Column: Pro scouts taking notice of Herd’s football program

Almost a year ago today, nine NFL scouts filed into Marshall’s facility to evaluate 12 Herd seniors heading into the NFL draft.

My, how times have changed for the program.

After another 10-win season and a third-straight bowl victory, it was clear NFL teams are starting to pay more attention to Doc Holliday’s up-and-coming program as more than 20 scouts from the NFL and Canada were in attendance Wednesday afternoon to take a look at the talent-laden senior class the Herd boasted this year.

In total, 14 seniors participated, lead by monster running back Devon Johnson, who also attended this year’s NFL Draft Combine in Indianapolis, Indiana but did not participate in many of the drills after re-aggravating a back injury in Senior Bowl workouts, something that, for a competitor like Johnson, is difficult to do.

“It was hard doing that,” the 6’1, 295-pound running back said. “You sit there and see everybody compete, and you’re not able to compete. I’m just glad I was able to be out here on Pro Day with my brothers and put up some good times, too.”

Fully healthy, Johnson showed out under the pressure, running a 4.63 40-yard dash and recording a vertical of 33, with a broad jump of 9-5.

The past few weeks, talk has emerged that NFL execs are looking into Johnson as a convert to either H-back or fullback, a move Johnson is more than willing to make if he gets drafted.

Johnson said he feels like he fits in at running back or fullback, as well as on the special teams unit.

Johnson’s teammate, special teams aficionado DeAndre Reaves also caught the eyes of scouts on Pro Day. Reaves, a speedy return man with steady hands, recorded a 4.53 40-yard dash on the afternoon, one of the faster of the Herd seniors.

Reaves, who racked up over 2,500 yards on returns his senior season at Marshall, is not only a return man. The wide receiver showed his prowess offensively over his career as a member of the Herd.

Reaves hauled in 64 catches for 773 yards and 4 touchdowns in four seasons for the Herd. His dual-threat ability has garnered him national attention, an ability that Reaves said helps set him apart from the rest of the draftees.

“I think it boosts [his draft stock] a lot just because, you know, if it’s a guy that just plays running back and there’s a guy that plays running back and kick return, punt return, I feel like he’s more advanced,” said Reaves, who is listed as the 143rd wide receiver in this year’s draft. “I feel like, personally, a team and an organization will spend more money on a guy who can do more than one thing, as opposed to somebody who can just do one thing.”

Marshall head coach Doc Holliday, who was in attendance as well, said he noticed the large amounts of scouts on hand and was pleased with the recognition his players received.

“I’m proud of these guys,” Holliday said. “Hopefully, there will be opportunities for a lot of these kids. We have 14 guys who think they have a shot at playing at the next level. That’s their goal and dream and some guys have put up some really good numbers. So, I think we’ll definitely have some who will get that opportunity, whether drafted or as free agents.”

The NFL Draft takes place April 28-30 in Chicago, Illinois.

Jake Griffith can be contacted at [email protected].