UCLA Pro Day Produces Tough-to-Believe 40-Yard Dashes
(Credit: Facebook.com/UCLAFootball)

If you believe UCLA’s pro day numbers, then the Westwood campus must hold some sort of magic elixir.

Just two weeks after the NFL combine, four Bruin participants each improved their 40-yard dash times by roughly 0.20 seconds Tuesday. Not only that, but six players — including two who have been out of competitive football for a year — clocked sub-4.40-second times at Spaulding Field. As a reference point, there were just seven sub-4.40 times at the NFL combine last month.

The most glaring names: wide receiver Shaq Evans (4.32), who isn’t known for blistering speed; running back Damien Thigpen (4.36), who missed most of his senior season due to injury; safety Stan McKay (4.38), known more for an on-field proposal than his play; and defensive back Brandon Sermons (4.39), who only started four games in his career.

Even 2013 prospects Aaron Hester and Jerry Johnson left with eye-popping numbers. Neither caught on with an NFL roster last season, but came back this week and recorded 4.37 and 4.31 showings, respectively.

Head coach Jim Mora understood that many might be dubious.

“People are going to hear that and go, ‘That’s insane. You don’t have that many fast guys,’” he said. “Once again, these are electronic times. If I were out there scouting, I’d be like, ‘Ehh, I don’t know about that.’ But once again, those are pretty true times.”

The glut of sub-4.40 times also cast some doubt on the other numbers as well. All-America linebacker Anthony Barr, a potential top-10 pick, reportedly ran a 4.47-second dash last spring on campus. That ticked up to 4.65 seconds in Indianapolis last month, then dropped back down to 4.45 on Tuesday.

Scouts typically rely on their own hand-timed numbers, so these most recent pro day numbers may not have much effect beyond creating headlines. That said, even the NFL’s own 40-yard dash timing process is far from transparent.

Combine comparison

Through his two-plus decades on various NFL staffs, Mora learned that college pro days were a little more useful to him than the NFL combine.

“You got to get your hands on them,” he said. “You got to spend more time with them. They were in their environment. At the combine, it’s typical that those guys might get three to four hours of sleep a night. It’s really hard to perform well at the combine.

“What the combine is, is an opportunity to get all the prospects under one roof. ... You’re getting a consistency. But I always thought it was the pro day that I put more stock in.”

Bombs away

Jordan Zumwalt is angling to be a third- or fourth-round draft pick, but he made headlines last month for a different reason: his language.

The fiery linebacker ran a 4.76 40-yard dash in the NFL combine in February, a performance that left him spitting out expletives before he was even finished.

“I didn’t anticipate that they’d be so zoomed in on my face,” he said Tuesday. “I didn’t think that was going to happen. That’s not running through my head as I’m running the 40.”

Zumwalt was much happier with his showing at UCLA’s pro day. He ran the same drill in 4.61 seconds.

“No need for the F-word here,” he said.


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