The praise from ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. is appreciated, but maybe not so far-fetched to running back Jake Funk after a five-year career at Maryland that was tested by patience and adversity.
Funk received limited touches in his first two seasons in College Park as he played behind several future pros. Two ACL tears in his left knee in his junior and senior years sent him down the path of arduous rehabilitation with his brother, Josh, a physical therapist.
To make it to the stage Funk currently stands on takes an extreme level of confidence, and maybe even more self-assurance for a player that has taken his path.
Funk’s journey brought him to Cole Field House on Wednesday, where he, along with former teammates Shaq Smith, Isaiah Davis and Taivon Jacobs, conducted workouts at Maryland’s Pro Day in front of representatives from 20 NFL teams.
“It was something that I’ve been waiting for a long time,” Funk said on a virtual conference call. “You go through every single year and you see all your friends doing this, specifically like other running backs like Ty [Johnson] and seeing [Anthony McFarland Jr.] and Javon [Leake] and stuff like that.
“It’s just something that I’ve been waiting for, waiting for the opportunity. And obviously, the results are something that I was very happy with, something that I was not surprised about and something that everybody in this building knew but I just needed the opportunity to show.”
Funk made the most of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season in his fifth year of eligibility. In four games — he missed a November game against Indiana after testing positive for COVID-19 — he was the Terps’ lead back, rushing for 516 yards and three touchdowns, including a 221-yard rushing performance against Minnesota. He led the Big Ten in yards per carry (8.6) and ranked second in yards per game (129.0).
And after his Pro Day, which was closed to the media because of COVID-19 protocols, he shared testing numbers he hopes will answer any questions about his athleticism on the next level. Funk was told he ran as fast as a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash and “anything from a 4.43 to a 4.48.” He bench pressed 22 reps of 225 pounds and leapt 122 inches and 38 inches in the broad jump and vertical jump, respectively.
Based on those unofficial numbers, Funk has plenty to be proud of. According to Kent Lee Platte of the Pro Football Network, Funk’s “Relative Athletic Score,” which aims to quantify an athlete’s size, speed and athleticism in a 0 to 10 scale, ranked 78th out of 1,436 running backs from 1987 to 2021.
Despite limited film and possible injury concerns, Kiper sees value in Funk as a late-round pick or undrafted free agent.
“I think he’s going to fight his way onto a roster,” Kiper said Monday on a conference call. “He’s a competitive runner. He’s a battler. He just puts his nose in there and he just fights and he’s quick to the hole. He’s shown home run-hitting ability where he can outrace the cornerback, safeties to the end zone, to the pay dirt. He’ll catch the ball, he’ll block. He’s just a guy that gives you everything he has.
“When you’re talking late-round or an undrafted priority free agent, Jake Funk is one of those guys I want on my team. He’s going to do nothing but help your team as a backup running back, special teamer.”
When the season ended in December, Funk headed to Aventura, Florida, where he trained for two months at Bommarito Performance System. “It was just being a full-time athlete, from the time I woke till the time I went to bed,” he said.
In January, he participated in the College Gridiron Showcase, an all-star event featuring the country’s top seniors. The coming weeks leading up to the three-day NFL draft beginning April 29 will be full of “just interviews, workouts, medical exams.”
During the pre-draft process, he’s leaned on the experiences of several former Maryland running backs who have made the jump to the NFL, such as McFarland, Leake and Johnson, the latter of whom Funk called his best friend.
Funk estimated he spoke to 13 teams at the College Gridiron Showcase and said he had an upcoming call with the Los Angeles Rams. When asked if he’s thought about being picked by a local team such as the Ravens or the Washington Football Team, the Gaithersburg native said he didn’t grow up a “die-hard fan” of either team, but would welcome the chance to stay home.
For Funk, just being drafted or given the opportunity to make a team as a rookie free agent would be a testament to his perseverance. And it’d be a bit of vindication for Funk, who revealed that he still has news articles posted in his room from years ago slighting a player who set state records at Damascus High School and was the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, only to be regarded as a three-star prospect.
“[NFL teams are] going to get a hardworking kid,” he said. “They’re going to get somebody who’s going to give it everything he has at all times and somebody who understands how to compete and what it’s like to take advantage of every single opportunity they get because I’ve had to do that my whole career here.”
2021 NFL DRAFT
April 29-May 1
TV: NFL Network, ESPN