“Everybody in my situation will have their breaking point, where they feel like they’re done and throw in the towel and do something else,” Williams said. “But I’m working out every day, just staying ready. Not one ounce of me feels as if I’m done.”
The first COVID-19-related blow to Williams’ NFL hopes came March 10, when he got word that a pro day workout he was to participate in at Columbia University, scheduled to take place just two days later, was canceled. Another player in Williams’ position, Washburn defensive back Josh Wright, had a pro day scheduled for March 13 at Pittsburg State canceled.
“It was a lot of work and money put into nothing, really, and you get your hopes up to earn at least a chance, instead of feeling the process has been wasted,” said Wright, who was expected to test well at his pro day after also starring on his school’s track team. “For me, I probably spent $1,400 or $1,500 (on training), but I know a lot of guys spent more than that.”
From the perspective of NFL clubs, pro day cancellations were highly problematic. Some pro day events in early March — in the week following the NFL Scouting Combine — were conducted as scheduled. By mid-March, however, they were shelved across the board. It impacted even elite prospects, as first-round talents who skipped various workouts at the combine in anticipation of completing them at their pro days never got that chance. But for those who didn’t even receive combine invitations, a canceled pro day workout was far more devastating.
“For me, the pro day was my combine,” Williams said.
It left clubs with no way to put those players through physical testing of any kind leading up to the draft, as private workouts were shut down, as well. And it placed clubs in the position of evaluating those from smaller schools, like Williams, based only on game tape against inferior competition.
Consider Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, who played at D-II Western State (Colo.) and was invited to the University of Colorado pro day in 2017. He ran a sub-4.5 40-yard dash and was picked up by the Chargers post-draft as a priority free agent. He’s now set to take on a full-time starting role in replacing Melvin Gordon, and signed a four-year contract in March worth up to $24.5 million.