But nothing James Gayle’s uncle said could’ve prepped him for the interesting line of inquiries he’d receive throughout the evaluation process leading up to the NFL draft. At the NFL combine in Indianapolis, James Gayle, a defensive end at Virginia Tech, explained one of the questions that threw him for a loop.
At the Senior Bowl, the Atlanta Falcons asked Gayle, “In a minute, tell me how many things you can do with a brick,” he recalled. “I probably didn’t make it to six. I know you can build a house. You can build a wall around a house. That’s probably where I kind of got lost. I wasn’t a brick guy when I was young.”
Surely for NFL teams that’s just fine, because the reality is production is all that matters. Having played defensive end in a 4-3 scheme at Virginia Tech, Gayle produced 138 tackles and 22 sacks in his career. But with official combine measurements of 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, Gayle is considered somewhat of a tweener better suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
Perhaps that’s why Gayle projects as a fifth-round pick. But there’s no denying his versatility. At Virginia Tech, Gayle sometimes rushed out of a two-point stance and was sometimes asked to drop into coverage. Understanding the possibility of switching to linebacker in the NFL, Gayle spent much of his time preparing for the combine doing linebacker drills.
Given Chicago’s situation on defense, it’s unlikely the Bears select Gayle in May during the draft. But with Gayle expected to be such a late-round pick, there is a chance the Bears could take a flyer on him. The Bears drafted defensive end Cornelius Washington in the sixth round in 2013, and he’s similar to Gayle in size.
At the combine, Gayle bench pressed 225 pounds 26 times and ran a 4.7-second 40-yard dash.
“There are a lot of good guys here, so I feel I fit right in,” Gayle said. “I definitely feel I should be one of the top guys. I’m big, I’m fast, I’m violent. I play hard. I play through the whistle. I play lunch-pail defense for Virginia Tech.”
No doubt, that mentality came from some of the advice gleaned from Shaun Gayle, who played 12 years in the NFL and was part of Chicago's 1985 Super Bowl team.
“I talk to my uncle a lot,” James Gayle said. “He’s been very influential throughout my whole career. He knows so much about what’s going on because he did it. Something he said to me that will probably stick out is ‘be yourself and play hard.’ So that’s what I did.”
The dream for James Gayle is to continue to do that at the next level.