MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Shelton Gibson has to rank among the fastest wide receivers in West Virginia University history, so when he posted a 4.5 clocking in the 40-yard dash earlier this month at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis something seemed a little off.
“A lot of teams were telling me they were glad I posted a 4.5. I was like ‘why?’” Gibson said following West Virginia's pro day Friday morning inside the Caperton Indoor Practice facility. “They said if anybody thinks you run a 4.5 they’re crazy. We’ll get you.”
For the record, the pro scouts down along the field had Gibson’s time in the high 4.3s, which is what he typically runs, but the official NFL clock began when Gibson’s arm moved, not when he took off. Therefore, his official time at the combine was 4.5 instead of 4.4 or a high 4.3.
Many top professional prospects now employ speed coaches specifically to train them to run the 40 at the combine and personal workouts. It may seem excessive, but a matter of a tenth of a second can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars to a player based on where he’s taken in the draft.
To his credit, Gibson said he didn’t let his 40 time ruin his combine experience.
“I could have let that get to me and I could have had a bad combine but I still went out there and competed at a high level after that 40,” he noted. “That was the biggest thing.”
Gibson chose to leave school a year early, a decision he said he made shortly after the Russell Athletic Bowl following a meeting with the coaching staff despite not submitting his draft application papers to the NFL in December.
Gibson said his dream has always been to play in the NFL.
“Of course I miss it every time I come up here and I see them practicing and I know I could have been on the team, but my ultimate dream is to play in the NFL so that’s where I want to be,” he said.
Gibson has a lot to offer. Despite his combine time, Gibson is one of the best vertical threats in this year’s draft. He ran the fastest 60-yard shuttle time in combine history, nearly a half-second faster than Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, who had the second fastest 60-yard shuttle time.
That demonstrates his length-of-the-field, straight-line speed that teams love. On the field, 36 percent of his catches went for 25 yards or more, a clear example of his big-play capabilities.
Gibson also adds value as a kickoff returner (he brought back one kickoff for a touchdown against Baylor during his sophomore season) while also playing on kickoff, punt and punt return teams while at West Virginia.
Pro teams generally covet the type of versatility Gibson possesses.
“A lot of coaches at the combine asked me if I like to play special teams,” he said. “I told them to ask Coach (Dana) Holgorsen about special teams. Honestly, it’s the most fun part of the game to me.”
Gibson’s downside is his somewhat limited sample size in college without a 50-catch season to his credit, or his inexperience running intermediate routes.
Gibson said his top focus since announcing his decision to enter the draft has been to improve his intermediate route-running skills.
“I showed that I can compete at a high level,” he said. “That’s No. 1. I showed that I want to work and that I’m willing to learn these intermediate routes because I have never run these routes a day of my life and they say I’m doing OK, I’m doing good with them, but that’s not what I want. I want to be great. If they teach me and I keep doing these routes over and over, I’m going to perfect it just like I perfected the deep ball.”
The website BleedingGreenNation.com, which covers the Philadelphia Eagles, listed Gibson as one of eight wide receivers the Eagles plan to examine more closely before the draft. There are likely other teams out there interested as well in what Gibson can bring to the table.
The NFL player some draft experts compare Gibson to is Cleveland’s Corey Coleman, a first-rounder from Baylor two years ago. He is probably also similar to Baltimore’s Mike Wallace or former Pittsburgh receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey in terms of his straight-line speed.
At any rate, it only takes one of the 32 NFL teams to like him.
“One team, that’s all you need,” Gibson said. “One person believing in you. Like I always tell people, and I have nothing against Derrick Henry, but the Cowboys could have picked up Derrick Henry before they picked up Ezekiel Elliott and look what happened. They got a great player. Just go out and compete.
“That’s the biggest thing these coaches want to see is if you compete,” Gibson added. “I know I always compete at a high level.”
As for Gibson’s 40 time this morning, he officially ran a 4.39.
* Based on conversations I had with some of the knowledgeable football people observing today’s workout, cornerback Rasul Douglas and Gibson seem to be the two guys who will likely go first among West Virginia’s draft entrants this year.
One person told me Douglas compares favorably to former Mountaineer corner Daryl Worley, chosen in the third round last year by Carolina. Douglas is not a burner (he ran a 4.57 this morning), but his size (6-feet-2, 209 pounds) and his athleticism make him an intriguing cornerback prospect.
* Nineteen of the 22 Mountaineer players eligible for this year’s draft participated in pro day this morning. Players did bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, 40-yard dash, pro shuttle, three-cone drill and positional work in front of NFL scouts.
I am told all 32 NFL teams were present in Morgantown today, as well as one Canadian Football League team.
* Among former Mountaineer players I ran into Friday at pro day included Quinton Spain, Don Barclay, Charles Fisher, John Thornton, Tyler Urban, J.T. Thomas, Willie Edwards and Nick Kwiatkoski.
Kwiatkoski told me he was pleased with the way his first season in Chicago turned out as he begins year two of a four-year deal he signed with the Bears. Nick said he got a considerable amount of defensive snaps as a rookie and also took part on most of the special teams. He is getting ready for minicamp next month and then OTAs before getting a little down time in early June. Then it’s off to training camp in late July.
* NFL.com's draft website has seven West Virginia players listed among its top prospects and all seven have grades between 5.1 and 5.8, meaning they have the talent to make an NFL roster. The highest grade went to Douglas (5.8) with the lowest going to offensive guard Adam Pankey (5.1).
The others are Christian Brown (5.2), Gibson (5.5), Noble Nwachukwu (5.5), Tyler Orlosky (5.3) and Rushel Shell III (5.3).
For comparison sake, the top-rated prospect in this year’s draft, Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, had a grade of 7.8.
West Virginia has had 17 players taken in the draft under Holgorsen since 2012, including nine the last two years. The Mountaineers have also had four first-rounders during that period of time.
* The 2017 NFL Draft will be held in Philadelphia and begins on Thursday, April 27 at 8 p.m. with the first round. Rounds two and three will take place on Friday, April 28, while rounds four through seven will occur on Saturday, April 29.
The NFL Network, ESPN and ESPN2 will once again provide live coverage of the entire draft.