James Bradberry works out for pro scouts at Samford's Pro Day on Tuesday. (Courtesy Samford Athletics)

Samford’s James Bradberry has big plans to corner the NFL’s stadium market

Swimming pools, art galleries and amusement park rides are all available to pro sports fans who don’t go to the stadium to actually watch the action on the field.

But how about a Chuck E. Cheese? That’s what Samford cornerback James Bradberry would like to put into a new pro football stadium.

“That was my favorite place growing up,” Bradberry said. “There is a lot of cool stuff in stadiums that brings fans in. A lot of people have families and they want to do a family-oriented event.”

That may be so, but if Bradberry has his way, fans will not be going to NFL games next season to eat pizza and play skee ball at Chuck E. Cheese. They’ll be going to see Bradberry, who majored in sports marketing and shut down opposing offenses, as he hopes to join the four Samford grads already in the NFL.

Only the second player in Samford history to be invited to the Senior Bowl (San Francisco 49ers strong safety Jaquiski Tartt was invited in 2015), Bradberry has already finished his undergraduate degree and is focused on the upcoming NFL Draft, which begins on April 28.

Of all the pre-draft experiences, the NFL Scouting Combine in February was surely the most intense.

“It was a mix of emotions,” he said. “It was good, it was also stressful. It was a good experience because I was able to compete against some of the best athletes from around the country. But the first two days, all the medical stuff, they pick at you and they pull at you.

“Going into it, everyone told me, ‘They’re going to keep you up and they’re going to try to make sure you don’t get enough sleep.’ That was true.”

Tired or not, the 22-year-old Bradberry had a good combine, running what he says is the fastest official 40-yard dash time of his career (4.5 seconds). He was unofficially clocked at 4.46 seconds on his first go-round. Prior to that, he says the fastest he’d ever run was a 4.58 at a football camp at UAB. Cleared by the medical staff at the combine, he felt his interviews went well.

Now, as he has been since late December, Bradberry is calling suburban Atlanta home while he trains at Chip Smith Performance Systems. His days in Atlanta mirror those of most other prospects — daily weight, technique and skills work; interview preparation; and learning how to eat for peak performance.

The process, according to Smith, interests Bradberry more than your average pro or prospect.

“He’s a quiet young man,” Smith said. “But he asked us questions about everything we did. I finally sat him down and asked him if he’s asking because he’s curious or was someone trying to get into his head? He said he was curious, which is great for me because I was able to explain to him every detail.

“When I knew he was sincere, you know what? He endeared himself to me as a coach, so I want to give him the information and empower him.”

Bradberry wasn’t quite so inquisitive during the one season he played for coach Chris Hatcher, who replaced Pat Sullivan at Samford before the start of Bradberry’s senior season. But Hatcher shares Smith’s admiration for the 6-1 211-pounder.

“He’s very smart, he has a very high IQ,” Hatcher said. “He picks up things quickly.”

Bradberry also has the advantage of being a big corner with plenty of athletic ability.

“He’s a very physical player and he believes in his physicality. He has tremendous athleticism and great speed,” Hatcher said. “Not a lot of people attacked him because they knew how good he was. That made it easy for us — we knew that whatever side he was on, we would be locked down.”

Among Bradberry’s advantages are his size, athleticism and long arms, which allow him to jam up receivers just a tad early.

At Samford’s Pro Day, which hosted 53 scouts from 30 NFL teams and two CFL teams, Bradford wowed with an 11-foot broad jump, though he didn’t participate in all the drills as he’d already performed at the combine.

"I feel like I was smooth in my position-work drills," said Bradberry via the Samford website. "I think I got a better time in my 20-yard shuttle. I jumped 11 in the broad, and I was pleased with that, it was six inches farther than I jumped at the combine. I feel like I did pretty well."

Projected to be selected anywhere between the second and fifth rounds by most draft gurus, Bradberry was a four-year starter at Samford. He was named first-team All-Southern Conference (2015), was third-team All-American (2015) and was selected to the Southern Conference’s All-Freshman Team (2012). He finished his college career with 128 tackles, including 45 during his senior season, and eight interceptions.

Before playing at Samford, Bradford spent a year at Arkansas State, but the Red Wolves wanted him to play safety. Bradberry opted to take a redshirt season and transfer to Samford so he could play corner. Draft pundits point to his size, speed and strength as excellent qualities for a zone corner. But those same qualities could also translate into playing safety — and there is plenty of precedent in the NFL for just such a move.

“I think there would be a high probability to be moved to safety because of his size,” Smith said. “When you’re 6-1, 215 and a physical player, they’re going to want to … put him at safety. He’s got more options as a big corner because he’s a big guy.”

Bradberry is still passionate about being a corner and Hatcher believes that his success at that position is why the NFL is taking notice.

“I’m sure if they asked him to move to safety, he would,” said Hatcher. “But they’re going to draft him as a corner. He’s a good corner and that’s what got him where he is today.”

Jill R. Dorson is a freelance writer based in San Diego.

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