Jamal Agnew went to Indianapolis last year hoping to make a positive impression in what was an important test for a young player showcasing his talents for NFL scouts, coaches and front-office executives.
Agnew did just that in three days of intense activity in the city where the NFL holds its annual scouting Combine. But for Agnew, there was one major difference from most other prospects who go to Indy to be tested, probed and questioned.
Agnew did not attend the 2017 Combine that ran from Feb. 28-March 6. He was at home in San Diego, 2,090 miles away.
What he accomplished at the University of San Diego as a game-breaking return specialist and cover cornerback with exceptional ball skills apparently did not make enough of an impression to get one of the 330 Combine invitations.
"I don't think I was even close to being invited," Agnew said in a telephone interview from his home in San Diego.
As he enjoys the offseason and looks forward to his second season with the Detroit Lions, Agnew can look back on a successful rookie year – and how he was already on the roster when he made his first trip to Indy.
The Lions were there in August for combined training camp workouts against the Colts in advance of their first preseason game.
Any hurt feelings from the Combine snub had already been soothed in the draft. The Lions had seen enough from studying video and in his Pro Day workout in San Diego to draft him in the fifth round.
Agnew proved to be one of the draft bargains in Bob Quinn's first two seasons as GM.
Agnew returned two punts for touchdowns and was the punt returner on the Associated Press All-Pro team. He also contributed as a backup in the secondary, and in spot duty on offense.
However, Agnew has not forgotten about how he felt about missing the Combine.
"I was a little upset," he said. "Every football player wants to get to the NFL Combine. But I saw it as an opportunity to get a little more training (for his Pro Day)."
The Combine was not out of sight or mind for Agnew as he continued training. He watched the defensive backs do drills on the NFL Network.
"I wanted to see where I was in my training, and what the other guys were doing," he said. "I kind of compared it to where I was in my training – seeing where I needed to get better, and what I felt my strengths were.
"I had three more weeks before my Pro Day. I could get even faster."
Agnew nailed his Pro Day in late March, posting reported times of 4.32 and 4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Former Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin – recently hired by the Bengals for a similar position – met with Agnew the night before the workout.
Agnew later visited the Lions, as part of the team's draft preparation.
As Quinn has said often, the Combine is one tool in the scouting process. It's a matter of pride and opportunity for the players who get invited – and disappointment for those left on the outside looking in.
With this year's Combine set to begin next week (Feb. 27-March 5), the following stats from the 2017 draft show how the 336 players invited to this year's Combine should know that the invite guarantees nothing:
Players invited in 2017: 330.
Players drafted: 253.
Players invited but not drafted: 77.
Players drafted, but not invited: 28.
Lions' draft picks not invited: 2. In addition to Agnew, defensive end Pat O'Connor, a seventh-round pick from Eastern Michigan, was not on the invite list. O'Connor did not make the regular-season roster.
Lions rookies on 2017 Game 1 roster, not invited: 4. In addition to Agnew, running back Tion Green and defensive linemen Alex Barrett and Jeremiah Valoaga crashed the regular-season party without Combine invites.
As Agnew looks ahead to the 2018 season, he knows he has a lot to prove to back up what he accomplished as a rookie. He won't be an unknown quantity. He expects to be a marked man from Day One.
"Honestly, it still seems surreal – just the fact that I was playing at such a high level for pretty much the duration of the season," he said. "There was no doubt in my mind that I had the ability to do it.
"Hopefully, I can continue to build on it. I don't want to leave anything on the field this upcoming season. I'm not going to sneak up on anybody anymore.
"I'm going to have to raise my level of play if I'm going to be successful."