The months leading up to the NFL draft are filled with smoke screens and oftentimes hilariously false narratives.
It's a time when the best players are torn down by nitpicky criticisms, and under-the-radar players are making a push to be drafted higher than they ever would be realistically.
If you want an example of the latter, look no further than the buzz surrounding former SMU and Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert.
According to NFL.com's Gil Brandt, Gilbert shined in his pro day by completing 87 of 88 passes. Furthermore, Brandt says Gilbert could be a mid-round pick, taken possibly as early as the third round.
Gilbert's coach, June Jones, understandably piled on the praise (via Brandon George of The Dallas Morning News).
I think Garrett really, really helped himself. Of all my years in the National Football League and working out quarterbacks, I think this was the second best workout that I’ve been a part of as far as catching the ball and throwing it accurately, deep balls, all of the type of throws that the NFL needs to see.
Of course, Brandt is just one opinion and Jones is going to talk up his player. Still, the buzz coming from Gilbert's pro day is an interesting case of how ending a career strong can be better than starting strong.
Pro days aren't the end-all, be-all of a prospect's draft stock—so don't put too much into Teddy Bridgewater's reportedly so-so pro day at Louisville—but Gilbert's was probably weighted a little more than others. That's because he wasn't invited to the NFL combine, so this could be a scout's only chance to see Gilbert in person before May.
Per Jones, several scouts were "blown away" by Gilbert.
There's likely some coach hyperbole mixed in there, so it's important to understand Gilbert's pro day in context.
Most of Gilbert's college career had "bust" written all over it. His stint at Texas was a disaster even though he was a 5-star recruit, per 247Sports, out of high school, projected to be Colt McCoy's successor. As a first-year starter for the Longhorns in 2010, Gilbert threw just 10 touchdowns to 17 interceptions on a 5-7 team.
A year later when things didn't improve, he was benched and eventually shut down for the year because of a shoulder injury.
He had some serious low points. However, there's no doubt he's rebounded in a major way.
After overcoming a learning curve with SMU in 2012—he had as many passing touchdowns as interceptions (15)—Gilbert took off this past season. Prior to his season-ending knee injury, Gilbert was leading the nation in total offense (finished second in that category per game). With 27 total touchdowns and just seven interceptions, he was a one-man show with the Mustangs.
His last year in college, in conjunction with his strong pro day, certainly makes Gilbert more attractive as a draft-eligible prospect now than, say, 18 months ago.
Of course, drafting isn't about college stats as much as it is about upside and where a prospect potentially fits on a roster. To those points, scouts will look at Gilbert and ask themselves what his potential is and what he could bring to the team.
Per Brandt, Gilbert had all the measurables an organization would look for in a quarterback:
He looks like a bigger version of his father Gale, who played 11 seasons in the NFL (Gale remains the only player to play on five straight Super Bowl teams) with the Seahawks, Bills and Chargers. Garrett Gilbert measured 6-foot-3 7/8 on Friday and weighed 221 pounds. He ran the 40 in 4.81 and 4.83 seconds, had a 29.5-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-9 broad jump, ran the short shuttle in 4.43 seconds and the three-cone drill in 7.30 seconds.
It was a performance that will get him a lot of attention between now and the draft. Gilbert told me he has visits lined up already with the Panthers and Buccaneers. Expect that list to grow.
Will Gilbert catch enough momentum between now and May to be drafted in the second or third round? Probably not, but whether Gilbert is drafted on the second day, third day or not at all, he has come full circle. He's improved tremendously, and there's something to be said for guys who develop later in their college careers.
For Gilbert, he's getting some positive publicity at the right time.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of the NCAA.