One NFL scout kneeling by the finish line looked at his stopwatch. His eyes got a little wide. A good look under the circumstances.
“What time did you have?’’ the guy asked the scout next to him.
This was Penn wide receiver Justin Watson’s pro day. As he got ready to run his 40-yard dash, the only sound had been of a drone overhead inside Penn’s athletic bubble, taking video.
“Quaker I,’’ Penn coach Ray Priore said of the drone. A pro day is a huge day for any prospective professional football player. Scouts for the vast majority of NFL teams started the day at Temple in the morning, got to Penn in the afternoon, showing up inside that bubble after earlier tests inside Penn’s weight room.
Watson had done basically everything a pro prospect could do, grabbing all-American honors for the Quakers, earning praise at the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl.
That number still mattered. Watson had been working out for weeks in Florida for this moment.
The funny thing about 40 times, you can run it once and 21 scouts can have 14 different times. The case here. Priore asked the scout right in front of him what he had on his stopwatch and the guy said 4.35. Some had numbers under 4.4, others just over. Penn’s football group talked among themselves about what the school should put out since there is no official number like at the NFL scouting combine. They decided the consensus should be about 4.42, since if they put out that Watson had run under 4.4, some teams might argue the point.
Bottom line: Watson killed it.
“He might have just put himself in the top four rounds,’’ one scout was overheard saying.
Another scout had made it clear this visit was worthwhile for him. His team wasn’t looking for a receiver in the early rounds so a chance to get a player such as Watson later on was worth this trip. The scout already had fallen for Watson at the all-star games. But you need to bring more measurables back to the bosses.
Inside the weight room, Watson had jumped a 40-inch vertical. A 6-foot-2, 215-pounder, he hadn’t been invited to the combine, yet only one player there had hit 40 inches, D.J. Chark of LSU.
As the drills went on, the lifts and shuttle runs, Watson stayed in the upper reaches, sometimes top 10, sometimes top five, of those who had performed the task at the combine.
His pro day ended with Michael Keir, a quarterback at Roman Catholic High and California (Pa.) University, throwing him passes. To say both were impressive would be underplaying the occasion. They connected all over the field inside that bubble, sideline routes and deep ones, the whole route tree. No incompletions.
The pressure going in?
“I slept fine last night and I think that’s because I’ve been working really hard for today, I knew I was really well prepared,’’ Watson said. “I kind of expected to do what I did today. I’m glad it showed. … My first run a lot of guys had in the 4.3s and my second one was in the low 4.4s, that’s right around where I was in training.”
He knew how his 40 times had been in preparing.
“4.38 on the laser in Florida,’’ Watson said when asked what his best electronic time had been in recent weeks.
The training at XPE Sports in Fort Lauderdale since early January made a difference, Watson said — “just being around guys who have a similar work ethic to you, and just all football all the time every day was what I dreamed of for a long time, so it was cool to go down there for a few months.”
The best thing he’d done Monday?
“I was really happy just coming out and catching passes at the end,’’ Watson said. “That quarterback, I’d only thrown with him one time before — we completed every pass. I think that shows my timing, as far as steps and his step count, you can kind of plug in a good receiver and a good quarterback anywhere.”
As far as celebrating, it won’t last long, even if he’d gotten scouts to open their eyes a little wider at his chances.
“Our [Penn] strength coach already scheduled me an appointment tomorrow morning,’’ Watson said. “I’ll probably be with him in a kick-boxing room or something.”