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8 Things Learned During UCF Football's Pro Day

Shaquem Griffin shined one more time in front of NFL scouts

Shaquem Griffin showed NFL scouts and coaches Thursday that he can do more than sack quarterbacks.

Photo: Derek Warden)
Shaquem Griffin showed NFL scouts and coaches Thursday that he can do more than sack quarterbacks. ))990))))) Photo: Derek Warden)

1. Shaquem Griffin is going to the NFL Draft

This was really the top story of the day. The man -- the 2016 AAC Defensive Player of the Year, the heart and soul of an undefeated national champion -- had to practically beg to get an invite to the NFL Combine. Now, the NFL has asked him to come to its draft. You better believe Griffin will be heading to Dallas. He may not be an early-round pick, but Griffin said it was a blessing just to be in attendance, and he knows that the emotions will be flowing whenever he does hear his name called.

"I cry a lot; my mom cries even more, so it's going to be a lot of crying going on," Griffin said.

2. Griffin went through DB drills

Following a standout performance at the combine, there was no need for Griffin to prove himself again in events such as the 40-yard dash or the bench press. Although he did log a 37.5-inch vertical jump Thursday, Griffin's focus was squarely on proving that can be more than just a linebacker at the next level. That's the position where Griffin made his name at UCF, but he came to Orlando as a safety. So, alongside Mike Hughes, Griffin went through defensive back drills. He dropped a few balls, but Griffin admitted those drops don't worry him. Overall, he came away pleased with his performance and with how he was able to showcase his ability to swivel his hips, backpedal and get in and out of his breaks easily.

"If I need to prove anything else, just tell me what I need to do and I'll get it done," he said.

Of course, the Griffin family already has one DB in the NFL. Former Knight and current Seattle Seahawk Shaquill Griffin was by Shaquem's side all afternoon, assuming the roles of coach and fan. Shaquem was very glad to have his twin brother inside Nicholson Fieldhouse. But make no mistake: A sibling rivalry still burns.

"I'm trying to beat him out as much as possible, and I think I'm doing a good job at it," Shaquem said right before flashing that ubiquitous million-dollar smile.

3. Jordan Akins isn't completely healthy, still performed well

Akins said that not being able to do anything on the field at the combine "sucked." He suffered a hamstring injury about 10 days before the combine, so Thursday's pro day carried a little extra importance for him. He wanted to show the scouts what they missed in Indianapolis. The 25-year-old tight end went through most of the drills and stood out in the bench press, where his 24 reps of 225 pounds surpassed what any tight end did at the combine. His 35-inch vertical would have ranked fourth among combine TEs.

However, there is still one thing the scouts still need to see from Akins: speed. However, Akins skipped the 40-yard dash Thursday because he said his hamstring isn't quite 100 percent and he didn't want to max it out. Akins did add that he would be open to running the 40 when he meets with the Kansas City Chiefs this upcoming week. He has already met with the Detroit Lions, Los Angeles Chargers and New Orleans Saints.

4. At least one NFL scout apparently hasn't watched Tre'Quan Smith

What stands out when you see Tre'Quan Smith play? The answer is easy for me: He's a 6-foot-2 wideout who plays so much taller than that because of how he can high-point passes and make tough catches in traffic with ease. I'm somewhat baffled how that isn't obvious to everyone, but it isn't. Smith said he was told at the combine that he was "not a great hands catcher."

Well, Smith did whatever he could to silence any doubters Thursday, catching, by his estimation, all but one pass thrown to him by former UCF QB Jeff Godfrey. And Smith made sure he did so with his hands.

"Every ball he threw to me, I loved it," Smith said of his day with Godfrey. "I feel like we made magic happen."

In the meantime, this video contains at least 5-6 highlights of Smith making tough hands catches last season. That's just a sampling.

5. "What kind of question is that?"

While the hands-catcher remark left me with a cockeyed expression, Smith was caught more confused by a question he was asked at the combine: "Are you guys really champs?"

Smith's response: "I said, 'What kind of question is that? Yes, we are.'"

It's pretty funny that those types of questions are still being asked more than two months after the fact.

6. Mike Hughes thinks the 40-yard dash is overrated

We can have a conversation on the value of using the combine and pro day numbers to gauge a person's NFL potential. But that's for another day. For now, allow me to present this quote from Hughes, who did not run the 40-yard dash Thursday after posting a 4.53 40 in Indianapolis.

"I definitely think the 40 gets blown up, but if you're fast, you're fast. I'm not taking that away from anybody, but some guys are just football players. You have to

put on the film to see that."

Judging a prospect based off of what he did in actual football games instead of what he did in a sanitized environment without wearing pads or fighting against live competition? Novel.

None of the four UCF players who are expected to be drafted this year -- Griffin, Hughes, Akins or Smith -- ran the 40-yard dash Thursday.

7. It's hard for Hughes to avoid the mock drafts

"They're everywhere," he said.

Hughes just wants to keep his head down and continue to work. He knows that many people have him pegged as a first-round pick. One such mock had him getting the call at No. 8 overall. The noise is difficult to ignore, more so as Hughes' friends and family keep sending him the latest draft projections. His response is simple.

"Oh, yeah. I saw that, dude. That's great." Hughes said in the most monotone voice available.

Hughes hasn't received an invitation to the draft but might be just a few weeks away from becoming a very rich man. That's not on his mind. Hughes is spending his time thinking about how he can be more like the player around whom he'd like to model his game: seven-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson.

8. Shaquem Nation is real

In the end, Thursday was no different than most of the past six weeks for UCF Football: It was all about Shaquem. I couldn't get a good view of him from the designated media area, but it was easy to keep track of where he was on the field. All you had to do was locate the massive circle of scouts, general managers and coaches moving as a single unit around the fieldhouse.

As Griffin is surrounded by NFL personnel, he knows he's got plenty of supporters at his back, too. Not just his friends, family, teammates and UCF fans; Griffin knows that his fan base, much like his story over the past couple of months, has gone national.

"I was disappointed that I wasn't invited (to the combine) at first, but I think I did enough work for me to get a chance to get an invite," he said. "But it wasn't just me; I had an entire nation behind my back."

This groundswell of support has been "amazing" to Shaquem, and it's not going anywhere. Not as Griffin continues to overcome any challenge with dogged determination and continues to showcase a heart that is as big and bright as that smile. Both were on display Thursday.