LAS VEGAS — Zay Flowers only needs one word to describe his game to those who aren’t familiar.
At Sunday’s practice ahead of the East-West Shrine Bowl, the 5-foot-9-inch senior wide receiver out of Boston College proved his case. Flowers won both of his reps during one-on-one drills and also caught two passes during team drills, his explosiveness garnering attention from scouts on hand at the Fertitta Football Complex.
Throughout the 90-minute session, his only on-field participation of the week, Flowers flashed the speed and separation ability that have NFL personnel departments considering him as a late-first-round draft pick this spring.
“He’s able to do things that some other people can’t do, being a smaller player, a slot receiver-type guy,” said Patriots wide receivers coach Troy Brown, the head coach of the West team.
Flowers worked mainly with Brown and Patriots assistant coach Ross Douglas during practice. He took a liking to Brown, who played 15 NFL seasons, all with the Patriots, after getting drafted with the 198th overall pick in 1993.
“Coach Brown had a background of being an underdog that ended up becoming a great player in the league,” Flowers said. “That’s something that relates to me. Because I wasn’t highly recruited. I just recently started getting buzz.”
The East-West Shrine Bowl is the latest stage for Flowers to boost his draft stock, which has continued to rise in recent weeks.
There’s an alternate universe where Flowers declared for the draft after his 746-yard junior season. There’s another where he entered the transfer portal and accepted an offer that would have included hundreds of thousands of dollars in name, image, and likeness money. But Flowers ultimately chose to return to BC for his senior year, focused on what he could accomplish in the long term.
The decision paid off, as Flowers is now one of the top receiver prospects in this year’s draft class.
“I wanted to put BC on the map and put my name on the map,” Flowers said. “I never thought about leaving. I just wanted to stay where I had my first opportunity and finish there. That’s always been big in my family. My dad is big on loyalty.”
Flowers used the additional college season to hone two areas of his game: competitive catches and blocking. Both required that he improve his strength and play with more physicality. With help from wide receivers coach Darrell Wyatt, Flowers, already a dynamic playmaker, became a tone-setter for the offense.
In his final season at BC, Flowers eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards, set the school’s season record for receiving touchdowns (12), and tied the season record for receptions (78). He leaves BC as the school’s all-time leader in receptions (200), receiving yards (3,056), and receiving touchdowns (29).
The stats are there. As are the ball skills and athleticism.
Flowers can get open. He can pick up yards after the catch. He can be used in jet sweeps. He’s widened his catch radius with his improved ability to contest jump balls. He also took snaps as a punt returner during Sunday’s practice.
“I feel like I can score from any part of the field,” Flowers said. “And make plays from anywhere — inside, outside, on special teams.”
Testing well at the scouting combine next month, particularly in the 40-yard dash, is a priority for Flowers. But he already shows tremendous promise.
“I think, right away, he’s ready to run routes and separate at the next level,” said Wyatt, who joined BC’s coaching staff this past season. “I think he has a very, very rare skill, and I think you would have a tough time finding anybody coming out of the draft this year that can run routes on par with him. He’s as good as any prospect coming out, running a full route tree.”
The biggest knock against Flowers is familiar. Size has been a talking point surrounding his potential, dating to middle school. His answer to those who might doubt him is simple.
“Just look at my tape,” he said. “I play bigger than my height.”
Wyatt compared Flowers to the Dolphins’ Jaylen Waddle and the Texans’ Brandin Cooks, noting that his future isn’t limited to playing out of the slot. He can run routes at all three levels, according to Wyatt, also referencing the 16-year career of Steve Smith.
“The easy analysis is, ‘OK, he’s a 5-foot-10 receiver, he’s a slot receiver,’ ” Wyatt said. “I happen to disagree with that. Because of his elite separation skills, his elite ability to get off press coverage, I think he’s a guy that can play outside.”
As a result of his smaller stature, Flowers takes pride in being an underdog. He knows he wasn’t always projected to be a first-round pick.
“I feel like I had to work for everything I got,” Flowers said. “No matter where I go, I try to continue to prove everyone wrong.”
Wyatt wants Flowers to retain that mind-set, even as the hype increases.
“The chip on his shoulder is something he needs to keep,” Wyatt said. “We talked about that. Don’t ever allow that chip to fall off your shoulder. Keep that as a motivator.”
In the coming months, Flowers will continue training in his home state of Florida, with a focus on all things that will help him become a guy that can handle football around the clock. In addition to staying in the weight room and running routes, Flowers plans to take five online summer classes to earn his degree in communications.
If all goes according to plan, come April Flowers will not only become the first BC wide receiver drafted in more than three decades, but also the first to go on Day 1.
“I don’t think he’ll stay long on the board,” Wyatt said.
Nicole Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow her on Twitter @nicolecyang.