NFL Pro Days have been commonplace in the U.S. for years, with pro scouts flocking to campuses around the 50 states throughout March and April to see prospects.
Now they’re moving north of the border, popping up at Canadian universities with increasing regularity over the last few years.
Nine NFL teams sent scouts to Montreal in 2014 to see McGill offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who was eventually drafted in the sixth round by the Chiefs. Last year personnel men from 17 NFL franchises traveled north to Winnipeg for an up-close look at University of Manitoba defensive lineman David Onyemata. He impressed so much that the Saints traded up to select him in the fourth round.
The Bisons football program will make it back-to-back years with an NFL Pro Day with offensive lineman Geoff Gray holding one on March 30. Laval tight end Antony Auclair has scheduled a Pro Day for March 13 in Quebec City.
And kicking off the Canadian NFL Pro Day circuit in 2017 is linebacker Jordan Herdman, who has set a March 10 date for his Pro Day at Simon Fraser.
Herdman’s a sleeper trending upwards. The son of James Reed, who played linebacker for the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles as well as four CFL teams, led the Great Northwest Athletic Conference with 113 tackles in 2016, setting an all-time GNAC career tackles mark in the process (428).
After Herdman uploaded a highlight reel of his senior season to YouTube, NFL agent Joe Linta flew him to New Jersey for a workout and signed him as client. Though Herdman wasn't included on the National Football Scouting and Blesto prospects lists, the two main scouting services used by most every NFL team to help identify NFL talent, Linta feels strongly about his NFL chances.
“Every year I have a prospect I call ‘the chosen one,’ a guy that was under the rock, under the radar, that I decide to devote a lot of time, effort and money to," says Linta, who represents a list of clients including Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. “Tyler Varga was a ‘chosen one.' Kyle Juszczyk, who went to the Pro Bowl this year, was one. Last year we had a kid, Ryan O’Malley [tight end] from Penn, who is playing for the Raiders now.
"[But] you never really know you’re right until September. If [Herdman's] playing football for money in September than I will have been proved correct."
After Linta sent his latest chosen one's film to Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage, the one-time Cleveland Browns general manager sent a scout to observe a Herdman workout at TEST Sports Club in New Jersey and then extended an invitation to the high-profile college all-star game.
Once game-week practices began, Herdman quickly showed he could play at the level of the NCAA’s best pro prospects.
"I remember the second day I made some good plays and I was talking to five scouts at one time shooting questions at me after the practice, all with their pens out writing notes down," Herdman recalls. "'What are your top games? What’s your family life like? How were you raised? What did you take in school? Any injuries?' I’ll always remember that."
During the Senior Bowl game itself on Jan. 28, Herdman made his prescence felt by delivering what might have been the hit of the game.
"I remember [Chicago Bears head coach John Fox, who was coaching the North team] saying, 'Good job' and 'Great hit,'" Herdman says. “It really showed everybody my style of play, which is really physical and violent."
That jarring tackle provided a lasting memory for observers who watched it live or on film. Coming into the Senior Bowl, Herdman had only spoken with two NFL teams — one team scout came to Simon Fraser’s final game of the 2016 season against Western Oregon. By the end of the event he had talked with representatives from nearly every squad.
After watching his film, a personnel evaluator said: “Herdman’s a beast.”
That increased interest led to the Pro Day date being set at Simon Fraser for March 10, strategically planned to take place one day before the University of Washington's event as many NFL scouts will already be traveling to the northwest. It would be deemed successful by Linta if 16 or more NFL teams make the trip to the Burnaby, B.C., campus.
But an NFL draft spot is far from guaranteed. One pro scout called Herdman "physical, smart and instinctual," but questioned whether teams will jump at him due to the fact that he comes from a smaller school and lacks elite size for his position. At the Senior Bowl, he measured five-foot-10 and three-quarters and weighed in at 238 lb.
Linta says there may be a little uncertainty about his client because he wasn't on the scouting-service lists — "he's late to the dance" — but is confident one team will bite, whether at the draft or with a post-draft free-agent deal.
“If a personnel director says to me, 'Well, our scout rejected him,' my response would be, 'Your scout’s wrong and here’s why — A, B, C and D'.... I think I’ve commanded the respect of these personnel directors that will at least look at the kid," Linta says. "They may not all like him, but this isn’t a beauty contest — there are 32 teams and I’m trying to find one that likes him, because you can only play for one team last I checked.”