STANFORD Stanford tight end Coby Fleener was running a pass route Thursday when he looked back to the quarterback and saw a wall of NFL evaluators as the backdrop.
It was a fitting image. More than 100 coaches and personnel men showed up at the school's pro day to watch quarterback Andrew Luck make 50 scripted throws. The group included team owners such as Washington's Daniel Snyder, head coaches like Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt, general managers such as Oakland's Reggie McKenzie and one former secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.
Neither former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, now the 49ers coach, nor 49ers general manager Trent Baalke were on hand, although the team sent scouts and at least one assistant, quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst.
Luck performed as well as expected when there's no one in pads and no one playing defense.
He attempted an array of throws, from short rollouts to pretty fades to crossing patterns he zipped across the middle of the field. The only adverse conditions were a moderate wind out of the northwest and Luck's passing coach charging at him with a broom yes, a broom on some of his drop backs.
"It was another way of trying to realistically create a pass rusher," Luck explained. "Because not everybody is a 6-7, 300-pound, freakish defensive end."
Luck is all but locked in as the No. 1 pick in next month's draft by the Indianapolis Colts. Because of that, Thursday's throwing session was anticlimactic despite the large media presence ESPN had reporters on hand from three of its channels and the gaggle of NFL officials.
Instead, the winners were the other 11 Stanford players who went through drills and who benefited from the scrutiny on Luck.
That included three Cardinal players with a chance to be taken in the first round: Fleener, guard David DeCastro, who served as Luck's center Thursday, and offensive tackle Jonathan Martin.
The biggest beneficiary may have been Fleener, who didn't go through drills at last month's scouting combine because he was recovering from an ankle injury suffered during Stanford's January bowl game.
The ankle might not be 100 percent, but it didn't seem to slow the 6-6 tight end. He ran one of his 40-yard dash attempts in less than 4.5 seconds, a time any speedy wideout would be proud of, and he showed excellent leaping ability on some of the throws in the end zone.
In fact, Luck purposely threw a couple high passes in order to allow Fleener to show off for scouts.
"I really wanted to give him a chance to jump up there and let him show his hops, his stretch," Luck said.
Fleener caught 34 passes last season for 667 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 19.62-yards-per-catch average would be gaudy even for a wide receiver, and he seems to fit perfectly into the niche that prolific pass-catching tight ends like New Orleans' Jimmy Graham and New England's Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have carved in recent seasons.
"I'm very thankful for the Gronkowskis and Jimmy Grahams of the world for what they've done the past couple of years," Fleener said. "It helps our tight end draft class. Yeah, I'm absolutely thankful."
Fleener is competing to be the first tight end taken in the draft, and he should be picked somewhere at the end of the first round or early in the second.
The 49ers pick 30th overall. Harbaugh not only loves tight ends, last month he said he had a fondness for Fleener.
"I won't know until draft day, just like the rest of you guys," Fleener said when asked about the possibility of reuniting with Harbaugh and other former Stanford coaches in Santa Clara.
"One day you think one thing, and then somebody signs with a team in free agency and you have no idea where you're going," he continued. "To guess is kind of a fool's game."