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2024 NFL Draft: What We Learned from Alabama, Ohio State and USC pro days

We're full swing into pro-day season, and Wednesday packed as much punch as you could hope for in that department.

Alabama, annually one of the best-attended pro days on the calendar, kicked off the proceedings, which also included workouts at two other blue-blood programs -- Ohio State and Texas -- that will produce bumper crops of NFL talent.

But the big show came out west at USC, where prohibitive No. 1 overall pick favorite Caleb Williams took the stage. The ballyhooed quarterback didn't work out at the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine, but he did showcase his skills on Wednesday in front of a large contingent of NFL evaluators, including several representatives from the franchise that possesses the top selection in next month's draft.

Here are four of the biggest takeaways from a significant day on the 2024 scouting calendar.

Tune in to NFL Network at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday for a USC Pro Day Special and tune in to NFL+ for live coverage of LSU pro day on March 27 and North Carolina pro day on March 28.

1) The Caleb Williams show. Pro days have become more like rock shows in recent years. But for anyone watching USC's event -- at least those tuning in just for Williams -- it might have felt more like an opening-act acoustic set.

Not that Williams was bad during his throwing session, which drew a lot of influential eyes in attendance at the Trojans' practice facility. Rather, Williams looked less like the whirling dervish he often embodied during his decorated college career and more like a young man conducting his first serious job interview.

"I felt like this was a salad pro day," NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah facetiously said during the NFL+ broadcast. "This wasn't a show-off pro day. You know what I mean? Just going to take care of business. Let's get in here, let's get out of here."

Anyone who wants to see Caleb perform feats of wizardry can pop on the college tape. As Jeremiah noted, this was essentially "a proof-of-life pro day," and the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner did nothing to dissuade the steady drumbeat that his name will be the first one called at next month's draft in Detroit.

Not surprisingly, the Chicago Bears -- who own the No. 1 overall pick -- were well represented at the affair, headlined by the attendance of general manager Ryan Poles, head coach Matt Eberflus and assistant GM Ian Cunningham. Eberflus and Poles were reportedly spotted at Tuesday's spring practice at USC, too, which likely afforded them the chance to do background work on Williams and other Trojans prospects.

The workout also included a surprise cameo by new Bears WR Keenan Allen, who was traded to Chicago last week in a salary-based move by the Chargers.

And just in case the Bears decide Williams isn't their guy, the NFL's other 31 teams also attended. OK, many were there to see Williams' Trojan teammates, including RB MarShawn Lloyd, WR Brenden Rice (son of Hall of Famer Jerry Rice), S Calen Bullock and WR Tahj Washington, among other draft-eligible prospects.

Williams started the day by checking in at 6-foot 7/8 inches and 217 pounds -- three pounds heavier than he weighed at the combine -- with a hand measurement of 9 7/8 inches.

Then he began his throwing session, just as the morning fog lifted and the sun came out, providing Williams what appeared to be good throwing conditions. It was the first time Williams had thrown publicly since Nov. 18 -- his final game with the Trojans, a 38-20 loss to crosstown rival UCLA in which he passed for 384 yards.

Williams' 50-throw script was run by his QB coach, Will Hewlett (who trains Brock Purdy and others), and it had a theme: a lot of in-rhythm throws from within the pocket. At USC -- and at Oklahoma before that -- Williams was given carte blanche to create and improvise outside of structure whenever those opportunities presented themselves. NFL teams know he can do that. They want to know what Williams looks like and how he operates when the structure holds up. Williams and Hewlett also appeared to choose a wide variety of throws that required different arm angles, trajectories and distances -- a further display of his unique throwing talent.

The session wasn't perfect, as Williams himself admitted in the aftermath.

"I missed a couple passes down the field, deep-ball wise, vertical (shots)," Williams told NFL Network Chief National Reporter Steve Wyche on the NFL+ broadcast. "And then I had one or two, I think one, behind my receiver. So, you know, work on those things."

Williams did just fine on the whole. There were very few obvious misfires. He seemed to improve as the session went on, capping off his script with a pretty deep-ball connection. When the ball came back to Williams after his throwing period ended, he punctuated it with a celebratory punt up into the air. Yes, folks, Williams can do a little of everything, it seems.

Jeremiah summed up his thoughts on Williams' day. The bottom line: He'd already given us the fireworks in college. Now it was time for Williams to show he can handle the meat-and-potatoes elements of an NFL playbook.

"It wasn't a shock-and-awe show like some of the ones we've seen where you are running all over the place and making crazy, cross-body throws. We've seen all that," Jeremiah said. "This was more, 'Let's come out there, let's show that we've dialed in our feet, let's show that everything we do is going to be smooth, the ball is going to jump out of my hand, I'm going to make some different trajectory-type throws.' "

Added NFL Network draft analyst Bucky Brooks: "For a T-shirts-and-shorts workout, it was exactly what you want to see. [Williams] did all of the things that you're supposed to do. It's like a pregame workout -- you just want to see what he looks like going through his routine. All the things are there. His footwork is solid. He can play on time and on schedule."

