- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS — As part of the second group of wide receivers to take part in combine workouts this week, Deon Long will have the luxury Saturday morning of watching good friend Stefon Diggs go through the process first.

That’s a benefit for Long, who figures he can use Diggs‘ measurements to pace his own performance.

“I think I’m going to run a faster 40 than him, and he probably thinks he going to run a faster 40 than me,” Long said, referring to the 40-yard dash. “But that’s how you’ve got to think as a competitor.”

Teammates at Maryland the last two seasons, Diggs and Long were the unquestioned leaders of the Terrapins’ offense.

Now, nearly two months after their final collegiate performance, they’re in the early stages of facing the challenges associated with pursuing a professional football career.

“Both of them, I just want them to go out there and just relax and just do the best job that they can,” Maryland coach Randy Edsall said by telephone. “I’m sure that they’ve prepared hard and prepared well for this opportunity, because I’ve told them it’s a job interview, and that’s how they have to approach it and that’s how they have to treat it. They’re both outstanding young men who have meant a lot to our program and helped us get to where we are and have laid the groundwork for what we want to do.”

The biggest problem facing Diggs, an early entry as a junior, is his durability. The 6-foot, 190-pound receiver missed nine games because of injury during his three seasons, including a kidney laceration that cost him two this year and a broken right fibula that wiped out the final six games in 2013.

That history was a factor in his decision to leave Maryland, Edsall said, with Diggs recognizing that another injury during his senior season could significantly hamper his potential. Diggs, meanwhile, acknowledged that the ailments limited his productivity during his college career, but said “mental toughness” would help him battle whatever may strike in the NFL.

“It’s not like I can’t play football with some injuries,” said Diggs, who still led the Terrapins with 52 receptions for 654 yards and five touchdowns in 2014. “It’s no problem, and I feel like I can do it at the highest level.”

The 6-foot, 185-pound Long, meanwhile, has straight-line speed but isn’t able to get the separation needed for a wide receiver in the NFL, according to scouting reports. He also has battled injury, having broken the tibia and fibula in his right leg during his junior season, and spent time at four different colleges before exhausting his eligibility with Maryland.

Long enrolled at West Virginia in 2010, transferred to New Mexico after one semester and then transferred to Iowa Western Community College, where he won the NJCAA national championship in 2012.

“It gave me a lot of experience,” said Long, who had 51 catches for 575 yards and two touchdowns this past season. “I feel like I can adjust to any coaching style. Also, it let me meet people. Everybody’s not the same, you know what I’m saying? One person may respond to your joke as offensive and the next may not, so I have that ability to adapt to whatever personality I have thrown at me.”

Scouting reports have pegged Diggs as a mid-round pick, while Long will likely wind up as a late-round pick. Those estimates are before the combine performances and the players’ pro days, when they’ll work out at Maryland for evaluators.

Mike Mayock, an NFL Network analyst, has been pleased with the performances of both Diggs and Long — and he noted that Long, in particular, caught his attention with his play during the East-West Shrine Game last month.

Diggs is special with the football in his hands, and it’s a shame people will question his durability and whether or not he should have come back for another year,” Mayock said. “But at the end of the day, when you’re that special with the ball in your hands, you’ve got a chance to be at worst case a mid-round draft pick.”

On several occasions Thursday, Diggs noted that he believes he’s the best wide receiver in the draft, vowing that his work ethic and his playmaking ability will set him apart in the NFL.

First, though, are the combine drills — and Long will be following shortly thereafter.

“That will actually give me a sense of that extra edge that I’ve got to put into my game going into these drills and things like that,” Long said.

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