If tailback Todd Gurley is the most surefire NFL draft selection this week out of the University of Georgia, then receiver Chris Conley is certainly the most intriguing.
Conley led the run-oriented Bulldogs last season with a respectable 657 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns. Then the 6-foot-2, 213-pounder from Dallas, Ga., traveled to Indianapolis in February and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds, bench-pressed 225 pounds 18 times, had a vertical jump of 45 inches and did a broad jump of 139 inches.
His vertical jump was the best of any player at any position at the combine, and his broad jump ranked second.
"I thought he had a nice career at Georgia and probably thought he would be a late-round receiver, but his testing was off the charts," said former Tennessee Vols defensive back Charles Davis, who is now an analyst with Fox Sports and the NFL Network. "So I went back and watched more film of him wondering why the production didn't match what he did at the combine, and I think a lot had to do with how Georgia handled Hutson Mason, who was a fifth-year quarterback but a first-year starter, after all those years with Aaron Murray.
"Everybody had to go back and do a lot of homework, because Chris Conley opened up a lot of eyes."
Conley is projected by NFL.com to go in Friday night's third round, while CBS has him going in Saturday afternoon's fourth round.
In his four-year career with Mark Richt's Bulldogs, Conley caught 117 passes for 1,938 yards and 20 touchdowns. Last season's team was dominated by Gurley and then Nick Chubb, who pounded out 1,547 yards and 7.1 yards a carry, with Conley accounting for the only 100-yard receiving game with his five-catch, 128-yard showing in the win at Arkansas.
Georgia has one of the few pro-style offenses left in the Southeastern Conference and throughout college football, and Conley thinks that could be beneficial this week.
"When they say that Georgia is a pro-style offense, it truly is," Conley told reporters last month at the school's pro day. "There is a lot of overlap in what we do and what a lot of NFL teams do, not only in scheme but sometimes in the routes specifically. The way that we run routes and read coverages is similar to a lot of teams."
Forbes Magazine, citing Conley's off-the-field achievements, believes the receiver could be used by NFL executives as a retort to a 2009 Sports Illustrated article claiming that 78 percent of former NFL players have lost their fortunes by the time they are two years removed from the league.
Conley was a member of UGA's Student-Athlete Leadership Academy and was appointed by the SEC to a two-year term on the NCAA's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. He also produced "Retribution," a 26-minute "Star Wars" tribute film that contained himself, Gurley and Richt and has received nearly 500,000 views on YouTube.
There has been much to like about Conley entering the draft, with his performance in Indianapolis topping the chart.
"As soon as he popped those numbers at the combine, I promise you that everyone went scrambling for his tape," one AFC offensive coordinator told NFL.com. "It's hard to tell if he's a workout warrior or an NFL starter after you watch his tape, but he's going to get drafted high based on those numbers."
Said Conley: "There were so many interviews that you have to go through, but when you go out on the field, it's just football and stuff you've been practicing your whole life."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.