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Notes & Quotes: Michigan State NFL Draft hopefuls recap Pro Day

“I’ve dreamt of this forever, for when I started playing football,” Naquan Jones said about the opportunity to play in the NFL. “It’s just one step closer.”

Antjuan Simmons works out at Michigan State’s 2021 pro day.
Michigan State Athletic Communications

The Michigan State Spartans held a pro day on Wednesday and several players — including Spartans from both the 2019 and 2020 rosters — were able to work out. With the NFL Combine not operating in its traditional format in Indianapolis this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was a chance for Michigan State players to impress NFL scouts, coaches and personnel.

The following players participated in MSU’s pro day:

  • Ryan Armour, long snapper
  • Josh Butler, cornerback
  • David Dowell, safety
  • Tyler Higby, offensive lineman
  • Brian Lewerke, quarterback
  • Matt Seybert, tight end
  • Tyriq Thompson, linebacker
  • Shakur Brown, cornerback
  • Naquan Jones, defensive tackle
  • Antjuan Simmons, linebacker

Of course, Brown, Jones and Simmons most recently played for the Spartans in 2020. The other seven participants were members of the 2019 roster who — after losing out on their pro day last year due to the pandemic — were invited back this year by Scott Aligo, Michigan State’s director of player personnel, along with head coach Mel Tucker. It was actually Aligo who coordinated the event for the program.

Michigan State did not provide official testing metrics for the pro day, but Jim Nagy, executive director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl, was able to provide metrics for Brown, Jones and Simmons:

Brown, Jones, Simmons and Lewerke were available to speak to the media following the drills. Below is what each player had to say about the experience, as well as some notes on their performances and outlook.

Shakur Brown:

Brown didn’t show off blazing speed by any means with a 4.61-second 40-yard dash time, but he put out great film in the 2020 season, with five interceptions, which tied him for third-most in the country. Brown also led the FBS in interceptions per game (five in seven games, which was 0.71 per game). He earned All-America honors from the Walter Camp Football Foundation (second-team) and Pro Football Focus (third-team), as well as first-team All-Big Ten accolades by the coaches and second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media.

Brown showed off his strength with 17 bench press reps of 225 pounds and showed at least some explosion with a 35.5-inch vertical jump and 9-foot-8-inch broad jump.

On the Zoom call, Brown noted that he doesn’t have a preference playing outside cornerback or inside (playing slot in nickel packages), and that he has the versatility to do both. Overall, Brown was just excited to have the opportunity to work out in front of NFL personnel members.

“It’s just a feeling of excitement,” Brown said. “It’s a blessing to be here (at the pro day). Everything I’ve been through here (in East Lansing), trials and tribulations, things of that nature, today was a blessing.”

Also of note, Brown mentioned he has been training in Miami and Pensacola, Florida prior to the pro day. He also said former Spartans, Justin Layne and Josiah Scott, “paved the way” for him to be the next Michigan State defensive back drafted into the NFL. Additionally, Brown has talked to several NFL teams, including the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“I felt like I was physically, mentally and emotionally ready,” Brown said about his decision to enter the NFL Draft. “I went out there (today) and gave it all I got. Put my best foot forward,” he lated added.

Naquan Jones

One of the goals that Jones had for himself, after hearing feedback from NFL teams, was to drop some weight. He was listed at 340 pounds on the 2020 roster, and set a goal weight of 315 pounds. He weighed in at 313 pounds on Wednesday, and said he felt quicker and was able to show off some explosion. Jones still demonstrated his strength, too, with 20 bench press reps, and also measured with over an 80-inch wingspan.

For Jones, the opportunity to play in the NFL has been a lifelong dream, and he is getting closer and closer to making that a dream a reality.

“I’ve dreamt of this forever, for when I started playing football,” Jones said about the opportunity to play in the NFL. “It’s just one step closer. I set some goals for myself during this draft process, and I was able to meet many of them, and I’m still working toward meeting the rest of them.”

Of course, Jones could have returned for a sixth-year of eligibility given the blanket waiver all fall athletes received due to COVID, but although it was a hard decision for him, Jones knew it was time to move on.

“It was a tough decision to make (about coming back for a sixth year in 2021), but I handled some things in college that I felt like I was ready to take that step,” Jone said. “I got my degree, I’ve been here for five years now, and I felt like it was time for me to make that step, and I think I made the best decision.”

Jones noted that he’s been talking with former MSU teammates Kenny Willekes and Raequan Williams about the pre-draft process, and that he has been leaning heavily on Willekes throughout it.

Jones also mentioned that being able to represent his hometown of Evanston, Illinois means everything to him, and he wants to be a role model for kids in his community. Additionally, he spoke about his time at Michigan State and how it has really helped him grow into the person he is now, and that playing against Big Ten level competition helped prepared him for the next level.

