WILLIAMSBURG — Tre McBride has never lacked confidence, but the past several months have been something of a validation tour for the William and Mary wide receiver and NFL prospect.
Weeks at a performance training academy in the Florida Panhandle. Eye-catching feats at the East-West Shrine college all-star game in St. Petersburg, Fla., and at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. A five-hour session with a New England assistant coach and an encouraging conversation with John Elway.
"I'm always going to be biased toward myself," McBride said this week as he awaited the NFL draft. "I'm going to give myself the benefit of the doubt, because I do believe that the only thing separating me from getting drafted really high is the fact that I played I-AA."
The NFL's annual three-day draft extravaganza begins Thursday, and McBride is one of the intriguing prospects from the Football Championship Subdivision, often still referred to by its old designation — Division I-AA.
McBride has worked his way up various draft boards among a deep crop of wide receiver prospects.
CBSSports.com projects him as a third-round pick and rated him the No. 15 wide receiver, ahead of better known players such as Maryland's Stefon Diggs, Duke's Jamison Crowder and Stanford's Ty Montgomery.
ESPN rates McBride as the No. 18 wide receiver and the 119th-best player available. CBSSports.com says that he's the No. 99 player in the entire draft. Several scout sites project him getting selected between the third and fifth rounds.
"From what I saw, he seemed like a guy who could play anywhere," said Anthony Hobgood, performance manager at Exos' training facility in Pensacola, Fla., where McBride worked out last winter.
"Just looking at him physically, he is very well built," Hobgood said. "He's very fast, he's very explosive, he's got great hands, he runs crisp, sharp routes. He's running routes with athletes who played in the SEC, he's right there with them. He's phenomenal."
McBride, a first-team All-CAA wide receiver, finished his career at William and Mary second in receptions (196), fifth in receiving yards (2,653) and tied for sixth in touchdown catches (19). All those numbers would have been greater if the Tribe had consistent quarterback play in recent years.
McBride visited three teams in recent weeks: Detroit, Denver and Buffalo. A handful of NFL teams sent coaches to Williamsburg for private workouts, among them the New England Patriots, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Atlanta.
Visits to teams consisted of a tour of the facility and meetings with the head coach, general manager and position coach. Among the highlights was a sit-down with Elway when he visited the Broncos.
"He was familiar with William and Mary," McBride said. "He seemed excited about having me out there. I didn't grow up watching him, because he was before my time. But I understand he's a legend, so that was incredible to be able to sit there and have that talk with him."
NFL coaches' visits to Williamsburg for individual workouts consisted of video sessions and condensed tutorials of pro offenses, as well as route running and pass catching.
McBride said that Patriots' receivers coach Chad O'Shea put him through the most extensive session, which began at 8 a.m. and concluded around 1 o'clock.
"Every single coach that I worked out with was very encouraging about my ability, and they all seemed to genuinely want to draft me," McBride said. "I definitely think I passed the test."
McBride, a solidly built 6-feet and 210 pounds, gets high marks among scouts and evaluators for his athleticism, his body control in the air, his ability to find open spots in coverage, and his willingness to work in the middle of the field. Coaches he met with were impressed with his ability to quickly grasp and recall elements of pro offenses.
Specific concerns are a lack of explosive speed, ability to separate from defenders and to create space against press coverage, and his effectiveness as a blocker. There's also the general concern that accompanies all players outside the Power Five conferences — how do they fare against top-shelf competition?
"Him coming from a smaller school, if that is something people hold against him, they need to forget that and just watch him play," Hobgood said. "He's every bit the athlete that some of the other guys who have come from other schools. Out of all the guys and receivers that we've trained through the years, he's right up there with the best of them."
McBride's work at Exos fueled a productive week at the East-West Shrine game in January, and a standout performance at the combine. He was the sixth-fastest wide receiver, clocking 4.41 in the 40-yard dash, and top-10 in the shuttle run, vertical jump and bench press.
"Tre was a guy that came in and looked pretty stinkin' good from the beginning," Hobgood said. "The changes that we made with him were just tweaking. He came in a Mercedes-Benz, and we just put an AMG package on him."
McBride has no insight as to when or where he might be drafted, only the confidence in the work he has put in and the belief that the work will bear fruit.
"As far as skill set, size, speed, it's the same or better than most of the first-round receivers," McBride said. "All my measurables compare to all the receivers that are going to go first round. I played I-AA, but I got the opportunity to play against big schools and when I did, I did well. Now, I just need one team to take a chance."
Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637.