Was it enough to convince the Bears to fully sign off on Williams as the No. 1 pick? We likely won't know anytime soon.

Chicago's contingent could opt to attend next week's double dip of pro days at North Carolina and LSU, where other possible No. 1 candidates -- the Tar Heels' Drake Maye and Tigers' Jayden Daniels -- are expected to work out. As for Williams, the quarterback told Wyche that he and his camp are still in the process of lining up visits with other prospective teams, even if the Bears remain the massive favorites to acquire his services. When asked by Wyche whether it was his full expectation to be a member of the Bears come April 25, Williams respectfully demurred.

"So, it's a good question," Williams said. "I wouldn't say it's my full expectation. Obviously, things can happen. Things can change throughout this time. … A lot can change.

"You take it day by day, handle it and handle and control what you can control."

Williams might not have set the world on fire on Wednesday, but it's entirely possible that was exactly the point. The control he exerted may have shown the Bears -- and the rest of the NFL -- that he can indeed handle the basics at a high level, too.

2) Harrison opts out (again). When Ohio State WR Marvin Harrison Jr. attended the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine, he didn't meet with the media and chose not to participate in athletic testing or positional drills. The consensus All-American followed the same game plan for OSU's pro day.

According to The MMQB's Albert Breer, NFL teams were made aware before Wednesday that Harrison would not be participating in any of the pro-day events in Columbus, Ohio. The Buckeyes have several other qualified candidates for the 2024 NFL Draft -- including DT Michael Hall Jr., TE Cade Stover, S Josh Proctor and LB Tommy Eichenberg, to name a few -- but none are in the same stratosphere as MHJ as prospects, so it wasn't shocking that no head coaches or general managers were scheduled to attend, per Breer.

Here's the truth: Despite leaving an incomplete scouting picture by opting out of pre-draft events, Harrison still has an excellent chance to be the first receiver off the board and a top-five selection overall. How much would working out have helped him? It's almost smarter, given how high Harrison is projected to be taken next month, to ask how much a subpar workout may have hurt his draft prospects.

Stop me if you've heard this before, but this year's draft class includes a rare crop of talent at wide receiver. We've had several banner years at the position in recent draft history, but the fact that Harrison is still widely considered the best option in this stellar group tells you that his on-field play for the Buckeyes over the last three seasons provided more than enough evidence of his freakish ability.

So, yes, Harrison remains an elite prospect, and nothing he didn't do Wednesday figures to change that.

3) Dallas popular in Tuscaloosa. The 2024 Alabama pro day didn't quite boast the same firepower as the school's 2023 undertaking, which featured QB Bryce Young (the eventual No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft), DE Will Anderson Jr. (No. 3), RB Jahmyr Gibbs (No. 12) and DB Brian Branch (No. 45), as well as six other prospects who would go on to be selected last April. Regardless, this year's event still drew a slew of NFL heavy hitters, including Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, Raiders HC Antonio Pierce, Cowboys HC Mike McCarthy, Steelers general manager Omar Khan and Bills GM Brandon Beane, among other notable figures. All 32 teams sent at least one representative, which is unsurprising, given the immense talent this program has churned out over the years.

Wednesday's offerings featured another series of highly regarded prospects, including edge rusher Dallas Turner, who could crack the top 10 picks next month. In fact, it wouldn't be shocking if he ended up as the first defensive player drafted in 2024.

Turner, who was named a first-team AP All-American and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year this past season, previously put on a show at the combine, running a 4.46-second 40-yard dash and turning in big numbers in both the vertical leap (40.5 inches) and the broad jump (10-foot-7). All of that production is apparently paying off.

At the event on Wednesday, NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero spoke with Turner, who said he has upcoming pre-draft visits with the Bears (who own the Nos. 1 and 9 overall picks in Round 1), Falcons (No. 8) and Vikings (Nos. 11 and 23), among other teams.

One big change from the combine: Turner seemingly has beefed up. After checking in at 6-foot-2 3/4 and 247 pounds in Indianapolis, he reportedly weighed 256 pounds on Wednesday, according to ESPN's Cole Cubelic. Pelissero said Turner performed 20 reps on the 225-pound bench press, an event he skipped in Indy, but otherwise stood on his combine numbers.

All in all, Turner's draft forecast appears pretty darn bright. At this point, it will be a surprise if he's not selected in the first 20 picks.

4) Kool-Aid bounces back. One of the more disappointing developments at the combine: Alabama cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry, a possible first-round selection, discovering he had a Jones fracture in his right foot during medical evaluations. At the time, this raised the question of whether he might slip from the first 32 overall selections.

Just a few weeks later, though, McKinstry not only showed up to 'Bama's pro day, but he ran a 40-yard dash that was clocked as low as 4.47 seconds, according to NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero. McKinstry is scheduled to undergo surgery on the foot this Friday, and he's expected to be fully ready for the start of training camp.

Suddenly, the arrow's pointed back up for one of the better cornerback prospects in the 2024 draft class.

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