The route that former Maryland wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long ran to reach the NFL scouting combine wasn't an uninterrupted fly pattern. Both dealt with adversity in college, but this week they're auditioning for all 32 NFL teams at Lucas Oil Stadium.
A blue-chip recruit from Good Counsel who chose the Terps over competing scholarship offers from Ohio State, Florida and Auburn, Diggs dealt with serious injuries each of his last two seasons before declaring for the NFL draft. Long bounced around to four colleges, attending West Virginia, New Mexico and Iowa Western Junior College before finishing his career with the Terps.
Like Diggs, Long suffered a broken leg against Wake Forest that ended his season two years ago.
Now, both players are regarded as ascending draft prospects and part of a deep incoming rookie wide receiver class. Both players are pulling for each other while maintaining a competitive streak as they try to boost their draft stock.
"That means the world to me," Long said of Diggs' presence at the scouting combine. "He'll do everything before me on the field. That will give me a sense of that extra edge. I have to put my game on going into these drills."
Diggs is regarded as a third-round to fourth-round draft pick, but analysts predict he could move into the second round if he runs a fast 40-yard dash. Long is considered a mid- to late-round prospect whose stock is improving.
Diggs led Maryland with 62 catches for 792 yard and five touchdowns and was named second-team All-Big Ten Conference last season despite suffering a lacerated kidney that sidelined him for two games before he returned for a bowl game against Stanford.
Surrounded by a crowd of reporters Thursday, Diggs declared that he stacks up with the top wide receivers in the draft.
"I feel like I'm the best receiver in this class, or amongst the best receivers," Diggs said. "We have a good class coming out, and I feel I can compete with anybody. I believe in my ability and my mental toughness. I know I can pick up a playbook, like anybody can, and I can compete with anybody."
Although Diggs never played a full season in College Park, he finished with 150 career receptions for 2,227 yards and 14 touchdowns.
"I can produce, I'm going to make a lot of plays," he said. "I'm going to do everything I need to do. I work hard. I'm bringing my lunch pail and going to work every day, just like everybody else. I feel like I put in the time, so I'm not going to sell myself short and say I'm not the best receiver in this class."
Diggs' NFL audition is accompanied by concern about his durability. Diggs missed six games as a sophomore before getting hurt against Penn State last season.
"I mean, I played through injuries like any other athlete," Diggs said. "I mean, against Penn State, I had a lacerated kidney in the Penn State game and I played the rest of the game. It's not like I can't play football with some injuries. It's no problem, and I feel like I can do it at the highest level."
Diggs said his medical exams checked out fine, with just one X-ray performed on his hips, and insisted that he's 100 percent healthy. Diggs is planning on taking every test except the bench press, which he said he'll do at his campus Pro Day workout.
Diggs predicted he'll run the 40-yard dash in under 4.5 seconds.
"The injury didn't put any doubt in my mind at all," Diggs said. "I came back, I played in the Stanford game like nothing ever happened. I hit the ground running and I feel fine. I'm going into my next step in my life, and I feel 100 percent sure about it."
Diggs has already talked with the Ravens and the Washington Redskins at the combine and has scheduled formal meetings with both teams. Long has met with the Ravens and is scheduled to meet with the Redskins.
"I would love to," Diggs said when asked if he'd like to play for the Ravens. "I'm kind of staying close to home again if that happens."
Diggs has been getting advice from Ravens pending free-agent wide receiver Torrey Smith, a fellow Maryland football alum. He said he's also friendly with Ravens wide receiver Michael Campanaro (River Hill).
"Yeah, me and Torrey have had numerous conversations, especially with me coming out," Diggs said. "I had more conversations with him about where I should be training and what I should be doing. He just gave me a lot of advice, because as a Terp, he came out pretty high and he was a fast guy. So, I want to run fast kind of just like him."
Diggs was mentored by former NFL wide receiver and Redskins wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell last season, and said he gleaned a considerable amount of knowledge from McCardell about what to expect in the NFL.
"Having somebody that came from almost 20 years in the game, you take heed to everything he says," Diggs said. "You take it serious, because he's been around the game. He knows football. Being around him, he kind of like — if you were a piece of clay, he molded you in the way he wanted you to be. He's a worker. He's a hard worker on and off the field. When he was on the field, everybody knew Keenan McCardell, and off the field, he taught us the right way."
As much attention as Diggs has garnered, Long increased awareness about his skills during the East-West Shrine all-star game.
"He's a good football player," draft analyst Russ Lande said of Long. "He's very explosive. He helped himself a ton at the East-West game. He's the complete package in terms of route running, athleticism and hands. He's a big-play receiver."
A Washington native who played at Dunbar, Long caught 51 passes for 575 yards and two touchdowns last season. Long said he appreciates his journey to get to this point.
Long failed to academically qualify for a scholarship offer made by West Virginia out of high school and instead spent a semester in prep school at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia. He then enrolled at West Virginia, but left when he said he didn't see eye-to-eye with the coaching staff about his projected role.
So, Long transferred to New Mexico to play for Mike Locksley and thrived on the field. However, Long transferred to Iowa Western when Locksley was fired by New Mexico and was subsequently hired by Maryland as offensive coordinator. Long was then recruited to Maryland by Locksley.
"I wouldn't trade it for a perfect four years at one school because of those relationships I built and that junior college experience I had, it lets you appreciate everything that's given to you," Long said. "You're not going to complain about a pair of socks you got at Maryland when you didn't have anything at junior college."