“Michigan State has a done a great job,” Jones said. “Like I said, I’ve been here for five years and I feel like I’ve taken away something from every year. I came in here into Michigan State, and I was immature. I had to do a lot of soul-searching and I’ve experienced some adversity while I was here, and I had to mature and grow and become a man. As you step into that leadership role, and as you get older, you have younger guys that look up to just gotta do what you need to do to be a winner and help your team win and get the job done.”

Jones also credits Michigan State defensive line coach Ron Burton for his growth and development, and said he was a “father figure” to him.

Antjuan Simmons

Simmons — who earned second-team All-Big Ten honors as a senior and All Big-Ten honorable mention as a junior — checked in at 218 pounds, and ran a 4.83-second 40-yard dash. He recorded 15 bench press reps with a 32-inch vertical and 9-foot-4-inch broad jump. Additionally, Simmons finished with a 4.28-second short shuttle and 7.3-second three-cone drill.

Simmons says he has been working on all aspects of his game, especially his ability to shed blocks.

“I’ve been pretty much working on everything,” Simmons said about his preparation for pro day. “It wasn’t one thing we had focused on. We wanted to make sure that everything was as good as it could possibly be when the day came. I felt good. I definitely felt like I put everything out there, I went as hard as I possibly can, so I can definitely live with the results.”

When asked about what an NFL team would be getting in him, Simmons was not shy about what he brings to the table as a leader and football player.

“Definitely gonna get a hard-working guy, positive attitude, a leader.” Simmons said. “I’m gonna show up and do everything right, do whatever’s needed to better the team. Whatever it takes, I’m gonna get the job done. You’re gonna get a heck of a football player. I’m gonna give it 110 (percent) in practice, I’m gonna give it 110 (percent) on game days, that’s just the type of guy I am. I wanna be the best, I wanna win...that’s the attitude I’m trying to bring.”

While we mentioned the NFL Combine event is not operating as usual in Indianapolis in 2021, the NFL still sent out official invites. When the list came out, both Shakur Brown and Naquan Jones were included, however, Simmons did not receive an invite. When I asked him if he took that as a slight or like it put a chip on his shoulder, Simmons said he did take it personally, and is looking forward to proving the doubters wrong.

“I mean, yeah, of course (I took it as a slight),” Simmons said. “After my last few seasons, I definitely felt like I was one of the best out there. But you know, they pick the guys, and I’m not in charge of anything. My job is to show up and perform. I can’t complain or get too down about it, but it definitely gave a little extra motivation, definitely showed I just got to keep working. Just stay in the fight, keep doing what I do.”

Brian Lewerke

It was a little bit different experience for Lewerke, who has already been in the NFL. He was one of the players who got invited back this year after missing out on a pro day last year. Lewerke went undrafted in the 2020 NFL Draft, but signed with the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent shortly afterward. He was cut by the Patriots in September, and had a few tryouts with other NFL teams, including the Indianapolis Colts, but wasn’t signed by another club.

Lewerke says he is staying ready at all times for whenever he gets a call from an NFL team. He’s been working with a throwing coach in Arizona and staying in shape and working out all the time. When asked how COVID-19 affected his NFL outlook, Lewerke said it was definitely challenging, but something that was out of his hands.

“It definitely didn’t help anything at all,” Lewerke said with a laugh. “Having (NFL) preseason canceled, for guys like me who go undrafted, the preseason is really big for us just to to try to be able to show what we can do in game situations. So not having that definitely sucked. Then just having the whole (COVID) protocol for teams having to keep you for a week before you can do a tryout, and make sure you gotta quarantine for a tryout, it made it a little less attractive for teams to bring guys in for tryouts. You’ve got to be ready at all times and just have a positive attitude about it whenever you can.”

While it was frustrating for Lewerke and other guys trying to make it at the professional level, he understood what the reality was and didn’t want to make excuses.

“I obviously was upset and frustrated about it, but at a point there’s nothing you can do about it, so there’s really no point in getting mad because it’s just gonna eat at you,” Lewerke said. “You just gotta move on a little bit and that’s what kind if what I did. I had my shot with a team and didn’t get all the opportunities that I wanted with that team. I’m trying to hopefully make an impression on someone. Hopefully I did today and they can bring me in.”

Lewerke added that after spending some time in the NFL, he’s learned a lot about what NFL teams expect and how the the business of the NFL operates.

Scott Aligo:

Aligo, as mentioned, is Michigan State’s director of player personnel, and was in charge of the operations of the pro day event, with support from several other departments. The event went efficiently and smoothly, Aligo said, starting around 9:15 a.m. and ending by 1 p.m.

Aligo, a former NFL scout himself, said that bringing back former Spartans to give them a chance to work out in front of NFL scouts and personnel was “the least we can do to be able to give them that opportunity to do that.” He also spoke about how “vital” this event was for the players and the program.

“It’s vital for them and we take that seriously,” Aligo said. “So that’s why today we want to make it their day and really kind of bring those guys back and try to make it as combine like as possible without having to be at the combine. Everything that we structured today was to make that feel like they were Indianapolis. It’s very important and we took a lot of pride in really showing off Michigan State and being able to show them what our players can do.”