But his opportunity in the NFL, Gipson said after UNM’s Pro Day, well might hinge on his ability as a returner.
Gipson had a strong performance on the day, working in front of NFL scouts from the Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds, completed the 20-yard shuttle in 4.28 seconds, had a vertical leap of 36.5 inches, broad jumped 10 feet even and had 13 bench-press repetitions of 225 pounds. His marks in the 40, the shuttle and the vertical leap would have placed him in the top five at the recent NFL combine in Indianapolis.
In passing drills, he caught everything former Lobos quarterback Austin Apodaca threw his way.
“I feel I had a pretty solid day,” Gipson, who led the nation last year in average yards per carry (8.8), said afterward. “I didn’t drop anything, so I feel I had a pretty good day.”
The most important part of Gipson’s day, however, might have been the punts and kickoffs he fielded in the stadium under the watchful eye of Jets special-teams coach Brant Boyer. Again, despite having returned just two kickoffs and no punts as a Lobo, the Dallas native displayed sure hands.
“When I get to the next level, returning kicks is gonna be me because of my size (5-foot-8, 188 pounds),” he said. “I’m gonna be an all-purpose back. I’ve got to catch the ball, I’ve got to return some punts, return some kicks, do pretty much anything those guys ask me to do. Run down on kickoffs if they want me to.”
The Lobos’ three 2016 senior captains, Apodaca, safety Daniel Henry and linebacker Dakota Cox, also had good Pro Day performances.
Apodaca’s time of 4.75 seconds in the 40-yard dash would have placed him fourth among quarterbacks at the NFL combine. His vertical leap (33 inches) would have tied him for third. His broad jump (10 feet even) would have been fourth.
Apodaca, though, was far more pleased with the passes he threw to former teammates Gipson, Dameon Gamblin and Cole Gautsche with scouts looking on.
“That was my biggest thing, just to come out here and prove I could throw it around in front of the scouts,” Apodaca said. “… I think I can throw with anyone; maybe I’m biased. I’ve just got to keep working and see if I can get an opportunity.”
Henry had a strong performance across the board: a 4.55 40, a 4.31 20-yard shuttle, a 38-inch vertical leap and a 10-3 broad jump. Like Apodaca and several others, Henry skipped the bench press.
Linebacker Dakota Cox, who performed last week in an NFL regional combine in Washington, D.C., said he improved in all areas on Thursday: a 4.62 40, a 4.52 shuttle, a 33.5 vertical leap, a 9-6 broad jump and 20 reps on the bench press. His time in the 40 would have been fourth among linebackers at the combine.
“I had a very good day,” said Cox, who led the Lobos in tackles in each of the past four seasons. “… And I’ve got four years of film to back it up. So, hopefully I’ll get a look from someone and see what happens.”
Here are the top marks achieved on Thursday as provided by UNM, and where those marks would have ranked at the NFL combine:
40-yard dash: Ridge Jones, 4.31 (tied for second among wide receivers and tied for third overall). Jones, a Mountain West Conference indoor sprint champion, did not play football last fall as a senior.
20-yard shuttle: Gamblin, 4.18 seconds (14th among wide receivers).
Vertical jump: Henry, 38 inches (third among safeties).
Broad jump: Henry, 10 feet, 3 inches (sixth among safeties).
Bench press: Taylor Timmons, 27 reps of 225 pounds (tied for ninth among defensive linemen), and Darian Allen, 27 reps (tied for sixth among offensive linemen).
Other efforts of note:
Safety Lee Crosby had 24 reps on the bench press, which would have ranked him first (by four reps) at the combine among the safeties.
Defensive end Brett Bowers, who played for UNM from 2013-14, ran the 40 in 4.63 seconds – a time that would have ranked him fifth among D-linemen at the combine.
Cornerback Nias Martin’s vertical leap of 37.5 inches would have tied him for sixth at the combine.
“I’ve been working hard all season, all off season, to get myself prepared for this one day,” said Martin, UNM’s best cover corner last fall. “… I’m impressed with the work I’ve done, but I’m not done yet.
“It’s just the beginning.”
Defensive end Nik D’Avanzo had told the Journal on Wednesday he was eager and well-prepared for Pro Day. But on Thursday, at some point having tweaked a hamstring, he did not participate.
Outside linebacker Maurice Daniels, arguably one of UNM’s better NFL prospects because of his pass-rushing skills, injured a pectoral muscle while doing the bench press — the first event — and sat out the remainder of the drills.