Two Bruins are a month away from hoping to hear their name called at the 2021 NFL Draft. UCLA Football Pro Day gave running back Demetric Felton and defensive lineman Osa Odighizuwa their chance to show off their skills in front of NFL scouts. With no NFL Combine this year, the pro days across the country have become more critical.
The players held Zoom-format media sessions after the workouts. Indoor dining at restaurants is allowed in LA County. Gyms and barbershops are open. Even the libraries at UCLA are open to limited numbers and the in-person classrooms on campus have expanded in numbers. But a handful of media people socially distanced on an outside field was untenable for UCLA. Thus, we are left to get the information on how they performed from the horses’ mouths.
UCLA Football Pro Day
2020 pro days were cancelled across the country as the severity of the COVID pandemic started to become clear. The loss of the close-up work outs for those who did not get invited to the 2020 NFL combine hurt some draft stock positions. Agents told us last year, they were told by scouts that players dropped a round or two, or out of the draft, if they did not have the chance for the “individual” workouts.
This year, the in-person NFL Combine was a COVID casualty. Digital workouts and meetings were held with the players. For whatever downside there was to not watching offensive linemen run the 40 yard dash, it did mean that more players got invited to participate. But it also put a greater emphasis on the pro day workouts across the country in March.
Thirty of the 32 NFL teams were present at UCLA’s Wasserman football facility Tuesday. That’s not a bad turn out considering the team was 3-4 on the season and had only two players working out for the scouts. It is a testament to the talent they came to see.
Felton said he ran 4.58 40-yard dash during the drills. Speed is not the challenge for him. Position is. He was primarily a receiver in the 2019 season, with 55 receptions for 594 yards and four touchdowns. With Joshua Kelley gone to the NFL, he converted to the starting running back spot in 2020. In only six games he averaged more than five yards a carry for 665 yards and five touchdowns. He was also still a viable receiver with 22 catches and three touchdowns.
Comparisons between the two seasons for the sake of determining a future position are pointless. The scenarios in the two seasons were dramatically different. What was more valuable was Felton’s time in January in Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl. He played out wide, he played in the slot, and he had some carries in the week of workouts. His versatility is what is going to get him a shot in the NFL. “I feel like the league us transitioning to mismatches, trying to create mismatches,” Felton said. “If you put me against a linebacker, there is no way he is going to be able to cover me. And when I was at the Senior Bowl, I was able to show that I can get open against DB’s as well.”
Some Friendly Help From A Guy Who Knows
A key at the next level is getting playmakers the ball in space. Felton said he is confident he can create that space for himself.
Felton said UCLA running backs coach DeShaun Foster was an asset in preparing for that Senior Bowl week. “While I went to the Senior Bowl as a receiver, he was still helping me out with drills to still work on my running back play so that I didn’t lose that part of my game.” It is going to matter if versatility is the key to his future in the NFL.
Odighizuwa was happy the big day of performing in front of the NFL scouts was finally here. It has been a long haul through the uncertainty of the 2020 season. Even with the shortened season his per game stats were a step up from the previous season. In seven games he averaged 4.2 tackles per game, had six tackles for loss and four quarterback sacks. Each of those is better on a per-game average than the 2019 season.
“I feel like it was a long time coming, so I am glad that I got to be able to have the opportunity to show what I can do,” Odighizuwa said. He knows what the challenges will be at the next level. “Everyone in the NFL is athletic and strong and fast. The difference is really what you have between the ears.” He said he believes the strong worth ethic he showed at UCLA will be a difference maker for him.
His People Have Been There Before
Odighizuwa has been working out with personal trainers in San Diego since January. He said he is fully aware of what is at stake. “This opportunity is huge, and you only get one opportunity at it,” he said. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, so you’ve got to take full advantage of it.”
He is aided by having seen his older brother, Owa go through it. Owa Odighizuwa was drafted out of UCLA in the third round of the 2015 by the New York Giants. Osa says his older brother has told him some guys take a break after pro days and the recommendation is to do the opposite. “Obviously you need to take care of your body and recover but you can’t rest until the draft and then try to get back into football shape.”
We have talked with three scouts, who would not put their names on the record. They have told us they see Odighizuwa going in the fourth round, possibly at the 12th defensive tackle taken. Considering there are Outland Trophy finalists on the defensive tackle list ahead of him, that would be a big landing spot for him. They say he would need to add weight/strength to his 6-2, 280 pound frame to be a three-down defensive tackle. The trick is not to do it to a point of risking his high-end athleticism.
As for Felton, we have been told that his draft stock rose after the Senior Day week of workouts and game day performance. Projections have him anywhere from a mid-fourth round pick to as high as the late third round.
Felton says he got advice from the NFL teams about his projections. “If anything they tell me just don’t listen anything the media is talking about. They say, ‘You know they’re not in the meeting rooms. They don’t know how much we’re talking about you in our meetings. So just keep working hard and it is what it is on draft day.’”
Not listening to the media is often sound advice for young athletes.