COLUMBIA — Brandon Shell’s NFL Combine began not with three-cone drills or a 40-yard run, but with X-rays at an Indianapolis hospital. There were interviews, measurements, medical and psychological exams, and more interviews before he ever set foot on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“When you’re used to watching it on TV, you’re used to seeing the TV part. But you don’t see the behind-the-scenes part, like all the physicals and all the stuff you’ve got to do at the hospital,” Shell said by telephone from Indianapolis. “You don’t see that part. You just see a lot of guys running on TV, and jumping and doing position drills.”
The running and jumping begins Friday, the first of four days of on-field workouts for prospects hoping to secure position in April’s NFL draft. Shell, a Goose Creek native who started 48 games on South Carolina’s offensive line, is one of four Gamecocks participating in the combine, along with receiver Pharoh Cooper, tight end Jerell Adams and tailback Brandon Wilds.
A strong combine performance can raise a player’s draft stock — ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Cooper could position himself as “a solid second-round pick” with a good 40-time. Adams, whom Kiper called the best blocker in a shallow tight ends class, could elevate himself by showing good hands. Shell, who played both left and right tackle at USC, is trying to improve on his projection as a third-day selection.
Shell has taken a businesslike approach to the NFL, according to Chuck Reedy, his head coach at Goose Creek High School. Shell graduated from USC in December of 2014, and considered leaving school after his redshirt junior campaign. But his projected draft position wasn’t where he wanted it to be, and the chance to move from right to left tackle — vacated by the departure of Corey Robinson, drafted by the Detroit Lions — was too much to pass up.
“I know going into his fourth year, we had a long conversation, and he was going to graduate that December. He was planning on going ahead and going into the draft. He looked at everything, and realized that by coming back, he had an opportunity to enhance his draft status. He did that,” said Reedy, now retired.
“His draft projections, I want to say they were between the fourth and the sixth round. He thought he could come back and improve that. We’ll see whether he did or not, but it didn’t hurt him.”
At 6-5 and 325 pounds, Shell has always had NFL size. Left tackles are a prized commodity at the pro level because they protect the quarterback’s blind side.
“I feel like I really benefitted from last year by playing left tackle, and having a year under my belt at left tackle,” Shell said. “Being able to play left and right, I think that really helps.”
Draft analysts debate whether Shell will ultimately end up at left or right tackle, or even guard, in the NFL. “It really doesn’t matter,” Shell said. “I’ll go out there and do what I can, and whatever team picks me up, wherever they put me, I’ll give give them all I’ve got.”
Shell has had that attitude from the beginning, Reedy said.
“He’s a very, very humble kid,” his former coach said. “He’s never been one of these guys who’s overcome with his talent. He was always very modest. He just wants a chance. He just wants an opportunity. He’s a guy who from the time he was in the ninth grade, you could see this was his future.”
After all, it’s in his DNA, given that Shell’s great uncle Art Shell, a North Charleston native, was a Hall of Fame offensive tackle for 15 seasons with the Raiders. The two have maintained regular contact as Brandon takes his first steps toward the NFL.
“We talk about a lot of different things,” the younger Shell said. “Things I should do, things I shouldn’t do, things to look for when I’m here.”
Art Shell worked for the NFL when Brandon played at Goose Creek and wasn’t able to get to his nephew’s games very often. But with the younger Shell now entering the pro ranks, “his uncle Art certainly has been a good influence as far as helping him prepare for all this,” Reedy said. “He’s always been there if they needed anything, and I know Brandon depends on him for guidance.”
After the combine, Brandon Shell said he’ll train in Boca Raton, Fla., for USC’s upcoming pro day. In the meantime, though, he’s part of an offensive lineman group that kicks off on-field workouts Friday. The three-cone drills, broad jumps, and shuttle runs await.
“I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to everything,” he said. “It’s just another opportunity to showcase your talent. I’m just blessed to be here. I’m not stressed or anything. I’m just excited and happy to get everything started.”