Notebook: Will Fuller's sure hands add to his 40-time sizzle

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Maybe as important as accentuating the positive for Will Fuller Saturday was eliminating a supposed negative.

Or at least diminishing it when the pressure and the attention of the pre-draft process were at their peak.

Shortly after rocketing to a 4.32-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium, the former Notre Dame wide receiver showed steady hands, and was drop-free, in the position-specific drills that followed, minimizing for now the knock that he is susceptible to drops.

It’s been Fuller’s training emphasis since the junior declared in on Jan. 3 as an early entry for the April 28-30 NFL Draft.

“That’s a big thing I’ve been working on, is attacking the ball and not letting it eat me up,” said Fuller, who tweeted out on Twitter Saturday that he had been battling a fever this week.

On Friday, the 6-foot, 186-pounder was near the bottom of the bench press standings among wide receivers, with a modest 10 reps at 225. Saturday morning he reminded everyone why that number really doesn’t matter.

His 4.32 was easily the fastest time among the 37 receivers who participated, with TCU’s Kolby Listenbee (4.39) the only receiver less than a 10th of a second off Fuller’s time. Eleven receivers ran 4.6 or slower.

From a historical perspective, it’s the sixth-fastest time by a receiver at the NFL Combine since 2006. As far as Notre Dame receivers go, only three have been chosen in rounds 1 or 2 since Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown was the sixth player selected overall in the 1988 draft.

The respective 40 times at the combine for those three were Derrick Mayes 4.61 in 1996, Golden Tate 4.42 in 2010 and Michael Floyd 4.47 in 2012.

Before the NFL Combine, Fuller was generally considered a second-round projection. The consensus Saturday was that he helped himself a lot, perhaps enough to sneak into the bottom of the first round.

Brown scratched

One of the few wide receivers who figured to have a chance to challenge Fuller for the fastest 40 Saturday was one of his own teammates, Chris Brown.

But Brown was a late scratch from all the physical testing, and via text message he said he plans to perform the 40 and all the other tests at Notre Dame’s Pro Day on March 31.

There, he may be catching passes from former teammate Everett Golson, himself a combine snub who said he’s considering working out at ND’s Pro Day rather than Florida State’s, to be staged two days earlier. Golson, ND’s starting QB in 2012 and for most of 2014, transferred last May to FSU for his final season of eligibility.

“I have no problem with that at all,” Brown said of the possibility of reuniting with Golson on Pro Day. “That’s my boy, and if he was granted the opportunity to come, I would not mind that whatsoever.”

Brown’s primary emphasis in the pre-draft process has been building strength, and it certainly showed up at his weigh-in for the NFL Combine this past week.

The 6-foot-2 Brown in mid-January weighed in at 180 pounds during the East-West Shrine Game’s check-ins. Friday at the NFL Combine weigh-in, he was 14 pounds heavier, at 194.

Not a typo.

“So heading into the season, I was 192,” Brown explained, “but I moved off campus which, obviously you don’t have your swipes anymore for the dining hall. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a car, so it was a little different providing meals and stuff like that. But I got extreme and great training from EFT (Elias Fitness Training).

“With strength comes power and explosion. I’ve really trusted EFT to help me with that. Anytime I’ve gotten stronger over my career, it’s always translated to leaping ability.”

Playing with pain

Former Irish cornerback KeiVarae Russell’s season was cut short Nov. 21, when he suffered a broken right tibia in a 19-16 victory over Boston College at Fenway Park.

Russell, who will defer his physical testing until ND’s Pro Day on March 31, said Saturday at the NFL Combine that the pain actually started in ND’s fall camp in August. That was two months after he returned to campus following an academic-related suspension.

“I’d already missed a year,” said Russell, who added it was important in his mind to be accountable to the team, so he played with a stress fracture in his right leg until the BC injury took him out.

Russell did meet with teams and went through the medical checks in Indy. He measured in at 5-11, 192.

Sorting out Jaylon Smith’s future

A day after an NFL Network report detailed concern by some NFL teams over Notre Dame All-America linebacker Jaylon Smith’s medical exam at the NFL Combine, ESPN came out with its version.

The biggest takeaways were that “multiple teams” would fail Smith on his physical and that three teams reportedly wouldn’t consider drafting Smith in light of possible nerve damage being added to his recovery from a torn ACL and LCL in his left knee.

ESPN’s Darren Rovell tweeted Saturday that Smith's loss-of-value insurance policy will pay him $700,000 tax-free if he falls out of the first round and $100,000 with each missed pick after.

Smith was a consensus top 15 pick before the injury with NFL Network’s Mike Mayock among analyst who believed he was in the mix for the top pick overall before the injury.

It’s interesting, though, to look back at former Georgia running back Todd Gurley’s draft projections after he suffered a torn ACL in mid-November of 2014.

Different timetable, different injury, but similar doomsday forecasts early in the process. Gurley, a consensus top 10 pick before the injury, was downgraded to a round 2 or 3 pick by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., and CBSSports.com analyst Dane Brugler, among others, early in Gurley’s recovery process.

Gurley ended up being selected by the Rams in the 2015 draft, in the first round and with the 10th pick overall. He also ended up being the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and was selected to play in the Pro Bowl.

Squibs

• Notre Dame defensive linemen Romeo Okwara and Sheldon Day performed Saturday in the bench press at the combine. Okwara’s 23 reps were tied for 27th among the 50 D-line participants. Day’s total of 21 was tied for 36th.

Okwara, who lived in Nigeria until he was 10 years old, played football for the first time as a seventh-grader and at middle linebacker. The former Irish defensive end said he was so lost at the game and at the position, he was cut from his eighth-grade team the next year.

Day on Sunday hopes to offset concerns about his height (6 foot even) with a strong 40 time and by showing quickness in drills.

• Safety Elijah Shumate will be the last of the 10 Irish combine invitees to take the stage. He measured in a 6-0, 216 at the combine check-in after coming in at 210 at the Shrine Game. Interestingly, his hand size was almost as full inch larger in Indy (9¾ to 8 7/8).

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame receiver Will Fuller runs a drill at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on Saturday (AP Photo/MICHAEL CONROY)