Notebook: Will Fuller has potential to be complete NFL receiver

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Big things can come in small packages.

Take Will Fuller, for example. Notre Dame’s diminutive 6-foot, 186-pound speedster scored 29 touchdowns in his final two seasons in South Bend, while piling up 2,352 receiving yards. He gashed defenses with quick screens and vertical strikes alike.

He did it all with the smallest hands (8.25 inches) of any wide receiver that attended the NFL Scouting Combine in February.

But small and suspect hands still yielded big plays.

“I never put a lot of emphasis on ‘little,’ " said NFL Network analyst Curtis Conway, who was taken with the seventh overall pick by the Chicago Bears in 1993 and went on to record 52 touchdown catches in 12 NFL seasons.

“Of course, you want ideal (size). You’re not always going to get ideal. (Dwight) Freeney wasn’t the ideal size as a pass-rusher, and he was a stud. Joe Montana wasn’t the ideal size as a quarterback. He was a stud. I think it just comes down to working hard and understanding where your weaknesses are and building that into strengths.”

Fuller’s existing strength, of course, is his speed. The junior speedster ran the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in 4.32 seconds, the fastest time of any wide receiver in the 2016 class. That elusive explosiveness is one reason why he’s expected to be selected in the first round on Thursday, likely by Houston (22nd pick), Minnesota (23rd) or Cincinnati (24th).

It isn’t the only reason.

“I think the misleading thing is that when you have a speed receiver, they kind of put you in a box and say, ‘All he can do is go deep,’” Conway said. “You want to develop everything where you’re not put in that box. Will, when you watch him on tape, he’s athletic enough to do everything. I think Will can be the total package.”

Corner or safety for KeiVarae?

KeiVarae Russell was a three-year starter at cornerback for Notre Dame, after initially being recruited to the school as a running back.

In his latest rankings, Mayock slates the 5-foot-11, 192-pound senior as the No. 81 overall prospect in the 2016 NFL Draft…as a safety.

“I think teams are split (on him) a little bit,” Mayock said. “He ran 4.47 at his pro day. There are certainly teams that like him at corner. I still think he’s a third round corner or safety.

“But understand, the trend in the NFL is that you’re trying to find corners who can tackle, that have range and ball skills to become safeties. He’s one of a group of corners that might make sense with that.”

Regardless of where he plays, former NFL cornerback Ike Taylor said Wednesday that Russell possesses one attribute a player needs to survive on Sundays: Swagger.

“Cornerback is all attitude,” Taylor said. “If you don’t have an attitude, if you’re not confident in yourself at the cornerback position, you’re never going to last.

“You have to understand that every game isn’t going to go the way you want it to go. As a corner, your teammates are going to be looking at you like, ‘How are you going to respond? How are you going to bounce back?’ When you bounce back with a positive attitude and you’re ready to roll the next week or the next play, then you find yourself.”

Russell found his confidence long, long ago.

Prosise’s coveted versatility

Fresh or inexperienced?

Glass half-full, or half-empty?

C.J. Prosise can be evaluated from either perspective. The 6-foot, 220-pound senior played only one season at running back for Notre Dame, but he made the most of it, chugging for 1,340 total yards and scoring 12 touchdowns in nine games.

On one hand, he’s fresh. The former wide receiver hasn’t taken as many hits as many of the other running backs in his draft class.

On the other, he’s still unavoidably raw.

Former NFL running back Maurice Jones-Drew sees both sides of the argument.

“If you believe in your coaching and think you can get the best out of guys, it’s a positive,” Jones-Drew said on Wednesday. “You have a guy that doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear. You have a weapon. You don’t have to teach this guy how to run routes. We’re just going to keep refining his skills.

“You’re going to teach him how to be patient and set up his blocks and press the hole and make a guy miss in a phone book. Those are things he can learn. You can get a quality running back in the second or third round that can keep you going for years to come.”

Prosise’s versatility makes him attractive, especially in a league leaning ever more heavily on spread attacks. But he’ll only stay on the field, Jones-Drew said, if he improves without the ball in his hands.

“What they always tell you in the league is, ‘The more you can do, the longer you can stay,’” Jones-Drew said. “When you’re a third down guy, you have to be willing to block and protect the quarterback. That’s key.

“That’s something he needs to work on, because he’s never done it before. They don’t really do it at Notre Dame. You see him run the ball a little bit and catch the ball out of the backfield, but you rarely see him putting his nose in there and blocking a linebacker.”

It’s yet to be determined whether Prosise can develop into a complete running back on the NFL level.

But even now, he’s more than capable of filling a role.

“I think as a guy coming in right now, he’s more valuable as a third down back right away – a guy you can mismatch on safeties and linebackers,” Jones-Drew said. “I got a chance to watch him run routes at the combine. I watched him stay after and run receiver routes. The guy was just fluid.”

Junior wide receiver Will Fuller (7) of Notre Dame, here making one of his 30 career TD receptions, has opted to enter the NFL Draft. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)