Stanford tight end Coby Fleener was running a pass route Thursday when he looked back to the quarterback and saw a wall of NFL evaluators as the backdrop.
It was a fitting image. More than 100 coaches and personnel men showed up at Stanford's pro day to watch the quarterback, Andrew Luck, make 50 scripted throws. The group included team owners like Washington's Daniel Snyder, head coaches like Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt, general managers such as Oakland's Reggie McKenzie and one former Secretary of State, Condaleezza Rice.
Neither former Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh, nor 49ers general manager Trent Baalke were on hand, although the team sent scouts and at least one assistant, quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst.
Luck performed as well as expected when there's no one in pads and no one playing defense. He attempted an array of throws, from short rollouts to pretty fades in the end zone to crossing patterns he zipped across the middle of the field. The only adverse conditions were a moderate wind out of the northwest and Luck's passing coach, George Whitfield, charging at him with a broom - yes, a broom - on some of his drop backs.
"It was another way of trying to realistically create a pass rusher," Luck explained. "Because not everybody is a 6-7, 300-pound, freakish defensive end."
Luck likely is locked in as the No. 1 pick in next month's draft to the Colts. Because of that Thursday's throwing session was anticlimactic despite the large media presence - ESPN had reporters on hand from three of its channels - and the gaggle of NFL officials. Instead, the winners were the other 11 Stanford players who went through the drills and who benefitted from scrutiny on Luck.
That included three other Cardinal players with a chance to be taken in the first round: Fleener, guard David DeCastro, who served as Luck's center Thursday, and offensive tackle Jonathan Martin.
The biggest beneficiary may have been Fleener, who didn't go through drills at last month's scouting combine because he was still recovering from an ankle injury suffered during Stanford's bowl game in January. The ankle may not be 100 percent, but it didn't seem to slow the 6-6 tight end. He ran one of his 40-yard dash attempts in less than 4.5 seconds, a time any speedy wideout would be proud of, and he showed excellent leaping ability on some of the throws in the end zone.
In fact, Luck purposely threw a couple high in order to allow Fleener to show off for scouts. "I really wanted to give him a chance to jump up there and let him show his hops, his stretch," Luck said.
Fleener caught 34 passes last season for 667 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 19.62-yards-per catch average would be gaudy even for a wide receiver, and he seems to fit perfectly into the niche that prolific pass catching tights ends like New Orleans' Jimmy Graham and New England's Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have carved in recent seasons.
"I'm very thankful for the Gronkowskis and Jimmy Grahams of the world for what they've done the past couple of years," Fleener said. "It helps our tight-end draft class. Yeah, I'm absolutely thankful."
Fleener is competing to be the first tight end taken in the draft - today's performance likely was a big help toward that end - and he should be picked somewhere at the end of the first round or early in the second. The 49ers, of course, pick 30th overall. Harbaugh not only loves tight ends, last month he said he had a special fondness for Fleener.
"I won't know until draft day just like the rest of you guys," Fleener said when asked about the possibility of reuniting with Harbaugh and other former Stanford coaches in Santa Clara. "One day you think one thing, and then somebody signs with a team in free agency and you have no idea where you're going.To guess is kind of a fool's game."
-- Matt Barrows