by Sam Katzman
UO Athletic Communications
Terrance Mitchell has always thrived when he has something to prove.
A three-year starter at cornerback for Oregon, Mitchell developed from a three-star recruit into an honorable mention all-Pac-12 selection as a sophomore.
“I was an underdog coming into Oregon, and I worked my way to starter,” Mitchell said. “I just like to open up a few eyes.”
When the former Duck announced in January that he’d forgo his senior season to pursue a professional career, he assumed the role of underdog again. But Mitchell never doubted his decision.
“I’ve always been aware of my ability and I know what I can do,” he said.
Since he cleared out his locker at the Hatfield-Dowling Complex, Mitchell has been working hard to show scouts he shouldn’t be overlooked. In the past couple of months, Mitchell significantly improved his draft stock. Once projected as a late-round pick when he first opted to go pro, now the former UO cornerback could be taken as early as the third round in this weekend's NFL Draft, according to NFL.com.
Mitchell said his name has been climbing up the big board because he’s been training relentlessly. At the NFL Scouting Combine in March, Mitchell impressed scouts by posting the best marks at his position in the three-cone agility drill and 20- and 60-yard shuttle runs. His 4.63 40-yard dash time, however, tied for second slowest among defensive backs.
“After the combine, I wasn’t happy with my 40, so I went back and trained to get ready for (Oregon's) pro day. But at the pro day, I messed up my hamstring, so I ran a 4.52,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell returned to his hometown of Sacramento, Calif., more determined than ever to refine his breakaway speed.
With guidance from strength and conditioning coaches along with his mentor, NFL Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott, Mitchell managed to shave valuable fractions of a second off his 40 time. In front of scouts representing the Indianapolis Colts and Oakland Raiders, Mitchell ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at a workout hosted on his former high school field in mid-April. That mark would have placed sixth among cornerbacks at the combine.
That improvement in the 40, along with Mitchell's outstanding marks in the other timed events at the combine, complement film NFL teams will study of Mitchell's productive three years on the field at Oregon.
Mitchell shattered his previous career highs for interceptions (five) and tackles (59) in a season during his 2013-14 campaign. In that season, he tallied the second-most interceptions and passes defended in the Pac-12.
As a redshirt freshman, Mitchell quickly emerged as a strong force in the starting lineup―and he expects it won’t be long before he’s back on the field competing to start for an NFL squad.
“There’s really nothing else to do other than show what I’m capable of, to prove myself,” Mitchell said. “My time is going to come, I just have to be ready to play.”
Other Oregon prospects to watch this weekend:
De’Anthony Thomas, RB/WR: Although draft experts say he could be the most electrifying offensive player available on the big board, at 5-foot-9 and 174 pounds, Thomas’ stature has raised concerns among scouts, according to NFL.com.
The former Duck focused on improving his speed and acceleration while training for the Draft.
Thomas participated in every drill at Oregon’s pro day in March, determined to better his stock after running a 4.50-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He managed to drastically improve that time, clocking in at 4.34―which would have tied for the third-fastest time at the Combine.
The Los Angeles native is listed as a running back, but Thomas said all he wants is an opportunity to prove he’s a pro-caliber player.
“I want to get anywhere on the field just to show my ability and that I can play football,” he said. “Wide receiver, punt returner, kick returner; I just want to be somewhere on the field so I can make plays.”
According to NFL.com, Thomas is the No. 11 running back available in this year’s draft and projected to go in the third or fourth round. CBSsports.com ranks Thomas as its 190th overall prospect and a fifth- or sixth-round pick.
Taylor Hart, DL: Like Dion Jordan last year, Taylor Hart is the Ducks’ only defensive lineman projected to be selected in the draft. Hart won’t go in the first round like Jordan, but he is expected to be a mid-round pick, according to CBSsports.com and NFL.com.
Hart completed a senior season in which he recorded nearly as many tackles (75) in 13 games as he did in his previous three seasons combined (98). The humble Duck led the Oregon defensive line in tackles last season and sacks in the 2012-13 season.
CBSsports.com lists Hart as the 111th overall available draft prospect and expects him to go in the third or fourth round. NFL.com projects Hart as a fourth- or fifth-round pick.
Josh Huff, WR: Oregon’s record-holder for single-season receiving yards, and co-leader for receiving touchdowns in a season and career, is projected as a fourth-round pick in the NFL’s Mock Draft 6.0. CBSsports.com expects Huff to hear his name called in the fifth round.
Huff led the Ducks’ receivers last season in receptions, yards receiving and touchdowns. As a result, Huff earned his second all-Pac-12 honorable mention nod.
Boseko Lokombo, LB: Lokombo was the top performer among linebackers in the broad jump and three-cone drill at the combine.
He also ran a 4.66 40-yard dash to place sixth in his position. But he’s been limited in training for the draft due to a shoulder injury and was not able to participate at the Ducks’ pro day.
Despite his strong performance at the Combine, Lokombo’s medical roadblock has hampered his draft stock, which now sits as a seventh-round pick or priority free agent, according to NFL.com.
Lokombo had 63 tackles, seven tackles for a loss and led the team in quarterback hurries in his final season with the Ducks. Before the start of his senior campaign, Lokombo was drafted 21st overall in the Canadian Football League draft by his hometown BC Lions. If no NFL team shows interest in Lokombo, the Lions would assume his professional rights.
Colt Lyerla, TE: CBSsports.com projects Lyerla as a seventh-round pick or priority free agent due to disciplinary concerns. He’s slated as a third or fourth round pick, according to NFL.com.
Expected to be seventh-round selections or priority free agents: S Brian Jackson, S Avery Patterson, DL Ricky Havili-Heimuli, NT Wade Kellikipi, WR Daryle Hawkins