Making a run for it: Josh Adams' NFL Combine numbers could redefine his potential

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

INDIANAPOLIS — As Josh Adams compiled the bits of information that eventually coaxed him into the NFL Draft pool a year early, one seemingly critical piece to the process was inconsequential to the Notre Dame running back.

What round he was projected to be taken.

It still apparently is to Adams, though how he performs in the 40-yard dash Friday at the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium and various other tests of jumping, speed and agility could affect how NFL scouts and personnel types ultimately frame the pro potential of a man who finished fifth on ND’s career rushing list (3,198) and behind only All-Americans Reggie Brooks and Don Miller in career yards per carry (6.6).

“I’m enjoying the process,” Adams said early and often during his meeting with the NFL Combine media on Thursday.

His size (almost 6-foot-2 and a svelter 213 pounds, down from 225) and big-play ability are as intriguing as his durability hiccups and late-season production in 2017 are concerning.

And because of those things, because he is a running back, because he was undervalued so profoundly coming out Central Bucks (Pa.) South High three years ago (as the nation’s No. 47 running back prospect of 2015), he has the widest range of draft outcome among the five Notre Dame players who are at the invitation-only mass audition as well as the handful of Irish draft hopefuls who were snubbed.

The best-case scenario appears to be the draft’s third round. The least-optimistic projections have him sliding into the sixth or seventh rounds of the seven-round, three-day affair. The 2018 NFL Draft will be held April 26-28 in Arlington, Texas.

“Based on some of his film, he’s probably a second-round talent,” said analyst Scott Wright of draftcountdown.com, “but I think the durability factor is probably going to push him down a little bit, not to mention running backs just tend to drop.

“I wouldn’t be shocked if he were available in rounds four or five. When he’s healthy, I don’t think there’s any question, he’s an early-round talent at that position.”

Adams is the 16th true junior at Notre Dame to declare for the NFL Draft since the league opened its doors to underclassmen in 1989, and the eighth such player in the last five draft cycles. Only three of Notre Dame's true juniors have been drafted in the first round: cornerback Tom Carter, running back Jerome Bettis and wide receiver Will Fuller.

“I’m blessed to say I had the support whichever way I went,” Adams said of his Irish teammates and coaches. “That’s why Notre Dame is such a great university and such a great culture, because you have people like that who are supportive and people like that who help you succeed in life.”

Adams on Thursday lauded two of those teammates that helped him get within seven yards of Vagas Ferguson’s ND single-season rushing record, with (1,430), in 2017 — All-America linemen Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson.

Both projected first-rounders had their turns at the podium on Thursday as well. Wide receiver and fellow early entry Equanimeous St. Brown and tight end Durham Smythe are up Friday. Exiled Irish safety Max Redfield, who finished up at NCAA Division II Indiana of Pa., makes a Sunday appearance with the media, with workouts to follow.

Nelson is the early darling of the combine, in part because he talked Thursday about loving to take his opponents' will away from them and in part because moments earlier his 35 bench press reps at 225 pounds were second only to UTEP’s Will Hernandez (37).

“It’s like running behind a tow truck,” Adams said of the 6-5, 320-pound Nelson, who has a chance to be just the fourth offensive guard in this century to get plucked in the draft’s first 10 picks.

As for offensive tackle McGlinchey, whom Adams has known since the two grew up “around the corner from each other” back in Philadelphia, he lauded his singing — kind of.

“That’s my guy,” Adams said. “We took a few road trips back home, and he’ll sing pretty much the whole ride home. It’s definitely entertaining.

“He sings it all. He knows all the songs. You play a song, he’ll probably start singing it. I didn’t say he was a great singer, but he definitely tries and definitely enjoys just being free and enjoying himself.

“We’re just two kids coming from the same place who understand each other.”

The hardest thing, though, to understand about Adams at this juncture was his late-season fade.

In ND’s first eight games, he ran for 1,169 yards and an 8.86 yards-per-carry clip — on pace to break George Gipp’s 97-year-old school record in the latter figure. But in the last five games of the season, Adams labored for 261 yards and 3.5 yards per carry.

“I feel like I finished the season out strong physically and mentally,” Adams sidestepped when specifically asked if he was healthy for that five-game stretch.

Pressed again, he responded, “I don’t think anybody was 100 percent any part of the season but I feel like I was fairly healthy the second half.”

And he reiterated repeatedly that he’s healthy now. Friday that appeared to be the case,

Adams’ own bench press count of 18 reps was tied for ninth best among the running back group, and 11 behind position group leaders Saquon Barkley of Penn State and Nick Chubb of Georgia.

His goal Friday beyond the pure physical testing is to show in position drills that his modest 41 career catches was more about lack of opportunity than lack of skill set.

“It’s important to be a versatile player in general in this sport,” Adams said. “They want the athletes that can do it all.

“It’s just exciting to be around competition like this, exciting to be here and have this moment, and one day maybe be able to say it was a memory that you had a great experience at.”

Josh Adams was asked what it was like playing with @BigQ56: “running behind a tow truck.” pic.twitter.com/gh4EtE26M3

— Tyler James (@TJamesNDI) March 1, 2018

Notre Dame running back Josh Adams speaks during a press conference at the NFL Combine, Thursday in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/DARRON CUMMINGS)