Aarion Penton glanced down at his phone and noticed a text message. It was from friend and former Missouri teammate Markus Golden.
This was last weekend, not too long after Penton had just finished participating in the East-West Shrine Game. He figured he’d done well, displaying his plus-quickness, ball skills and feistiness at cornerback in the practices leading up to Saturday’s showcase, but confirmation would soon come from Golden.
Turns out somebody from the Senior Bowl had called Golden’s agent, thinking Golden, a second-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2015, and Penton, a draft-eligible three-year starter at Mizzou, shared the same representation.
“He told me to tell my agent to give him a call and see what’s up,” Penton said.
So Penton had his agent do just that, and Penton soon found out he’d indeed been given the Senior Bowl call up, which typically happens to the best East-West performers. The Senior Bowl is set for this Saturday.
There was little time to prepare. Penton landed in Miami, where he’d been training, spent the night and left the next morning for Mobile, Ala., where he set out to answers questions about his size — he checked in at 5 feet 9 3/8 inches and 177 pounds — against even better senior competition.
“My motto was come in with a little bit of money, and leave with even more,” Penton said. “I think I did a great job of that this week.”
Some draft analysts agree.
“Real competitive dude — you could tell he was lathered up coming off the East-West Shrine Game,” said NFL Network draft analyst Bucky Brooks, following Penton’s first practice for the Senior Bowl.
“I thought he did a pretty good job in 1-on-1s. He has some skills, has some quickness. I think some people are kind of forecasting him as a nickel guy, but I think overall, he’s been pretty solid the last week and a half. That will help him.”
Eric Galko of OptimumScouting.com currently has Penton — who led Missouri in pass breakups with 12 and the Southeastern Conference in interceptions with five in 2016 — as a mid-round prospect, largely due to his potential as an inside nickel guy with cover ability.
“He stays tight through contact, waits for that initial first hand placement and gets receivers knocked off their route, which is ideally best suited for the slot,” Galko said. “He also works downfield pretty well.
“He’s a good, not great prospect,” Galko added. “He’s going to probably be a day-3 guy (in the draft), but kind of fill in that nickel role. It’s super important.”
Indeed. At least one NFL scout liked what he saw on tape from Penton.
“He’s the perfect nickel, slot corner,” the scout said.
But Penton’s size — or lack there of — will likely be something teams ding him for, especially with so many big receivers in today’s NFL.
“I mean, the size matters because you have these big-bodied receivers on the perimeter, so it’s going to have an effect,” Brooks said. “Like, you worry about matching those guys up. We saw what Julio Jones did to some guys in the playoffs. It’s just hard to play with small guys out there.
“But if he has a knack for being able to play in the slot and do some of those things with his quickness, that will give him a chance to play for a while.”
Penton, for his part, says he’s “tired” of hearing of his lack of height or size.
“(Football) is something I love to do — the size doesn’t mean anything to me,” Penton said. “I’ve been playing this game since I was 6, against 7- and 8-year-olds. I wasn’t big enough then, wasn’t supposed to play then, but I still did and still scored four touchdowns a game.
“I’m telling you, I’m special with the ball in my hands, looking for the ball, all that.”
Still, Penton said he hoped to weigh a little more than he did when he arrived in Mobile, between 180 and 185 pounds. He has not received a combine invite yet — “I’m in between,” he said — but will have a few months to bulk up a bit before Missouri’s pro day, where he expects to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.3, 4.4 range.
“Man, I’m going to blaze at the pro day,” he said. “I’m not even worried. No pressure.”
But in the meantime, Penton is just excited to show his stuff against some of the best senior prospects in the country. He’s also looking forward to taking it to another level in Saturday’s game, though he knows his journey to the NFL has just begun.
“I’m just happy that now, I’m finally getting noticed,” Penton said. “But you know, I can’t stop there. I’ve got to keep working.”