One of them – Kansas State wide receiver Jordy Nelson – was standing in the hallway shortly after Monday morning’s weigh-in when Chiefs director of college scouting Chuck Cook walked by.
He had the look of a scout who knew he couldn’t keep the cat out of the bag. I had discovered a player the Chiefs’ scouting department really likes.
Nelson has spent the last five years at Kansas State shattering most of the school’s receiving records. He was someone the Chiefs identified early on as a player who can make the jump to the NFL.
When I first spoke with Cook about Nelson last November, he already had high praise for the young receiver. But Monday he saw what the rest of us saw during the North squad practice, when Nelson was almost unstoppable.
“He’s a fine, fine pro prospect,” Cook said of Nelson. “I can’t give any higher, glowing recommendations on the way he attacked the game in college and the way he worked himself.”
“He’s really a self-made guy with skills, and that’s what you look for. You look for overachieving guys with physical skills. People don’t realize how fast the guy is. They don’t realize how big he is until they see him. I’ve had some defensive backs here and at the East-West game tell me that this guy, they don’t realize how fast he is on tape until they play the guy. He really has maximized his career at Kansas State.”
Nelson was a bit unnerved by Monday morning’s weigh-in. It was, as he put it, a bit strange to walk out into a room full of men wearing only his underwear, but he told me if that’s what it takes to get to the NFL, he doesn’t mind.
His true test will be this week, however, when Nelson will get a taste of the professional game as he works with a real NFL coaching staff.
“It’s another opportunity to improve and run an NFL system,” he said. “It’s another week to improve and show the coaches how you practice and how you play.”
And that’s just what Nelson did Monday afternoon. He stood out as one of the best receivers on the practice field, but only displayed one of the skills that made him an electrifying player with the Wildcats - he didn’t get any chance on Monday to use his extensive talents as a return man.
It just so happens the Chiefs are looking for someone to return kicks and punts next season, which isn’t surprising after Eddie Drummond struggled in 2007. Nelson is on their radar.
“We’re desperately looking for that return guy,” Cook told me. “What you want in that return guy, is you want him to be like Dante Hall in his prime, but you want the guy to play a position at a high rate as a second or third receiver. He comes in there and plugs in as a second or third receiver and then plays on special teams, and that just gives him so much versatility, especially in our eyes.”
Nelson knows the Chiefs have shown quite a bit of interest in him over the last couple of years. He’d like nothing more than to play in Kansas City.
“It would be great,” said Nelson. “First off, it would be a team I watched growing up and it’s close to home. Family and friends would be able to come watch, so it’d be a great opportunity for that. I’m willing to do whatever it takes and go wherever I’m needed, but the opportunity for family and friends to be close would be nice.”
Nelson would obviously fit in well with the Chiefs, who need a returner and certainly don’t have the league’s deepest wide receiver corps. Another player who’s at the Senior Bowl this week and might find a place in Kansas City is Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco
The Chiefs may have plans to draft another quarterback and with Brodie Croyle entering his third season and Damon Huard a year older, Cook would like to see the team keep the quarterback pipeline flowing.
"Joe Flacco, obviously he had a dynamite career at Delaware and we’re going to work him up this week and see how he compares with the best,” said Cook. “I don’t agree that he’s the best quarterback prospect in the draft but he can change my mind by the end of the week. The Blue Hens were better with him and he’s a 6-foot-6 guy who can throw the ball around the yard."
"Obviously you’re always looking at every position but quarterback is a need and we want to develop a young one. We’ve got Brodie, we’ve got Tyler Thigpen, but we’d like to have another one to put in the fray.”
You can see why the Chiefs might be interested in Flacco. After watching Monday’s practice, the tall, strong-armed passer was clearly the best quarterback on the North squad. He easily outshined the two more heralded guys on the field - Michigan’s Chad Henne and USC’s John David Booty.
There are questions about the level of competition Flacco faced at Delaware, however. Because of that, all he wants now is a shot to show NFL scouts and coaches he can take the leap from Division I-AA to the big show.
“I came from a 1-AA school so I couldn’t be more excited to be down here playing with all these great guys,” said Flacco. “I’m excited to get practice started and see what everybody has.”
“I have to go out there and throw the ball like I always do, and let them know I understand the basic parts of the offense they’ve put in so far. I’m a quick learner so if I make good decisions I can get some completions.”