Taylor Price knew he had to deliver.
As he traveled to the Senior Bowl last week in Mobile, Ala., the former Bobcat wide receiver had his future job on the line. The week of practice worked somewhat like a job interview, but instead of sitting behind a desk answering questions, Price had to prove himself to legions of NFL scouts who wanted to see if he could make it at the next level.
“It’s an opportunity I was hoping for,” Price said last Thursday. “I finally got it, and I’m finally meeting those expectations, and showing these scouts what I actually have to offer.”
Price could not have done much more to help his case.
His North squad won the game 31-13, and Price had one catch for eight yards. But that hardly tells the story of what Price proved during the week. With the Senior Bowl, the actual game takes a backseat to the week of practice and intense scouting that takes place by pro scouts.
On the practice field, Price shined.
He came into the Senior Bowl — the best post-season all-star game for college players — as a likely mid-round pick in the NFL Draft on April 22-24, but it took just one day of practice for the scouts to notice his talents, and experts now project him to get drafted in the second round.
After the first day of practice, ESPN’s Director of College Scouting Todd McShay pointed out that Price’s strong performance grabbed everyone’s attention.
“Certainly there are other bigger-name wide receivers here,” McShay said on “Sportscenter,” “but Price is the real deal.”
Sports Illustrated and CBSsportsline.com also noted Price’s play in their coverage of the Senior Bowl. By the middle of the week, more eyes started to focus on Price, and draft experts from across the county praised his play.
His combination of size (6-0, 198 pounds) and speed (sub 4.4 in the 40-yard dash) is exactly the kind of talent that NFL teams desire.
“He can flat out run vertically,” McShay said. “That’s the key. When you find a wide receiver that can run with size, you got to give him a chance.”
As the talk around Price started to grow, and the NFL teams started to take notice, he tried to keep the elevated exposure from affecting his game.
“I get bits and pieces here and there from my family, people I’ve been in contact with everyday,” Price said about the media attention. “But I try not to read too much into it, and go out everyday and play with something to prove, play with a purpose, and go out every day and work hard.”
The Senior Bowl experience allowed Price to test his talents against some of college football’s most talented and hyped players.
Joining Price on the North squad were Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike and wide receiver Marty Gilyard (who excelled during the game), Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman and Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour. The South team had Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.
“It’s a lot of confident guys that know they’re good at what they do, and I feel I’m the same kind of guy, and I feel like I belong here,” Price said.
Price certainly looked like he belonged on the same field as those players, and outshone many of them during the week.
The second-round projections are a drastic climb from earlier this season, where some draft analysts had Price as a mid-to-late round pick and others had him not getting drafted at all. During the broadcast of the Little Caesars Bowl against Marshall on Dec. 26, the ESPN scrolling bottom line stated that Ohio had “no draftable players.”
That has certainly changed after Price’s week at the Senior Bowl.
“I’ve been working hard and finally some people are starting to realize what I’ve been doing down in Athens for four years,” Price said. “It’s finally starting to culminate here at the Senior Bowl.”
During his career with Ohio, Price did not garner much national recognition — part of the struggle for a player non-BCS conference — but he thrived for the Bobcats. Price finished as the school’s career leader in receptions and second for touchdown catches and receiving yards.
He now looks like he might become one of the highest draft picks ever out of Ohio, an honor currently held by former Bobcats safety Michael Mitchell, whom the Oakland Raiders drafted with the 47th pick in last year’s draft.
“It’s great for the school,” Price said. “Any publicity the school gets is good publicity, and everything Ohio has done for me, I’m just giving back for everything they have done for me.”
Price is currently not taking any classes, and focusing entirely on preparing for the draft. He plans to return for class in the spring, and hopes to complete his degree by the summer, before making the jump to the NFL.