Michigan State redshirt senior wide receiver Jayden Reed, like countless others, was one of the many NFL prospects who dreamt of participating in February’s NFL Scouting Combine.
After three productive seasons with the Spartans, he was lucky enough to receive an invite to the combine. But once he arrived in Indianapolis, everything turned pear-shaped as he battled a strange eye infection for the entire week that put his status in peril.
“It was obviously unfortunate, like the worst time it can happen, it happened,” Reed said to reporters Wednesday at Michigan State’s Pro Day.
Reed said he started feeling an itch in his eye on Monday and first noticed something was wrong when he went to rub his eye and multiple eyelashes fell off. Then, as the week progressed, his eye became more irritated and puffed up. By the time interviews rolled around later in the week, it got so bad that Reed couldn’t see out of his left eye. So, he resorted to a pair of sunglasses to hide his swollen eye.
“I'm not that guy, like, I'm not that guy that just wants to look flashy in the interview or anything like that,” Reed said. “But I was like, I cannot let all these people see my eye like this.”
Everything Reed had prepared for since declaring for the NFL Draft in late November was in flux. He and sixth-year punter Bryce Baringer were the only two Spartans invited to the Scouting Combine, the NFL’s biggest stage during the pre-draft process. In Reed’s mind, he couldn’t waste the opportunity to showcase his skillset, even if he was reeling.
“I knew I was gonna run the (40-yard dash), but I only need one eye to run the 40,” Reed said. “In terms of catching the ball, I wasn't sure if I was going to do all the drills. But again, I thought about it. It's a childhood dream, so I was like alright, I cannot miss this.”
Reed took part in every drill at the combine except the bench press, posting 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash, good for 16th-best among wide receivers. He was also impressive in the shuttle drill, recording a 10th-best time among wide receivers of 4.29 seconds.
Wednesday at MSU’s Pro Day – two weeks after the combine – Reed was fully recovered, though was a limited participant in the events. He repped 13 times on the bench press, while also running routes with redshirt senior quarterback Payton Thorne throwing to him. Then to cap off the day, Reed fielded punts from the JUGS machine – not from the boot of Baringer, who didn’t participate in any drills.
Of course, Reed is no stranger to demonstrating patience, which he said has been one of the biggest points he’s learned while going through the draft process. He had to sit out the 2019 season due to old NCAA transfer rules after one season at Western Michigan. Reed had a promising 2020 season, but fully broke out in 2021 as an All-Big Ten wide receiver and All-American return specialist.
Reed could’ve entered the NFL Draft after that season but opted to return for another season with the Spartans in what he described at the time as “unfinished business.” However, his redshirt senior season got shaken up when Reed was pushed out of bounds in the second game of the season and awkwardly collided with the Akron bench and immediately reached for his back. It cost Reed just one game, but he was never quite as dominant as the year prior, averaging just 57.8 receiving yards per game.
“I'm tough as nails,” Reed said. “I played through a lot of stuff, so it helps me out a lot.”
Being selected in the first round would obviously be a treat for Reed, though he’s part of a loaded wide receiver class topped with stars such as Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba, TCU’s Quentin Johnston, USC’s Jordan Addison and Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt.
After all, his 23rd birthday is on April 28, the same day as the second and third rounds of the draft. So, it wouldn’t be all too disappointing if he’s selected on the second day of the draft.
“That’d be the best birthday present I’ve ever had in my life,” Reed said.