There are plenty of steps in the pre-draft process for incoming NFL rookies, and their pro day is one of them.
With one of the nation’s top programs nestled in the Rams’ backyard, the team had a group of representatives at USC’s pro day on Wednesday, including special teams coordinator John Fassel.
“After being in the office for the last couple weeks — really, the last couple months — it’s good to be back outside with footballs flying around and players giving it their all,” Fassel said in an interview with therams.com.
Fassel has attended USC’s pro day in the past, and has always come away impressed with the program’s ability to churn out talented players year after year. But with this as the club’s first full offseason settled back in Southern California, Wednesday’s event had a different feel to it.
“To be able to just drive an hour down the road, and get here early, and have some breakfast, watch some film, be a part of the whole event — it’s really cool,” Fassel said. “And as long as we’re here, this is one we’ll come to every year, for sure.”
While players aren’t in pads and aren’t going against live competition, Fassel finds plenty of value in attending pro days because it’s a chance to get to know an individual’s personality.
“On the film, when you’re looking at tape of them playing, it gives you pretty much all you need to know about a guy’s abilities — football wise,” Fassel said. “Where you come out here, you can see the energy they have — or the energy they don’t have. I love to see how they support their teammates, or don’t support their teammates. So you get a really good feel for kind of the intangibles, which are critical to evaluating football players.”
One way Fassel engages players is by helping run special teams drills. At one point, he worked with Trojans defensive back Adoree’ Jackson on his kick and punt returning technique, with Jackson fielding balls from the Jugs machine.
“For a defensive guy, he’s got great ball skills,” Fassel said. “You know he can catch. But we talked to him about what he likes, what he doesn’t like. See him bounce around, see if he’s kind of flat, see if he’s energetic. And what we thought is he’s a guy who has great energy, loves football.
“He’s obviously played offense, defense, special teams, so his versatility is good,” Fassel continued. “But it’s just fun to kind of get to know a guy after seeing him behind a helmet and shoulder pads pretty much the whole time.”
While Jackson received plenty of due attention — he recorded five interceptions in 2016, plus brought back four kicks and four punts for touchdowns in his college career — there were some other players that caught Fassel’s eye on Wednesday. And that’s particularly important for selections toward the end of the draft, as well as college free agency.
“You know a guy like Adoree’, but you come out here and all of a sudden you see maybe two or three guys that you didn’t even know much about. And one guy, we didn’t know anything about,” Fassel said. “All of a sudden, I was like, ‘Man, who’s that guy?’ So it gives us a chance — special-teams wise — to go back to the video and look at these guys maybe a little bit more in depth that were maybe a sleeper, or a little bit under the radar.”
“So usually for every pro day, there’s one guy who’s the dominant guy. And then there’s eight or nine who are the late-rounders, more likely undrafted free agents that really make up half of your roster that are critical,” Fassel added. “So it’s huge for the pro days for those guys, and for us to be able to evaluate that.”
JACKSON’S A FAN
Speaking of Jackson, having grown up in Southern Illinois, the defensive back is a Rams fan. Because of that, Jackson described getting to work with Fassel at his pro day as a bit of a thrill.
“It’s always fun and exciting to be in front of the team that you grew up with — and a dream team,” Jackson said. “And just to be out there and compete, obviously you want to display a lot of skills and show guys that you’re fit for the job. So it was fun being out there.”
Jackson admitted he’s thought about potentially being drafted by the Rams, especially considering one of the club’s recent free agent signings who happened to play for the same college program.
“Yeah, I went to school here. I went to high school here a little bit. So just being out here, I feel like it would just be a homecoming,” Jackson said. “And we just — I say ‘we’ because I’m a Rams fan still — just got Robert Woods, he’s coming back.”
SMITH-SCHUSTER IS APPARENTLY AN AVID MADDEN PLAYER
JuJu Smith-Schuster — widely regarded as one of the best wide receivers in this draft class — has done plenty to illustrate how valuable he can be to any team in the NFL. But like many his age, Smith-Schuster apparently enjoys a good Madden session as well.
So much so, that he described — in great detail — how his latest foray into franchise mode is going.
“Honestly? I’ve been playing Madden with my boys. We created this franchise, and I created my player. And I went to the Bills — I got drafted to the Bills. And throughout the season, it got to November, and it was snowing. And I was like, ‘Oh no, that’s not it, I’ve got to get traded,’” Smith-Schuster said to some laughs. “But I picked the Bills because I like Tyrod, and also, you know, ‘Woodie’ and them, Goodwin, and Sammy Watkins — all those great receivers. But I just saw that they had nice uniforms, so I went there. But then I demanded my release and then I signed with the Raiders for like a three- or four-year contract for like 26 mill. And it was cool, like me, and Crabtree, and Amari — we were dominant throughout the franchise. I’m almost to the Super Bowl. About to meet up with Tom Brady.”
This, a clear contender for most entertaining answer of the pre-draft season, all came in response to the question, “How do you see yourself fitting in as a receiver in the NFL?”
Oh, and he did actually answer the question in his next breath.
“So, I don’t know where I see myself,” Smith-Schuster said. “Honestly, wherever I go, I want to embrace it, have fun with it, and live my career for the next four-five years — however long that goes. And just have the opportunity to live my dreams.”