver. His broad jump on 11-feet, 7-inches was better than the rest of the receivers by seven inches.
Both the vertical jump and the broad jump were combine records for a wide receiver.
He also did 18 reps of the 225-pound bench press, which was fourth among wide receivers.
“Some teams put a premium on size,” Baalke said. “Some teams put a premium on speed.”
Last season, Conley, who was slowed by a shoulder injury, had 36 catches for 657 yards. He had just one 100-yard game, with 128 against Arkansas. He was SEC scholar-athlete of the year, but didn’t even garner honorable mention all-SEC.
His play-making ability doesn’t match the athletic gifts he showed at the combine.
Going into the scouting combine, Conley was considered the 37th ranked receiver and a seventh-rounder or undrafted free agent by nfldraftscout.com. He’s been bumped up to the 19th best receiver and now is projected to be drafted in the fourth round.
While Conley has moved up into the middle of the pack of wide receivers, former Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper is the top rated receiver in the draft followed by former West Virginia standout Kevin White.
Louisville’s Devante Parker, Central Florida’s Breshad Perriman, Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong and USC’s Nelson Agholor and all rated higher than Conley, according to ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay.
Miami’s Phillip Dorsett and Ohio State’s Devin Smith are also rated higher than Conley.
The evaluation of character will play a major role for Conley, who has exhibited leadership skills at Georgia. NFL teams know that he would be a solid learner and perhaps have a positive influence in the locker room.
“We weight (character) really heavily,” Jacksonville general manager Dave Caldwell said. “For us, there are two main points: A player has to be a culture fit or productive and ideally, we’d like to be both. Hopefully, 95 percent of our players are good culture fits and the ones that aren’t, we can develop.”
Former Missouri and Oklahoma wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is at the other end of the character spectrum with two drug related incidents and one domestic violence case.
“Dorial Green-Beckham is probably going to slip and he should because of all of the off the field issues and he’s just under developed,” McShay said. “He’s got a lot of talent.”
The former Jacksonville regime took a gamble on former Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon with the fifth overall pick in 2012. He is currently under an indefinite suspension for violating the league drug and substance abuse policy.
“Just because a player may have had a situation in the past, it’s not our job to judge,” Caldwell said. “We’ve all made mistakes. I’ve made mistakes. If they show remorse and are willing to admit the mistake and show humility and get better, we’re willing to work with those types of people.”
Overall, the wide receiver class is pretty deep.
“There are about 11 guys that I think fit in the top 40 to 45 picks in this class,” McShay said.
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