During last year’s NFL draft, six defensive tackles and defensive ends/outside linebackers were taken among the top 18 picks. Three of them did their predraft training and the Wellness Performance Institute in Suwanee, Ga.
In all, 13 defensive tackles and defensive ends/outside linebackers were selected, including the Packers’ Jarius Wynn in the sixth round. It’s that track record of success that has Maryland’s Jared Harrell seeking a second helping of training as he attempts to move himself up teams’ draft boards.
Harrell started 12 games as a senior, leading the Terps’ defensive linemen with 28 tackles while adding 1.5 sacks. He spent his first two seasons as a reserve outside linebacker, and at 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, that’s where he’d line up in a 3-4 scheme.
With the lack of a big-time resume and the Terrapins’ disappointing 2-10 finish, Harrell (pronounced “huh-RELL”) isn’t a household name among draftniks. But because of his athleticism, work ethic, frame and intelligence, he’ll get a look, either as a seventh-round pick or an undrafted free agent. A source said the Packers are intrigued by Harrell’s tools.
To better his chances, Harrell enrolled in WPI’s offseason program. Running on a tweaked hamstring, Harrell’s 40-yard time at Maryland’s pro day was 4.84 seconds. By contrast, he ran a 4.69 before his junior season, making him the third-fastest lineman in school history. With pro days over, Harrell is back at WPI, hoping to get healthy and improve his athleticism while working on football-specific skills.
“It’s definitely been worth it, especially now, because there are fewer guys here and there’s more one-on-one attention,” he told Packer Report. “I just feel like this is giving me the opportunity to complete my training, finish what I was doing, and keep getting better.”
The results have been evident, said WPI’s founder, Scott Courter.
“The progression has been huge from where he was to where he is today,” Courter said. “If he just gets a chance to get in somebody’s camp, he’s going to impress.”
“He’s going up against some of the best offensive tackles in the draft because we’re training some of the best offensive tackles in the draft,” Courter continued. “He’s had the opportunity to go one-on-one with them and hone his skills. We don’t do any hitting but we’re teaching the art of pass rushing, the art of playing the defensive line, the art of using your hands. We’re teaching them the second and third move, because it’s a chess game.”
Harrell has been working on his speed with Eric Johnson, a former Pro Bowl linebacker and special teams ace, and honing his technique with former standout defensive linemen Michael Dean Perry and Chuck Wiley.
“He came in, he busted his butt, he did what he needed to do,” Johnson said. “He had some pass-rush issues that he needed to get fixed. It was his angles, and that was the first thing that he fixed. He’s a total different person.”
Harrell’s experience at defensive end and outside linebacker will help his chances of getting into a training camp. What the intelligent and cerebral Harrell is learning from Perry and Wiley only will help his chances of sticking on a roster.
“Teams like my tape and that I play pretty fast,” Harrell said. “Obviously, the team went 2-10 and there’s a lot of things that didn’t go very well for us as a team and I thought I could have done better individually. But they see there’s some stuff there. They see my size, they see my range, they see my speed. They see the things that I can do. Also, I think that teams think I have the capability of being versatile.”
Late-round draft picks often are regarded as afterthoughts by fans, but the Packers’ Brad Jones started seven games as a rookie last year and is the early favorite to be the starter opposite Clay Matthews in 2010. A guy like Harrell would challenge Jeremy Thompson, Brady Poppinga and Cyril Obiozor for a roster spot.
“Hopefully, my buzz will get up in the next couple weeks and a team will realize what I can do and will say, ‘We should draft this kid.’ I think that probably will happen,” Harrell said.
Johnson played seven years in the NFL. His claim to fame was scoring a touchdown on a blocked punt in Super Bowl XXXVII as a member of the Raiders in their loss to Tampa Bay. He knows what it takes to make it.
“He should be in the league,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen a lot of guys in the NFL that shouldn’t be in the NFL that got drafted high. I’ve seen guys like Jared in the NFL that have played for 12 years because they do the little things to prepare. We have film room and he actually learned the game. He’s a student of the game now.
“If he gets that opportunity to get in the doors, he’ll stay in the doors.”
That’s all Harrell wants is that opened door and a chance to show that he’s a better player today than he was at Maryland and that his best days are ahead of him.
“I don’t know any team that would do something not for the betterment of the team,” he said. “If there’s a guy who came in free agency, first round, came from Mars, if he was the best player out there, I think the team’s going to respect that and find something for him to do.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.