Justin Zimmer will be an interested observer -- with a vested interest – from a distant vantage point during this week's workouts and testing at the NFL Combine.
Despite his impressive career playing defensive tackle for Ferris State, Zimmer is not one of the 322 draft-eligible players who were invited to display their wares to scouts and personnel executives at the Combine workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
While the Combine invitees are being tested physically, mentally and medically at the NFL's annual talent show, Zimmer will be 850 miles away at the Michael Johnson Performance training center in McKinney, Texas, where he has been training for the draft for almost two months.
Zimmer plans to watch the Combine on television to see how he compares to the players competing. That includes the 64 defensive tackles who were invited.
"Yeah, I'll be watching," Zimmer said in a telephone interview. "I want to compare myself to what some of the other defensive tackles do. Where I've been training, we've got 10 guys going there (but no defensive tackles). It'll be really cool to see some of the guys I've been training with for seven weeks."
A Combine invite is partly a status symbol, but being left out of the party does not close the door on having a pro career. Here are some plusses and minuses on what it means for Zimmer not making it to Indy:
Plus: His career at Ferris State. In his last three seasons Zimmer had 53 tackles for loss. Fittingly, his peak performance came as a fifth-year senior in 2015 – 26 tackles for loss, 13 of them quarterback sacks.
Plus: He's already made an impressive showing for the scouts at the recent Regional Combine in Houston.
Plus: The numbers show that a Combine invite guarantees nothing, either way. More players are invited than there are draft slots to fill.
Example 1: 256 players were drafted last year. Based on this year's list of 332 invitees, that means 56 more players are invited than got drafted a year ago.
Example 2: In 2014, 32 of the 256 players drafted were not invited to the Combine.
Plus and minus: Being from a Division II school like Ferris State, which competes in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, can carry a stigma of competing against lesser competition. However, the NFL has a rich history of players from small schools having long, successful NFL careers.
The GLIAC has sent many players to the NFL, among them former Lions running back Joique Bell of Wayne State, current Packers receiver Jeff Janis of Saginaw Valley State, Raiders offensive lineman Jared Veldheer of Hillsdale and Eagles offensive lineman Todd Herremans of Saginaw Valley State.
In last year's draft, the Buccaneers drafted center Ali Marpet of Division III Hobart in the second round.
Linebacker London Fletcher is one of the all-time classic examples of a player from a small school having success. Fletcher went undrafted out of Division III John Carroll in suburban Cleveland but made the Rams as a rookie in 1998. Fletcher never missed a game in 16 seasons with the Rams, Bills and Washington.
Bottom line: if a player has talent, the NFL will find him.
Zimmer has not let missing out on the Combine diminish his enthusiasm or intensity in preparing for the draft. The goal is still to get drafted or sign as an undrafted free agent if no team takes him.
"I definitely would have liked to have one (invitation)," he said. "I just have to go a little different route now than some of the others."
Zimmer's performance at the Regional Combine in Houston helped his cause.
Zimmer had an official time of 4.89 seconds in the 40-yard dash and a vertical jump of 33.5 inches. At just under 6-3 and 303 pounds, he showed agility and fluid movement for a player his size.
His overall performance got him a mention on NFL.com – "the state of Michigan's hidden secret" who was "a notch or three above all other defensive lineman candidates" at the Houston workouts.
There is more work to do, and more steps to take, but Zimmer felt like he had accomplished one of his objectives.
"I think I did get my name out there," he said. "I didn't know what to expect in terms of coverage. This was definitely more than I expected. It was a pleasant surprise, really.
"It was a cool experience, reading tons of stuff on big-name players in NFL.com and then seeing your name there."
The next major showcase for Zimmer is his Pro Day on March 17 at Central Michigan University's facility in Mount Pleasant. NFL rules allow players from smaller schools to take part in the Pro Days at schools that have better facilities.
One drill Zimmer might have really stood out in was the bench press, but it was not part of the Houston workouts. There is a YouTube video of Zimmer doing 46 reps of 225 pounds.
Zimmer has been guided in his draft preparations by noted agent Kevin Poston, whose NFL client list in his long career includes Class of 2016 Hall of Famer Orlando Pace and future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson.
Zimmer actually sent out letters to agents to pick an agent and wound up hiring Poston.
"He told me he was doing his due diligence," Poston said. "I told him I didn't mind. That's what he's supposed to do. I don't usually represent Division II players, but there's something about this kid I like. He's a special kid.".