INDIANAPOLIS — Brandon Doughty of Western Kentucky arrived at the NFL Scouting Combine as just another also-ran quarterback seeking a late-round opportunity to compete for a backup spot.
He leaves as one of the sleepers of this year’s draft class, an intriguing prospect who lacks the measurables of a Carson Wentz or Connor Cook but may make up for it with precision and timing.
Doughty put on a show during passing drills on Saturday, routinely pinpointing passes with a quick, consistent release and enough velocity. The performance verified Doughty’s game tape. He consistently anticipates open receivers and hits them in stride on shorter routes.
Doughty isn’t huge (6'3" but 213 pounds, with a wiry frame), lacks a cannon arm and runs just well enough to get out of his own way. But he threw 97 touchdown passes (!) in two years in Jeff Brohm’s Hilltoppers offense, which wasn’t as loaded with spread-option gadgetry as you might expect upon hearing that an unheralded quarterback threw for 97 touchdowns in two years in it.
Doughty is also one of the more colorful characters at this year’s combine. I had the pleasure of sitting in on his small-table interview. Doughty is passionate, unscripted and a little kooky. He reminds me of the kind of young man who runs the soundboard at a Christian heavy metal concert.
Here’s Doughty on his passion for the game: “Some guys play this game because they love it, some guys play it because they are it. I am football. This is my life.”
Here he is on getting married next week: “My fiancee, she calls it a ‘football muffin.’”
On his biggest weakness: “I am the worst loser in America. I have to be a better loser.”
On meeting big-name prospects here at the combine: “I don’t know anything about college football. I can only tell you about the defense we played. Number 32, number 45, I know all those guys, but I don’t know names.”
On facing LSU in a torrential downpour: “Man I wish we could play LSU every dang week, man. It’s just cool. Just the atmosphere, people around the field, people throwing popcorn at you and stuff. I’m like, ‘Man, this is cool!’”
“Before the warm-ups, I was like, ‘Man, we are not gonna play this game. There’s no way. It was like four inches deep on my cleats.' I was like, ‘Dang, I need some new cleats.’”
In between the loopier remarks, Doughty broke down the coverages LSU used against Western Kentucky and demonstrated an impressive knowledge of the game. Doughty wasn’t stamped from the cookie cutter, but he sounds bright and dedicated, even if his personality might turn off some of the league’s stodgiest decision-makers.
The scuttlebutt on the floor has Doughty climbing into the fourth round. With talk of Chase Daniel leaving Kansas City for an opportunity elsewhere, I can see Andy Reid selecting Doughty and tutoring him in the secrets of the West Coast offense (and teaching him how to be a little less interesting when the press is around).
Don’t stick Doughty at the top of your mock-draft projections just yet, but keep your eye on him. The gap between him and bigger-name prospects like Cardale Jones (whose day ended early due to a hamstring injury), Paxton Lynch and Christian Hackenberg is smaller than you think.
Fuller Wins the 40, Treadwell the Fashion Show
William Fuller of Notre Dame ran the fastest 40-yard dash and Josh Doctson of TCU had the best overall workouts on Friday, but the big story here at the Combine Notebook is that Laquon Treadwell ran his drills wearing a backward baseball cap.
Dock the Ole Miss receiver three draft spots for the cap. If he wore the cap forward but at a cocky angle with an unbent brim, he would be docked three rounds.
I’m kidding, of course. Treadwell opted not to run the 40-yard dash at the combine, saying that he was not where he wanted to be preparation-wise after switching performance academies a few weeks ago. The Greek chorus of #DraftTwitter wondered aloud (very aloud) about whether Treadwell was trying to hide a deficiency. It turns out that skipping the 40 may have been the smartest move he could make.
Treadwell looked exceptional during gauntlet receiving drills, mixing smooth athleticism with natural hands and quickness out of his cuts. Most of the top speed receivers in the class, meanwhile, posted good-not-great 40 times. Doctson clocked in at 4.5 seconds, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller at 4.5 seconds, Sterling Shepard of Oklahoma (blazing on game tape) at 4.48 seconds and Pitt’s Tyler Boyd at a glacial (exaggerating!) 4.58 seconds. There were a surprising number of receivers (11 in all) stuck in the hinterlands beyond 4.6 seconds, a tight end’s time these days.
So Treadwell skipped the Year of Slow Sprints and gets to stand on his workout instead. He remains the best receiver on the draft board, though Doctson is closing on him and Fuller elevated his stock somewhat with a 4.32-second split.
The first thing Doctson proved on Saturday was that he was healthy; a wrist injury ended his season early and kept him away from the Senior Bowl. Doctson weighed in at a robust 202 pounds at 6'2". His sprint was just a garden-variety 4.5 seconds, but a 41-inch vertical leap and 131-inch broad jump demonstrated his athleticism. In drills, he looked quick-hipped and exceptionally smooth moving laterally.
