INDIANAPOLIS - Every player who comes to the Combine wants to show NFL teams they have what it takes to succeed at the highest level. Few arrive having already experienced a taste of pro life.
Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon is one who has, and it was an experience he draws on constantly.
A little less than a year ago Vernon was catching passes from one of the game's all-time greatest quarterbacks as he prepared for his final collegiate season. Duke coach David Cutcliffe was Peyton Manning's mentor at Tennessee, and when the future Hall of Famer needed a place to work out as he prepared to return from his multiple neck surgeries, Duke was a logical place for him to turn - and Vernon was all too happy to help out.
Manning and Broncos slot receiver Brandon Stokley worked with Cutcliffe while Vernon added whatever he could to aid the process.
"Just to be able to work with a guy like that was something I'll always remember," Vernon said. "Literally, it was kind of surreal. Whatever he said you just tried to do it as best as possible. We did NFL stuff. We ran NFL depth routes to get him ready. People were doubting his arm at that point in time and catching the ball there was no doubt. We did it for a few days and just to see him work was really truly a great experience."
Vernon tried his best to soak up as much information as possible, trying his best to keep up with Manning's demanding work ethic.
"Everything they did was 100 percent. Seeing them work and seeing how they operating was something I took in just to know what it takes to make it at this level."
Vernon (6-0, 193) projects as a late-round prospect, but whichever team calls his name will know he arrives with more NFL experience than the average rookie.