Pro Day was huge opportunity for Ole Miss draft prospects to showcase their talents
OXFORD – Hugh Freeze called Monday’s Pro Day at the University of Mississippi a “great day” for Ole Miss Football. It was also an important day for all the Rebels who have aspirations of playing in the National Football League.
While the stars of the 2013 Ole Miss recruiting class—Laremy Tunsil, Robert Nkemdiche and Laquon Treadwell—are expected to be taken in the first round of next month’s NFL Draft, a number of their former teammates such as defensive backs Chief Brown and Mike Hilton and safety Trae Elston are still in the process of fulfilling their NFL dreams.
Monday was the perfect opportunity for some of the other very talented Ole Miss players to make a statement in front of 63 representatives from all 32 NFL teams.
Although Brown, Hilton, and Elston were not invited to the NFL Combine last month—all three showcased their speed on the practice field inside the Manning Center. In the 40-yard dash, Elston ran a 4.46; Hilton was clocked at 4.55 and Brown finished at 4.60.
“I think he (Elston), Mike Hilton and others helped themselves,” Freeze said after pro day. “It was good to see them improve their chances today.”
Hilton, the Chucky Mullins Courage Award winner and mainstay of the Ole Miss defense, started every position in the defensive backfield during his Rebel career. He started 11 of 13 games last season (five at Rover, six at Huskie), while also playing some cornerback.
Hilton was named All-SEC second team (Coaches, AP) and was chosen as a Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist. He was also selected as Ole Miss’ Most Valuable Senior by the Jackson Touchdown Club. He topped all SEC defensive backs and ranked second on the team with 12.5 tackles for losses. Hilton’s speed and agility was evident during workouts Monday.
— Evie Van Pelt (@OleMissEvie) March 28, 2016
Elston, who was tied for fourth among SEC players with four interceptions last season, thought of Monday’s Pro Day as an opportunity to show organizations his skills.
Not being invited to the NFL Combine last month motivated Elston as well as gave him a chance to continue working hard. In fact, after seeing some of his former teammates compete in the Combine, Elston—an All-America first-team selection by Sports on Earth a year ago—was even more determined to change the minds of some of the general managers and scouts in attendance.
Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Detroit have shown interest in the 5-foot-11 Oxford, Alabama native.
“Not going to a senior bowl game or not being invited to a combine really allowed me to lay back and really work hard on things,” Elston said. “While everybody else was at a senior bowl taking a week off playing football, I was training, still trying to get faster, still trying to get bigger.
“And it really showed that I have something to prove and I’m still trying to prove them now.”
— Evie Van Pelt (@OleMissEvie) March 28, 2016
Brown, who has experience on special teams and has played all three safety positions, knew he would be facing some questions about his health following injury. In June 2014, Brown tore his Achilles and missed the first eight games of the season before returning to play in the final five games as a reserve defensive back.
Last season, Brown played in every game for the Rebels with two starts at free safety. He finished with 26 tackles, six passes defended, a fumble recovery and an interception. Brown was confident he helped his draft stock with his performance in the 40-yard dash Monday.
“I just wanted to show the scouts I can still run with my torn Achilles and that I can really move well for a big guy,” said Brown, who played in 43 games in his career for the Rebels. “The scouts thought I was going to run a 4.8, high 4.7, so I guess I did pretty good out there.”
A new day dawning for the Ole Miss football program
This draft class, which consists of 19 draft prospects, was a testament to how far the football program has come under Freeze, who admitted the attendance and coverage Monday was indicative of even greater things to come for Ole Miss.
But most importantly, Freeze was happy to see the players who are trying to nail a spot on an NFL roster receive as much attention as the players who have already cemented a starting point for their professional football careers.
Ole Miss Head Coach Hugh Freeze
NFL Draft: April 28-30
The NFL Draft is set for April 28-30 in Chicago, Illinois. The last time the Rebels had multiple first-round NFL Draft selections was in 2009, when Michael Oher went 23rd overall to the Baltimore Ravens and Peria Jerry was picked 24th overall by the Atlanta Falcons.
(Feature image credit: Joshua McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)