NFL Teams Scour Regional Combine in Kansas City for Draft Diamonds in the Rough

Nov 17, 2018; Stillwater, OK, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys wide receiver Tyron Johnson (13) makes a catch for a touchdown while defended by West Virginia Mountaineers safety Josh Norwood (4) during the second half at Boone Pickens Stadium.© Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Small-college stars, overlooked Power Five contributors find opportunity at NFL Regional Combine

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The two dozen former college players on the field at the Chiefs training for Saturday's NFL Regional Combine came from all different schools, backgrounds and experiences, but quarterback Vincent Testaverde summed up succinctly why the opportunity means so much to each of them.

“It's really my one shot,” said Testaverde, who finished his college career last season at Albany. “I'm not a Combine invite, I'm not like a big-time college name out there right now. I'm not one of the big-time top quarterbacks that they're talking about right now, so this was my opportunity to prove myself in front of the scouts, and I did my best.”

From small college programs don't get many NFL prospects to big-name Power Five teams who crank out impact players as if on an assembly line, all of the players at Saturday's Combine found themselves in Kansas City overlooked but ready to prove themselves.

Florida State defensive tackle Fredrick Jones admitted to some butterflies on Saturday – and he certainly wasn't alone. But once the Combine began, everyone seemed to settle down.

“It went well,” Jones said. “Got a little nervous at first, but after I got into the flow of things it just ran smooth from there.”

Tyron Johnson decided to forego his senior season at Oklahoma State for the NFL draft. He caught 53 passes for 845 yards and seven touchdowns in his junior redshirt season. He saved his best performance for last, torching Missouri for seven catches, 141 yards and two scores in the Cowboys' Liberty Bowl victory.

“A lot of people don't know who I am, don't know how good I am,” Johnson said “They might know my name, they might not know how good I am. Hopefully today I showed them I can play at the next level.”

He didn't land an invite to the primary Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, and on Saturday he forced scouts to wonder why.

“Feedback was kind of like surprise more than that,” Johnson said “'You weren't at that Combine? Where you been?' That's kind of what the feedback was and it was a good reaction.”

Tennessee defensive end Kyle Phillips nor any of his Volunteers teammates received an invitation to last week's primary Combine, so Saturday's event allowed him extra preparation for his upcoming pro day.

“Everybody wants to go to the Combine, and the guys that made it definitely deserved it,” Phillips said. “But getting the chance to do this has been a big help.”

Mississippi State running back Aeris Williams agreed, relishing any opportunity to showcase his skills before NFL scouts.

“I was excited because it was another opportunity to go out there and show what I can do,” Williams said.

Every year players not invited to the primary Scouting Combine find their way on to NFL rosters. The Regional Combine has its own list of impressive graduates, including Adam Thielen, Alejandro Villanueva, Greg Zuerlein and Johnny Hekker. Chiefs offensive lineman Austin Reiter attended a Regional Combine before his rookie season.

Several players at the Regional Combine share Kansas City ties. Jones is the son of former linebacker Fred Jones, who played two games for the Chiefs in 1987. The younger Jones attended the Combine hoping to showcase his versatility.

“Just show them I'm athlete,” Jones said. “I can play all over the field, I can play multiple positions as seen on college film.”

Jones counts three current Chiefs as former college teammates: defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi, linebacker Terrance Smith and offensive lineman Cam Erving. He said they offered sage advice.

“Just embrace the process, just be blessed, give it your all and that's all you can do,” Jones said.

Testaverde carried perhaps the most familiar name into Saturday's tryout. He started his college career at Texas Tech before transferring to Miami and later Albany. His father Vinny Testaverde played 21 seasons in the NFL.

“My dad, he's there with me every step of the way,” the younger Testaverde said. “I learn everything from him. Anything that he's learned, he teaches me. I'm still learning from him. Every day me and him talk about just everything football-wise, non-football-wise.”

Sharing a name with a longtime NFL quarterback might create some opportunities for Testaverde. But players like Johnson know they must take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way.

“Today was very important to somebody like me coming in an underdog,” Johnson said. “I had to get in front of some scouts and show them what I really could do.”

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