ATHENS — Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno were the stars of the show, but it was Georgia’s supporting cast that made the most of its opportunity during the Bulldogs’ annual Pro Day on Thursday.
Hordes of former players, media and NFL coaches and scouts invaded Georgia’s practice facilities to clock Moreno’s latest 40-yard dash and get their first live glimpse of Stafford’s cannon arm, but more than a dozen other players used the opportunity to improve their draft stock, too.
“It was a good opportunity because it puts the spotlight on you when it’s actually on somebody else, and you have to take full advantage of it,” said wide receiver Demiko Goodman, whose impressive 40 time and nearly 11-foot broad jump turned the heads of some NFL scouts Thursday. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
While the crowd came for Stafford and Moreno, the two Georgia superstars didn’t do much Thursday, participating in just a few of the day’s workouts. Both players garnered plenty of attention during the NFL combine a month ago, and neither was likely to drastically alter scouts’ perceptions of their games with their Pro Day performance.
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The multitude of Bulldogs hoping to work their way from late-round selections or undrafted free agents, however, used the day to open the eyes of NFL decision makers who came to see Stafford and Moreno.
“We all knew Matthew and Knowshon would have a lot of people and media attention, and all you can do is just feed off that,” said wide receiver Kenneth Harris, who earned some oohs and aahs from onlookers while hauling in passes from Stafford at the end of Thursday’s festivities. “Coming from the bottom where I’m going to have to come from, it can only help you.”
Georgia head coach Mark Richt called Thursday a job interview for the dream of a lifetime. Stafford and Moreno, however, were already all but hired for the job. The only question was where their office would be.
For Goodman and Harris, however, Pro Day was the first look they had gotten from many NFL teams. Neither was invited to the combine, and they weren’t expected to hear their names called on draft day. After showing their skills tracking down Stafford’s passes in front of a massive audience that included NFL head coaches and general managers, that could change.
Safety CJ Byrd started every game for the Bulldogs last season, but he hadn’t created much buzz among scouts since wrapping up his college career in January. With a brilliant 41-inch vertical jump and impressive agility workouts, Byrd may have helped himself more than anyone on the field Thursday.
“He was the one guy that jumped out at me,” ESPN NFL draft expert Todd McShay said. “He’s not the best turn-and-run safety, but when you look at those numbers, there’s obviously potential there. He probably went from being a possible undrafted guy to someone that could move up to the fifth round.”
Beyond the on-field opportunities, many players simply used Thursday as a chance to shake hands with coaches and spend some time talking with scouts.
At the combine, hundreds of draft hopefuls flock to Indianapolis in hopes of impressing NFL scouts, but with so many players on the field, it’s easy to fade into the background.
“I felt like I met just about every team at the combine, but it’s so quick, so every time you get a chance to talk to somebody and meet them again, it can really help you,” fullback Brannan Southerland said.
Richt said Thursday’s event was the most attended Pro Day since he arrived at Georgia in 2001, and Stafford and Moreno deserved the credit for bringing so much fanfare to Athens.
But strength and conditioning coach Dave Van Halanger used the hype surrounding his superstars to create buzz for everyone else, so he held Stafford’s throwing routine until the end of the day’s workouts to ensure everyone had a chance to show off.
“I wanted all our guys to be seen by everybody,” Van Halanger said. “When our guys had the opportunity, they competed. In the weight room, in the 40, in the position drills, they brought their game up to another level.”
After Stafford finished throwing 50 passes to Goodman, Harris, Mohamed Massaquoi and Tripp Chandler, a sea of media members flocked to meet him at midfield. He stood in the middle, surrounded by cameras and answered dozens of questions about his arm strength and draft stock with little emotion.
Stafford had gotten used to being the center of attention. He was just happy to have a chance to divert a bit of it to his former teammates for a few hours.
“It’s great for them and I’m happy to do it,” Stafford said. “Those are my boys, and I wouldn’t have anybody else catching for me. If somebody stuck around to see me throw and they got to see Kenneth or Demiko or got another look at Mo, that’s great.”