James Empey was in Dallas, training at the Cowboys practice facility, when he heard the news he wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine.
It wasn’t some seminal moment or earth-shattering event. More like a small surprise, a momentary gathering of thought, and then back to work.
The NFL Combine would have been a good measuring stick for his draft stock. But for BYU’s four-year starter, he always felt his body of work would speak louder than going to a combine.
“I know it’s a really cool experience and would have probably been really cool to go,” Empey said. “But in my personal experience, I know what motivates me. I don’t really care about much else. I have accomplished all that I needed to do in college.”
Empey is a player who embodies the fringes of NFL draft life because of his large body of work. He has played in 41 college games. He has started since his freshman season. And he has been a finalist for just about every offensive lineman award in the country.
But because he stayed so long in college, he has also seen the downsides. He’s had injuries, missing six games last year. He is older than most people in the draft, at 25 years old.
It puts him in this weird spot, wedged in the in-between of the NFL draft world. He is too experienced for scouts to project much “upside.” And his experience has also let people see the negatives of his game. So, it wasn’t shocking to him that he wasn’t invited to the combine. At this point, scouts know who he is. It is now time to just sit back and see if he gets drafted.
“James has a lot of stars under his belt. So he has a lot of film,” said Jasen Ah You, BYU’s pro liaison. “Scouts have been talking about him for the last three years. So there’s really no surprises as far as what he brings to the table. It’s pretty well documented. So in that sense I wasn’t surprised he wasn’t invited to the combine.”
The last few months have been a waiting game for Empey. He doesn’t have a lot left to prove.
He spent a few months in Dallas training with Duke Manyweather, a noted offensive lineman coach who trains around 25 NFL players annually and hosts training sessions for draft prospects. Lane Johnson, the former Philadelphia Eagle, is one of his notable proteges.
He also worked out with Les Spellman, a speed coach who works with Olympians and NFL players.
Empey’s strategy is controlling what he can. And one of those things is being prepared for BYU Pro Day this week. Running well and testing will help.
The other aspect is being prepared to talk about football to scouts. At 6-foot-4 and 303 pounds, he has never been the biggest offensive lineman. But, as he worked out with Manyweather, he realized understanding scheme is just as valuable of a skill to scouts. It is why Manyweather devotes half the day to talking about technique.
“I thought his expertise and experience would be valuable,” Empey said of Manyweather. “I thought that I could learn a lot from the people that train there as well.”
But even a strong Pro Day might not change much. He is projected at anywhere from a sixth-round pick to undrafted. Many scouts have said some variation of the same thing:
He is productive in college. But he is older and may have already reached his ceiling.
Empey is fine with that. He has been doubted before he says. This is just another obstacle.
“It just felt like the right time to go,” Empey said. “I was super satisfied with my time at BYU and I loved every minute of it. But it just kind of felt like the right time for me to move on and take a shot at it.”