Virginia hosts its NFL Pro Day on Wednesday, and whatever happens during drills, lifting and interviews could end up determining whether a long draft streak continues.
Last month, the Cavaliers had no representatives at the NFL combine, leaving its best pro prospects with one huge shot to make an impression. Virginia has had at least one player drafted every year for 33 straight years, tied with Florida State for the second-longest streak in the ACC (Miami is tops at 42).
Running back Taquan Mizzell hopes he can be the player to keep the string going. Initially surprised he did not get a combine invitation, Mizzell wants to show scouts enough of his speed and versatility to warrant a draft selection.
“I’ve got a little chip on my shoulder. I just want to go out there and show them what I can do, especially when it gets to the football part,” Mizzell said in a recent phone interview. “This is a big interview for me.”
In addition to Mizzell, 10 other Virginia players are set to participate in pro day, hoping maybe they are the ones who will get drafted.
Mizzell played in nearly every Virginia game over the last four seasons, earning All-ACC honorable mention honors in 2016. He finished his career as the only player in ACC history with 1,500 or more rushing yards and 1,500 or more receiving yards.
In the all-star games that followed the season, Mizzell participated in the NFLPA Bowl, where he had an opportunity to meet scouts from different teams. He also spent time training with Tom Shaw at the Disney Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla., working mainly on his speed and route running.
The way Mizzell sees his prospects is two-fold: impress with a solid 40-yard dash time in the 4.4-range, and show that he runs precise routes as either a running back or receiver. If there is any good news there, it is that he has plenty of game tape to show his ability to catch the ball and be a threat out of the backfield.
“If I perform and be the best me then they’ll like what they see,” Mizzell said.
Virginia has not had the same type of success Miami and Florida State have had over the last 30 years, but the Cavaliers have been able to maintain their draft streak because they’ve had an ability to recruit and develop talent.
Recently, though, that has been much more difficult. Virginia has posted five straight losing seasons, a big reason why its prospects for keeping the streak going have dimmed. Mizzell, though, is keeping his hopes up.
“The streak is big time right there,” Mizzell said. “Just to be a part of it, I’m grateful to be at a university like this. Since I’ve been here, I feel like we haven’t had a winning season, and I feel that plays a part in some of this but it shows if you’re good, they’ll find you. Having that opportunity to be one of those guys I’m grateful for it.”
Now he just needs his name to be called next month.