Patrick Bailey didn't start on offense or defense in the NFL last year. He didn't even get drafted. But he did make his mark.
The former Duke linebacker, who graduated in 2008, was named world-champion Pittsburgh Steelers' rookie of the year for his outstanding special teams play. This year, a couple of Blue Devils-including wide receiver Eron Riley and linebacker Michael Tauiliili-are trying to follow in Bailey's footsteps.
None of this year's draft-eligible Blue Devils would turn down the kind of start that Bailey had, but Riley and Tauiliili-Duke's two best players on offense and defense, respectively-are trying to make their road to the NFL smoother by getting selected in the upcoming NFL Draft April 25-26.
Still, neither player has earned personal workouts with NFL teams-each professional team is allowed to host 30 out-of-state players for workouts-and it appears their best chance to replicate Bailey's impact is hooking on with a team after the draft.
One of the biggest steps in their quest to be drafted was to turn in top times in front of 11 NFL teams at Duke's Pro Day March 16 at Yoh Football Center. And for the most part, the pair delivered.
Despite Riley's reputation as a receiver dangerous for his ability to stretch the field vertically, Riley said scouts were not sold on his speed and expected him to run a 40-yard dash in just less than 4.7 seconds.
Riley shocked the stopwatch-toting scouts, recording a hand-timed mark of 4.36 seconds-which would have been fastest among all wide receivers at the NFL Combine in February. Both Riley's 11-foot-2 broad jump and 4.06 20-yard shuttle time also would have been the top scores among receivers, who worked out on a different surface with more stringent measurement mechanisms.
"Everybody, all the scouts, were surprised because I ran such a good time," said Riley, who led the ACC in yards per catch for two seasons. "[The scouts] said it helped me out a whole bunch."
Tauiliili's times did not match Riley's, but the defensive captain wowed scouts in his positional drills. The 5-foot-10, 230-pound linebacker also was able to rest his laurels on an impressive performance in the East-West Shrine Game in Houston Jan. 17, where he earned Defensive MVP honors with 13 tackles.
Some have told Tauiliili that he might be best suited for special teams, because his height is less than ideal for an every-down linebacker. After Tauiliili's Pro Day workout, NFL.com's Gil Brandt reported that Tauiliili "showed that he will be a special team star in the pros."
"As with anything else, teams stereotype who should be what size or play what position," James Williams, Tauiliili's agent, said. "However, Mike is a football player, and that's what he showed them at the Shrine [Game], being named the Defensive MVP. He's a ballplayer. That's what he showed them at Duke, any time he was on the field."
But Tauiliili is willing to accept any role if it means he will make an NFL roster come August. Still, he wants to prove that he can play his position at the highest level.
"We're going to make the team any way we can," Williams said. "Once he gets in there, he'll be able to channel his skills, and with particularized coaching, get in there and get in as a regular player."
For Riley, the challenges on his road to the NFL are similar. Like Tauiliili, Riley has been productive at his position, catching 22 touchdowns and amassing more than 2,400 yards in his four years at Duke.
And although scouts questioned his speed and still may worry about his predilection for drops, Riley is confident that he has developed a skill set and put up the numbers necessary to make him one of the best 250 college players when the NFL Draft rolls around.
"I have experience," Riley said. "I have a pretty good track record stats-wise, and I've played special teams and shown I can make a difference all over the field. I've made plays when it's counted. Granted, we haven't won a bunch while I've been here, but I've still been consistent and put up the same types of numbers every year."
Like Tauiliili, Riley would clearly prefer to be selected, but he's ready to do whatever it takes to make it on the next level-even if draft weekend comes and goes without him hearing his name.
"If I don't get drafted, I feel like I have invested a whole bunch in football, and so I'm going to go out there and get onto a team somehow," Riley said. "All I'm asking for is a chance, and if I'm not good enough, I'll have to ask accept that. But I just want a chance to go out there and make someone's team and help that team win."
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