Ryan Nehlen Gets His Shot with Detroit - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Ryan Nehlen Gets His Shot with Detroit


All Ryan Nehlen wanted was a chance to get his foot in the door and prove himself at the next level. The Detroit Lions are giving him that shot.

The former West Virginia receiver and Morgantown native has been offered a spot at the Lions' rookie mini camp this coming weekend as a tryout player. Nehlen first heard from Detroit in the hours following the seventh round of April's NFL Draft and the next day, he says, he accepted the invitation.

"They were really interested in me," Nehlen said Tuesday. "I think they were actually close to signing me, but they invited me to camp, rookie mini camp, to see how it goes. I'll be going up there for three days – Friday, Saturday and Sunday – and then after that, we'll see what happens."

Nehlen will board a flight early Thursday morning to head out to Detroit knowing that his trip comes with no guarantees. But then, it offers nothing in the way of a guarantee to those 11 players who the Lions signed as undrafted free agents, either.

The three-day affair is an opportunity. It's where first impressions are made and the newest class of NFL player personnel showcases what it is capable of. Some take advantage of the weekend, while others reach for their dreams and fall short.

Though Detroit was the only team that extended a camp invitation, Nehlen says he heard from the Denver Broncos in the week leading up to the draft and believed it was a sign that he had a chance to make it out to mini camp in Colorado. After the draft, there was no call from Denver.

But think back to the morning of March 14. Nehlen put on his workout gear along with the rest of WVU's NFL prospects for the team's pro day. Many in attendance that day had probably never heard Nehlen's name and if they had, they weren't impressed when they saw his stats.

Twelve receptions for 101 yards and two touchdowns. Not exactly the type of career numbers that will garner much interest from pro coaches, general managers or scouts.

These numbers will impress though: 4.53 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 39-inch vertical jump and over 11 feet on the broad jump.

Nehlen led the group in many of the measurable categories and never dropped a single ball when he ran through a scripted workout with quarterback Geno Smith. As far as getting noticed, he did all he could have hoped for.

"I think it was extremely beneficial because I don't think I would have any of these opportunities if it wasn't for that pro day," says Nehlen. "I think it really got my name out there, got my numbers out there and now it's actually time to go to camp and prove that you can play football."

He looks back now at the four years he graced the field in his hometown for the state's flagship university and the program where his grandfather, Don Nehlen, once coached and he wishes that it didn't take until pro day for him to show what he's got.

Nehlen wishes the times when current head coach Dana Holgorsen lauded him for his consistency actually led to some sort of consistent playing time and contribution to the games' outcome, but they didn't.

"I think everybody wishes they had a better college career, but I think I had a couple of great receivers in front of me," Nehlen notes, pointing out Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. "Obviously, one went in the top 10 of the draft, one went third round, so I wish I would have gotten on the field more, made more plays, but things don't always work out the way you want them to."

Now Nehlen looks ahead of him and the competition doesn't include a first- and third-round pick. This weekend, all he has to worry about are the receivers in the rookie mini camp in Detroit.

They include sixth-round selection Corey Fuller of Virginia Tech, a small, speedy free agent pickup in Central Michigan's Cody Wilson and two other tryout receivers, Marshall's Andre Snipes-Booker and Delaware State's Travis Tarpley.

The latter three of that group are more of the quick, slot receiver and return man type, while Fuller is the only big body of the bunch. Nehlen's 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame is the biggest among those who are heading to meet the Lions.

"Nobody really knows exactly who you are, so you have to go in and make that first impression," he says. "[My family] just told me to relax and go out there and have fun and do my best. Whatever happens, happens. I'm going to go up there, I'm going to compete and I'm going to work as hard as I can."

If pro football doesn't work out, Nehlen has a degree in exercise physiology and he says that medical school is still a possibility in his future. For now, though, the focus is on this weekend and the opportunity he has in Detroit. 

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