COLUMBIA — On Thursday, Blaine Gabbert will give NFL scouts what they’ve been waiting for since he declared for the draft in January — a chance to see him throw.
Out of the eight quarterback prospects invited to the NFL combine in February, Gabbert was the only one who elected not to throw. He performed impressively in Indianapolis, though, recording a 4.62-second 40-yard dash and a 33.5-inch vertical jump. But the thing that scouts from most NFL teams want to see is how he throws.
That will happen Thursday, at Missouri’s Pro Day. Gabbert, along with other NFL prospects from the Tigers and other smaller schools, will work out for scouts in the Mizzou Athletic Training Complex’s weight room and on the field at the Devine Pavilion. Team spokesman Chad Moller said he expects 19 participants, nine of which are former Missouri players.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Thursday will be unlike anything he has seen at Missouri. The team moved its regular Thursday afternoon practice to Wednesday, Pinkel said, because he and other officials have no idea how long the pro day events will last. Moller added that he can’t be sure how many scouts, NFL representatives and media members will be present. That won’t mean chaos, though.
“I guarantee, we’re very organized about how it happens,” Pinkel said. “There are going to be a lot of people here, professionals and scouts.”
Pro days, which began under the assumption that players are more comfortable working out at their home facilities, are an institution in scouts’ pre-draft analysis of players. With ESPN’s Mel Kiper listing Gabbert as the No. 1 pick in his latest mock draft, NFL scouts and football analysts will be focused on the events in Missouri.
“The whole football world will be focused on Columbia, Mo.,” Pinkel said. “Not just the college football world but the whole world — college football and the NFL.”
Although the current NFL lockout does not prevent the draft from occurring (it will still take place from April 28 to 30 in New York), it will affect recruits like Gabbert and Aldon Smith.
For one, Gabbert won’t be able to throw to anyone except other first-time draft-eligible players. In the past, Gabbert could have thrown to former teammates who have now graduated, like Tommy Saunders — athletes whose playing styles he is familiar with. Now, those players, though not affiliated with any teams or intending to showcase their skills, are in a sense off-limits. They’re technically free agents, so scouts cannot evaluate them, even if they’re simply catching Gabbert’s passes at Pro Day.
Smith will be another of the highly-scrutinized recruits on Thursday. Analysts also predict that the defensive end will be a first-round pick, and he impressed scouts at the combine with a 4.74-second 40-yard dash and a 34-inch vertical jump. Center Tim Barnes and cornerback Kevin Rutland are among other Tigers who plan to enter the draft.
Thursday’s events will not be televised, but segments will be broadcast on NFL.com and ESPN, bringing the national spotlight to Columbia and the Missouri football program for the second time in six months.
“It’s a huge plus for this program,” Pinkel said. “Anything you can do, like GameDay, to ratchet things up is what you want to do for our program.”
Pinkel isn’t the only person associated with the team who’s excited for Thursday’s events. Players are thrilled to watch their former teammates take shots at the NFL.
What happens Thursday means something even more to one player, though. Tyler Gabbert will take a break from spring workouts, where he is working to become the Tigers’ next starting quarterback, to watch perhaps the most important day in his older brother’s lengthy audition for the NFL.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Tyler Gabbert said.