Never before has a pro day at Ole Miss been this big of a deal. On Monday, all 32 NFL teams will flock to Oxford to watch Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche perform physical acts that human beings should not be capable of performing.
But lost in the hoopla of the Big Three are guys like running back Jaylen Walton, whose performance on Monday will be their only chance to show pro scouts that they deserve to be on a roster. Despite racking up the second-most all-purpose yards in program history, Walton is expected to go undrafted.
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More on the NFL Draft
I got up on the phone with Jaylen earlier this week to discuss his undervalued talent, his preparation for pro day and his productive career at Ole Miss.
My questions are in bold.
Me: What drills will you be running through on Monday?
Jaylen: "The bench press, the vertical jump, the broad jump, the 40-yard dash, the 5-10-5, the 60-yard shuffle and some position drills."
What are you expecting to run in the 40?
"I've been training around a 4.38—that's my fastest time. So once I get my blood flowing I plan on running that or a little bit faster. Anywhere between a 4.37 and a 4.39 would be good."
What kind of preparation goes into running a good 40?
"The first part is getting a good, comfortable stance, trying to mimic as much of a block stance as possible. The second part was trying to take a certain number of steps in my 10-yard split to keep it short and fast. I did a few parachute workouts and a few tension band workouts."
It's got to be nice to have Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche bringing the ESPN cameras to town.
"The exposure is definitely gonna help me and some of the other guys. All 32 teams will be in the house. Having three projected first-round picks allows the rest of us to really show what we have and show that our team wasn't just based off of three players. We had a great senior class that came together as one."
Obviously the big knock against you is your size. Dexter McCluster had that same knock against him, but he's having a great pro career. How much inspiration do you draw from him?
"I've had a couple conversations with Dexter. It's about knowing what you can do and how good you can do it, regardless of your size. People look at you like, 'he's 5'8, 180 pounds, he can't run in between the tackles.' But being this size brings a lot of versatility too because we can line up in the slot, line up at the 1 at receiver, we can run different combination routes one-on-one, we can line up in the backfields and get handoffs, inside and outside. Special teams as well, being able to received punts and kickoffs. That's a big deal in the NFL when you have one player that can play three different positions. I'm actually second at Ole Miss in all-purpose yards behind Deuce McAllister so my production in college has spoken for itself."
The running game as a whole made a dramatic turnaround after Laremy Tunsil returned midway through the season. Is that really all attributable to his return?
"Once Laremy got back, it changed the whole aspect of our offense, from protection to running the ball. With Laremy on the field, everyone could focus on their jobs and not some other guy's job or playing two roles instead of one. Instead of Fahn [Cooper] having to worry about left and right tackle, once Laremy came back he just had to focus on right tackle.
"Laremy's production has spoke for itself and he's not projected as the first pick for no reason. When he came back against Texas A&M, Myles Garrett was averaging like 3.5 sacks a game and he took care of him like it was nothing. Myles Garrett being the great defensive end that he is, [Tunsil] made it look easy."
The Rebs now have the unenviable task of replacing you. One guy that we've been hearing a lot of buzz about is redshirt freshman Eric Swinney. What have you seen from him?
"Looking at Swinney so far this spring, he looks like a beast. He's gonna be the future back of Ole Miss. He runs with forward lean, he runs powerful. He has great acceleration through the hole. Once he gets the ball, there's not much dancing or hopping. Once he sees the crease open up, he hits it and I mean he hits it fast. He gets good yards after contact. He's another back who can catch the ball out of the backfield. And with his injury, he's come back real strong. He's looking really great this spring practice from what I've seen. His potential is real high. The only thing that's gonna stop him is him."
Do you think there's really a chance he could become the feature guy this season?
"In this offense, playmakers play, no matter if you're a freshman or a senior. Coach Nix, our running backs coach, picks the best back who he thinks can carry the team and that person will play. I definitely see Swinney playing really, really early."
What was your favorite play/moment of your Ole Miss career?
"My favorite moment would be the winning catch against Alabama the first time we beat them. It wasn't something that myself or the university had experienced in a long time. It was overwhelming.
"I feel like my best run would probably be the Mississippi State run. I can't really explain how I did that. If you watch that run, it really describes my style of play. Before people see me play football, they kind of criticize my size and see me not being able to break tackles. That play was a designed outside run but there was nothing there so I did what I do best, made a few guys miss. I hit a seam and broke the initial tackle and from then it was on to the end zone. Once I get in front of you, I don't think you're gonna catch me. That put my team up 14 points and snatched the Egg Bowl victory."
You're a Memphis guy, so I'm gonna put you on the spot here. Who has the best barbecue in town?
"Whew, so many many, man. You can't go wrong. [pauses] I'd probably say Rendezvous. That's just my opinion."
Okay, the big final question. If you're eating a hot dog, what condiments do you put on it?
"If I'm real hungry, I guess I'll put ketchup and mustard on it."