March 25 MVP: MassVarsity Pre-and-Post


We attended the Boston College pro day, but due to a prior commitment, were not able to make the one at UMass.


And although we did a fairly thorough rundown of BC's, we'd like to share more thoughts of that event, and one key facet that goes for the Minutemen's Andy Isabella's workout this past week, as well.


For as much as pro days can be important for top-level guys like you see right now at BC with Chris Lindstrom and Zach Allen, they really are more useful for players who may or may not get drafted at all, but can make an impression that either changes that or earns a free-agent contract and spot in someone's camp.


Both Lindstrom and Allen played in the Senior Bowl. Both participated in the NFL Combine. Both are for sure going to get drafted. These aren't sleepers. Lindstrom and Allen at this point are known quantities who will definitely be off the board somewhere in the first two days, if not both on opening night, if everything falls a certain way.


But players like cornerback Taj-Amir Torres and wide receiver Jeff Smith did not attend either pre-draft mega-showcase, and both of them ran sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash times on pro day. Say what you will about a single, hand-timed 40-yard dash, but any time a player runs like that, he will have the attention of the man holding the stopwatch, and every single NFL team was in the Fish Field House last Wednesday.


Same for defensive lineman Ray Smith, a plugger of a tackle who at 6-foot-1, 305 pounds, ran a 4.9 40, benched 225 pounds 27 times, posted a 35-inch vertical, and a 7.28 3-cone. You put those numbers inside the combine — even accounting for the hand-timed nature of the 40 and so on — and they put Smith in the elite company of the players who performed there along the interior line.


That's where you see some real movement. A couple years ago, we went to a BC pro day in the leadup to the 2017 draft. First off, in terms of scope and participation and attention, a minor operation compared to what you saw last week.


However, there was at the time some real and since-justified interest in safety John Johnson. Other than him, though, there was no true sure-fire guy.


But linebacker Matt Milano had a terrific day, toward the end of which he had a lengthy conversation with a member of the Buffalo Bills organization. The Bills drafted him that year in the fifth round, and Milano immediately found playing time his rookie year and is a starter now.


That's what you call uncovering a diamond in the rough, and it only happens if that Bills scout sees Milano in person that day. For Torres, Jeff Smith, and Ray Smith, and others, they made dreams like that possible, and it helps that guys like Lindstrom and Allen bring so many more eyeballs to see those that are still underrated.


The "diamond in the rough" cliche segues into our next point about Isabella. At this stage, Isabella didn't necessarily need to have a stunning pro day to dramatically change his stock. Although many thought his Senior Bowl week was up and down, he produced in the game. And then, as everyone knows by now, he ran the 4.31 40 at the combine, verifying that yes, he really is as fast as he looks.


Still, Isabella crushing his pro day like he did still does matter a little more than it would have for Lindstrom and Allen, because the wide receiver continues to battle two of the toughest biases in any draft: size and name-brand recognition.


Those two things are not going to ever change about Andy Isabella, the NFL prospect. He will never be 6-5, and he will always have played at UMass, not Alabama or LSU or Miami or USC.


We will overlook, for now, the pure lunacy that some have tried to offer about level of competition, when Isabella consistently dominated against Southeastern Conference opponents over the years, as well.


Yes, Isabella is small, and that can and will be aa hindrance against certain NFL corners. Others, not so much, but there is nothing Isabella can do about that.


The part about the name-brand recognition is really something, though. As we reported last year, Isabella almost fell in the lap of Oklahoma State. Are we supposed to believe that Isabella would have struggled in the Big XII? Here's a hint: he would not have.


Yet we are supposed to believe that if Isabella had done what he did at UMass not in Amherst but in Stillwater, he would be looked at the same by scouts and evaluators?


No, sorry. Apparently it still does not work that way. It always plays a role. Just a more familiar name at one place helps.


Put it this way. The only other person to run a 4.31 at the combine was Ohio State's Parris Campbell. Instantly, he shot up in multiple mock drafts as a first-round pick. Did he have a better career than Isabella? No. Does he have better film than Isabella? Also no. Did he run as diverse a route tree as Isabella? You guessed it. No to that, as well.


We're not crazy about it every time a UMass fan cries disrespect because of stuff like this, but we feel Isabella has been fighting this battle for a long time now.


Hopefully, with a terrific pro day, this is some of the last we hear of it.


On point


Anthony Brown has made big leaps every year since he stepped on campus at The Heights. His freshman campaign showed flashes, and last year he was more consistent and efficient, even though his numbers didn't exactly jump off the page.


It appears he will make another step forward this fall, and that's encouraging news for Eagles fans. We noticed a more accurate thrower in Brown in the BC scrimmage from two Saturdays ago, and reports continue along those lines.


It basically comes down to this: we know BC will be able to run the ball on teams. AJ Dillon, when healthy, is one of the best running backs in college football, and the Eagles will be strong on the offensive line again.


Brown has shown he can dominate lower-tier secondaries and act as an adequate game manager against good defenses. Let's see if he can evolve into that next progression of difference-maker against anyone and see where the Eagles go from there.


If you have that, that seven-win ceiling the Eagles keep butting their heads against will be a thing of the past.

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