BYU Pro Day: Jaren Hall and Puka Nacua run the 40, but cornerback Kaleb Hayes steals the show
A representative from every NFL team visited BYU Friday in what was probably the Big 12-bound school’s last pro day
Offensive lineman Blake Freeland, quarterback Jaren Hall and receiver Puka Nacua were the headliners at what was probably BYU’s last Pro Day in Provo, but a relatively unknown cornerback stole the show on Friday.
That would be 6-foot, 190-pound Kaleb Hayes, who had two solid, but not spectacular, seasons at BYU after transferring from Oregon State after his sophomore year.
“I was just healthy today. I felt better. My ankle felt recovered. Still didn’t have a ton of time to prep for it. I just wanted to show I am an athletic guy and just confirm what was on tape. I tried not to press too much about it, but just kinda show I can do what I need to.” — BYU quarterback Jaren Hall.
Most notably, Hayes posted the fastest 40-yard dash time of the day, a sizzling 4.31 seconds on his first attempt. He also posted the best vertical jump (40 inches), the best long jump (10 feet, 8 inches), the best 20-yard shuttle (4.17 seconds) and the best 3-cone drill (6.88 seconds).
“That 4.31 is crazy,” Hayes said. “I was hoping to get anywhere in the 4.3s and show my speed. It is not necessary for me to run as fast, definitely, on the football field, because I am always in great position to make plays.
“It was a great opportunity to show my true speed out there,” said Hayes, who never lacks for confidence. “I think I surprised some people.”
Hayes said he was approached by a few NFL scouts after the performance, and acknowledged that he wasn’t on the radar of several, at least not like Freeland, Hall and Nacua, the three Cougars most likely to be drafted next month.
“They came up; We had a great conversation,” he said. “It means a lot for us. We train all of our lives for this moment. This is the innocent part of football.”
Whatever the description — all 32 NFL teams were represented, according to BYU — Hayes almost certainly earned himself some money Friday.
His teammates and coaches weren’t surprised.
“I think we knew that he had a lot of explosiveness and athleticism,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “He worked really hard. He looks great, too. He is still raw, meaning that there is more he can accomplish. It was good to have the scouts see that.”
Hayes, who recorded 41 tackles and seven pass breakups in 2022 while playing in 12 games and starting in 10, said he was motivated by not getting invited to the NFL Combine in February and some of the other top-tier all-star games.
“I feel like I did what I had to do,” he said. “Throughout the months I have been training, I had an expectation, a chip on my shoulder for not being able to participate in many events. It was a great opportunity for me to turn some heads, have some eyes looking at me and show them I am an athlete and I am going to compete, and I am going to win.”
He also showed some decent strength, posting 17 reps on the bench press (225 pounds).
Hayes was one of 17 former Cougars who participated, one of the largest groups in recent memory. Next year, the Big 12 will put on one Pro Day in the Dallas area for all of its teams, so this one was probably the final one in Provo.
“Pro day went really well. Our players got to perform in front of the NFL (scouts), in front of the teams. I am really excited about the possibilities of this group that is going into the draft,” Sitake said. “Like last year, we got another group that has come through and I am just really happy they are able to fulfill their lifelong dreams.”
After turning plenty of heads in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine, the 6-8 Freeland didn’t do as much in Provo because, frankly, he didn’t need to.
With some mock drafts out there questioning his strength, he put up 27 bench-press reps. It went into the books as 25, because he apparently didn’t complete a couple. Freeland showed the athleticism he is known for with a 4.42-second time in the 20-yard shuttle, crazy good for a man his size.
Hall didn’t run the 40 in Indianapolis, and there was some question whether he would in Provo. He did, twice, posting a 4.62-second time in the first and then saying he is “never happy” with any time he posts.
Why did he run Friday?
“I was just healthy today. I felt better. My ankle felt recovered. Still didn’t have a ton of time to prep for it. I just wanted to show I am an athletic guy and just confirm what was on tape,” Hall said. “I tried not to press too much about it, but just kinda show I can do what I need to.”
Hall threw about 50 times for the scouts as well, tossing the ball to running back Chris Brooks, fullback Houston Heimuli, receivers Nacua and Chris Jackson and Gunner Romney and even offensive lineman Joe Tukuafu, who came to BYU as a tight end.
Hall overthrew some receivers, and there were quite a few drops, perhaps due to the velocity of his throws, but he felt like he showed well.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I just wanted to come out here and have a good time. It wasn’t perfect. Just glad to be back here in the IPF, back in Provo with all the guys.”
He concluded his day with a long bomb to Nacua, who caught the ball in stride.
“The last ball Jaren threw to me, we have been working on that,” Nacua said. “We ended on a good note, so that made me feel a lot better.”
Sitake said Hall shined the most when it mattered the most.
“Even at the end here, (scouts) were saying he threw really well. I don’t know how many throws he had total, but he had some really good (ones),” Sitake said. “Just watching the ball come off his hand, a lot of scouts liked what they saw.”
Nacua said he didn’t run at the NFL Combine because he was still recovering from a concussion at the Senior Bowl.
“I just felt like I could better prepare and run here at BYU,” he said. “To be home in my environment and be out here with all my guys was super fun.”
Nacua posted times of 4.59 and 4.55 in the 40, then said he expected a phone call from his brother, Samson, who participated last year and ran better times.
“Not as fast (as I wanted),” he said. “I am waiting for that call from Samson, saying, ‘man, you are slow.’ So I know that one is coming. Kai (Nacua) might have ran faster than me, too, but I am good (with it). I am big and I play the game just a little bit differently. Hopefully scouts will be able to see that. But I felt really good with my time.”