More than 300 NFL hopefuls flocked to Indianapolis last weekend to show off their skills at the annual NFL Scouting Combine, and this year two Blue Devils were in attendance.
Former Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon and quarterback Sean Renfree were on hand at the 2013 Combine, where Vernon worked out in front of NFL coaches, executives and scouts. Renfree was on hand to have his official measurements taken by the NFL as he continues to rehab from surgery he had to fix a torn pectoral muscle suffered in Duke’s Belk Bowl loss to Cincinnati.
Vernon officially clocked at 4.68 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 6.93 seconds in the three-cone drill, 4.22 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle and 11.34 seconds in the 60-yard shuttle. He also turned in a vertical leap of 32.5 inches and a broad jump of 125 inches. His official 40-yard dash time was slightly below average for a receiver at the Combine in the past five years—as was his vertical leap—and was above average on the broad jump. His shuttle and three-cone drill times were about average.
“I definitely think [my workout] helped [my draft stock]. At the end of the day, all NFL teams are worried about are finding football players,” Vernon said. “When it came to actual football work and football drills, I really excelled, so wherever I was before I’m sure I’m either still there or teams have moved me up because of how I did on the field work.”
Although Vernon maintains his satisfaction in reference to his performance at the Combine, it did not come without some confusion. During his two attempts at the 40-yard dash, Vernon was clocked unofficially at 4.59 and 4.47 seconds, respectively.
“That was something that I definitely questioned, because I didn’t understand how I could come in so much lower unofficially and end up with an official time of 4.68 seconds,” Vernon said. “Even some of the scouts I had talked to said they had me at a much lower time, so I don’t know if there was human error or maybe I actually ran that time. I don’t know—but the numbers didn’t really add up.”
Vernon spent more than a month preparing for this specific set of workouts with his trainer Tony Villani of XPE Sports. Vernon said that the pair worked on his agility and explosiveness off the line, two attributes that lend themselves well to the Combine-style drills.
In addition to the Combine workouts, Vernon also had to participate in a number of on-field drills to test his route-running ability, catching ability and ability to adjust to different types of throws.
“That was the easy part. Once we got to the field work, I was just playing football. You take away all the hype from the 40-yard dash and the shuttle drill and the broad jump and all I had to do was just play football,” Vernon said. “That’s something that I felt I really excelled with—all I had to do was catch the football and run good routes. I think teams saw that and they’ll take that performance into account.”
Off the field, Vernon had the opportunity to meet with coaches and executives from a number of NFL teams for interviews, which included breaking down game film, drawing up plays and memorizing coverages and formations. Vernon’s interviews were meant to see how he reacted in given situations as well as test his short-term memory and learning abilities.
Although Vernon said his interview sessions with teams went well, he said that he is not trying to get too far ahead of himself when thinking of his draft stock or which teams might be particularly interested in him. Vernon is projected as a mid-late round pick in April’s NFL Draft.
“At the end of the day, as much as I like talking to all of these teams and appreciate their time, I just have to sit back and wait for my phone call in April,” Vernon said. “That’s when I’ll finally know where I’m going.”
Vernon will return to Duke shortly for the first time since graduating at the conclusion of the Fall semester and will have nearly a month to prepare at his alma-mater for the Blue Devils’ Pro Day later in March.
The wide receiver said he will work extensively in the weight room with strength and conditioning coach John Durfey, specifically on his bench press—the only Combine drill in which Vernon did not participate.
Vernon said he plans to bench press at Pro Day and will use his month to get in sync with Duke assistant director of video Mike Cappetto, a former Blue Devil quarterback who will throw to Vernon as Renfree continues to recover from his injury.
“That’s a big reason why I’m coming up before Pro Day. Obviously it’s been a while since he’s thrown it, so I’ll be able to work with him and get a feel for him,” Vernon said. “I also just want to enjoy Duke, because this is probably the last time I’m going to be here for quite some time. So I look forward to coming back and hanging out with my teammates who I’m going to graduate with.”