Kansas State University

Duke Shelley boosts NFL Draft stock with strong showing at K-State’s Pro Day

Duke Shelley wasn’t sure how well he performed at Kansas State’s Pro Day until a throng of 14 NFL scouts surrounded him for interviews at the conclusion of the event.

That was a good sign.

Shelley, a four-year starter at cornerback for the Wildcats, was considered a fringe NFL Draft prospect before he showed off his athleticism in front of scouts on Wednesday. He played well enough in college to get on the NFL radar, but a toe injury knocked him out of K-State’s final five games last season and left him with plenty to prove.

He didn’t receive an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine like former teammates Alex Barnes and Dalton Risner, so this was his only chance to turn heads before the draft arrives in April. That made this a pressure-packed event for him, but that didn’t seem to bother him. He won over most scouts by running the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds.

“This is confirmation that I’m back,” Shelley said, “from my injury.”

That wasn’t an easy process for Shelley, who tore a ligament in his big toe while making an interception against Oklahoma State on Oct. 13. He didn’t think it was a serious injury at the time, but he knew something was wrong when he woke up the next day and couldn’t stand.

Just when it seemed like Shelley was turning into the unquestioned leader of K-State’s defense with 33 tackles, nine defended passes and three interceptions, his college career was over.

Thinking about what might have been really made the situation hard. You see, he didn’t hurt his toe on the actual interception. He injured himself trying to pull off a pick six. Had he slid to the ground with the game in hand, things would have been different.

He attempted to play through the injury, but quickly realized that wasn’t possible and opted for surgery.

“It was definitely hard,” Shelley said. “It was a tough injury, an unfortunate injury ... It was tough seeing those guys play those last five games, especially us not making it to a bowl game and knowing that if I had been out there it probably wouldn’t have happened that way. It was a tough situation, but everything happens for a reason. I just tried to stay positive.”

Shelley was able to return from injury faster than expected and kept his body in good enough shape to impress at K-State’s Pro Day, with 30 NFL scouts watching.

Other K-State players that helped themselves on Wednesday were former defensive back Eli Walker and running back Justin Silmon, who both showed a nice mixture of strength and speed. Kendall Adams also said he has been receiving interest from NFL teams.

Barnes and Risner were also in attendance, but Shelley was the one who had the scouts talking.

He was motivated to do exactly that after missing out on the combine last week in Indianapolis.

“It was a little sickening,” Shelley said. “I always dreamed about going to the combine and felt like I put myself in a position to get there. Because of the injury, I wasn’t able to go.”

A good Pro Day, combined with four years of solid defense at K-State that included 165 tackles and eight interceptions, might be enough to make him a late-round selection.

He could be the third former K-State football player picked in this year’s draft behind Risner (potential first-rounder) and Barnes (middle rounder).

He said several NFL teams have expressed interest him as a slot corner, and he has interviews with a dozen or so teams lined up in the coming weeks.

His draft prospects are on the rise.

“I can feel it, man,” Shelley said. “It’s just right here. Seeing all the coaches right here has got me hyped and ready to go. It’s a dream come true, something I have been waiting on since I was five years old. Now that it is here I don’t have words for it.”

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Kellis Robinett covers Kansas State athletics for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. A winner of more than a dozen national writing awards, he lives in Manhattan with his wife and three children.