A typical day in the bubble for Boston College football is filled with the shrieks of whistles regulating spring practice drills, echoes of pads colliding with pads, and the occasional boom of head coach Steve Addazio’s voice. On Tuesday, though, the usual sounds were replaced by a strange silence brought upon by the presence of about 20 NFL scouts on hand for Pro Day.
Six Eagles took part in this year’s Pro Day, headlined by defensive back John Johnson and linebacker Matt Milano, both of whom attended the NFL Combine earlier this month and have frequented Mock Draft lists. Defensive end Kavalec, running back Myles Willis, quarterback Patrick Towles, and wide receiver David Dudeck (Class of 2016) also participated in Tuesday’s activities.
The day started with weight room evaluations and later moved to the Alumni turf field for the 40-yard dash and position-specific workouts. At each step of the way, scouts from the New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons, Washington Redskins, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, and more teams followed with clipboards, taking notes on the pro candidates.
When Johnson began his defensive back drills, you could hear a pin drop inside the bubble. All eyes were on the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder as he displayed elite athleticism in coverage and solid hands in several drills. Johnson’s size and build make him an intriguing prospect, one who could make an immediate impact for a team looking to shore up its secondary.
While he’s not considered a hard-hitting tackler, Johnson can cover a lot of ground quickly and possesses great ball skills in coverage. As a junior, he became a key cog for a BC defense that ranked first in the country in total yards (254.3 per game). Johnson recorded 64 tackles, two forced fumbles, and three interceptions, the last of which ranked seventh in the ACC. In the Holy War matchup against No. 5 Notre Dame at Fenway Park, he had a career night with six tackles, a forced fumble, and a clutch interception in the end zone.
During his senior season, he was named a captain and a recipient of the Jay McGillis Memorial Scholarship Award. Johnson led the Eagles with 56 solo tackles and three interceptions, taking over as the top dog in the secondary in the wake of Justin Simmons’ departure to the NFL. In his final collegiate game, he went out with a bang by recording a career-high 12 tackles in BC’s 36-30 victory in the Quick Lane Bowl over Maryland—the same team that passed up on Johnson, a local recruit from West Hyattsville, Md., out of high school.
Playing against Maryland in the QuickLane Bowl. They got some smoke coming their way for not offering a hometown stud.
— John Johnson III (@iamjohnthethird) December 4, 2016
Johnson appeared to have put on a few additional pounds of muscle since the Bowl win back in December. Starting Jan. 1, he moved down to Portofino Island Resort in Pensacola, Fla., to train at EXOS in the months leading up to the Combine.
“If you look at the top guys who did the best at the Combine, it’s all EXOS guys,” Johnson said. “Of all the defensive backs, I think I was the best one there. We had Leonard Fournette there, a bunch of other first rounders.”
With a regimented workout program and a standout performance in the Senior Bowl, Johnson has significantly improved his draft stock over the offseason. So much so that the most pressing question for Johnson isn’t whether or not he’ll get drafted—it’s where he will end up playing.
Johnson entered college as a corner, moved to strong safety at the end of his junior year, and finished his career at free safety. Many NFL Draft websites list him as a safety, but he has received mixed feedback from teams about his future position.
“Some teams said, ‘John, you’re not a safety, get that out of your head, you’re a corner,’” Johnson said. “Other teams asked me what I like best. The feedback going into [the Draft] has just been an open-ended thing—I’m a defensive back, and I have to be ready to do both.”
Meanwhile, Towles took a different approach on a possible position change. There have been whispers that the 6-foot-5 quarterback, who lost nearly 25 pounds since the Quick Lane Bowl, could possibly be a tight end at the next level.
“It’s been mentioned,” Towles said. “But I’m gonna play quarterback until they tell me I can’t, and then I’ll seek out other options.”
Kentucky’s former “Mr. Football” has trained intensely in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., over the past 10 weeks, slimming down to 241 pounds. It showed on Pro Day, as Towles ran a 4.59 in the 40-yard dash and posted a 10-foot broad jump. But it may not be enough to convince teams to take a chance on a quarterback who threw for just 1,730 yards in his final year of eligibility at BC.
Milano is also facing questions about his position in the NFL. The 6-foot, 222-pounder is considered slightly undersized to be a linebacker at the next level. Although he was recruited to BC as a defensive back, he never played a snap at that position for head coach Steve Addazio, and may lack the speed to keep up with NFL wideouts in coverage.
But in a pass-happy league, Milano may have a future as a linebacker who can excel on throwing downs, and he has proven that his instincts are superb. He could also see playing time early in his career on special teams.
“Milano’s a dog, he’s like a heat-seeking missile out there,” Johnson said.
One Northeast-area scout for an AFC team had a similar assessment of Milano, according to NFL.com.
“I love watching him on tape,” the scout said. “You just know he wishes he were bigger so he could hit even harder. He’s not as good as [Brian] Cushing, but that’s the same kind of mentality he plays with.”
Unfortunately, Milano was somewhat limited on Pro Day due to tightness in his left hamstring.
The nerves from Pro Day will likely carry over to Draft Day for most of BC’s NFL hopefuls. Johnson, for one, will be ready for that fateful call if it comes.
“I’ll be waiting by my phone anxiously,” Johnson said. “I’ll be right in my dorm room probably, or if I decide to go home then I’ll be with my family.”
But Towles, on the other hand, will try to distance himself from all the Draft noise in favor of a peaceful day with family.
“I’ll be at home playing golf with my dad and my brothers,” Towles said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Featured Image by Taylor Perison / Heights Staff