The workout numbers verified Doctson’s tape, where he looks like a cross between Kendall Wright and Mike Evans. Like Wright at Baylor, Doctson glides past defenders in the open field and can smoothly string together double moves. Like Evans, he leaps and battles for contested balls with a mix of body control and determination.
Fuller, like Doctson, has his share of deep receptions on the sizzle reel. Fuller drew a few pass interference penalties in 2015 by turning on the afterburners late in a route and leaving his defender no choice but to climb aboard for the ride. Under the circumstances, that blistering 40 time was exactly what he needed.
Fuller also drops an awful lot of passes—his hands measured in at (tiny drumroll, please) just 8 ¼ inches—and like Doctson he was mostly a bombs-and-screens receiver in college. Doctson appears to have more potential to diversify his game. Fuller is more of a one-trick pony, though outrunning the defense to the end zone is the best trick a receiver can have.
Treadwell remains the most polished of the group, and his top skills—beating jams off the line, coming back for passes in traffic, blocking—don’t show up when running around in compression shorts (and a snapback cap) on an empty field.
Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves called Treadwell the best receiver he had to cover last year. “He can do everything,” Hargreaves said. “He’s big, fast, strong. He catches the ball in traffic. There’s not a lot you can do to get the ball off of him.”
Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander, by contrast, stopped just short of verbally RKO’ing Fuller during his press conference:
"If I am covering Will Fuller, I know he’s a deep vertical guy. He just ran a 4.3 [40-yard dash]. I am proud of him. I am fast, too.
"But if I take away his deep vertical game, I wouldn’t say he sucks, but he’s not that good. You force [Notre Dame coach Brian] Kelly to make him go to the screen game a lot, just to get him touches. To feed him some kind of way. You want your playmakers just touching the ball."
It was 53 degrees and sunny in Indianapolis until that quote. Then it dropped back down to tundra conditions!
By all accounts, this is the weakest receiver class in several years. But that can be misleading: The 2014 class was historic, the 2015 class very good. There are several possible first-round picks in this group.
Treadwell is one. Speaking to the media late in the day, NFL Network Analyst Mike Mayock said he had no expectation for Treadwell to post a fast 40 time. “Treadwell is, to me, a bottom-half-of-the-first-round person.”
Corey Coleman, who also didn't run a sprint at the combine, is also on Mayock's first-round bubble. Mayock sees Doctson in the second round (I think he will go higher) and was impressed by more than Fuller's 4.32 seconds of glory.
"He caught the ball better than I expected," Mayock said. But even after a great workout, Fuller still projects as a second-round pick, at best.
It only goes to show that winning the 40 isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And neither is skipping it altogether.
Insurance and Reassurance
News of the severity of Jaylon Smith’s knee injury reached the combine floor late Friday afternoon. By Saturday, we were still sifting through what information we could gather. The injury experts I spoke to, basing their opinion on reports of nerve damage in Smith’s left knee and the type of brace he has been seen wearing since the injury, fear the worst.
Smith did not suffer a “simple” ACL tear. The comparison I heard was Marcus Lattimore, whose knee injuries at South Carolina ended his football career forever. As Ian Rapoport reported for NFL.com (via colleague Chase Goodbread), he could miss the 2016 season, or more.
The good news is that Smith said on Friday that he took out a loss-of-value insurance policy before the 2015 season. Insurance attorney Richard C. Giller, who has an extensive background in this type of policy, walked me through how an NCAA player insures himself against falling from, say, the middle of the first round to the fourth round (or lower).
The NCAA offers two layers of insurance to individuals designated “exceptional student-athletes.” The first is a permanent total disability policy for athletes whose injuries permanently end their careers. It’s for catastrophic, absolute career-ending injuries only.
The loss-of-value policy program insures players against situations like the one Smith now faces. Upon purchase of the policy, an insurance company determines a best estimate of the player’s expected draft position and the contract value for that position. If and when the player is offered a pro contract after an injury, the company determines a payout based on a percentage (60 percent is a common figure, according to Giller) of the difference. Here’s the NCAA’s official breakdown of how the policies are supposed to work.
Players must apply for and purchase both types of insurance; nothing is given to them. The NCAA, bless them, started allowing players to borrow money from potential future earnings to finance the policies in October 2014. Reported costs of the policies hover around $50,000 for a $5 million policy, so we are not talking about chump change.
The program sounds great, but there is a catch. USC linebacker Morgan Breslin purchased a policy before suffering a major knee injury in September 2013. Breslin’s case has been a legal boondoggle ever since. Breslin’s insurer is trying to void the policy, claiming "misrepresentations, omissions and/or concealments” on the initial application. Breslin is suing USC, claiming he was misled about the nature of the insurance by the university. Marqise Lee, a former USC receiver who slipped in the draft due to injury and now plays for the Jaguars, is also fighting for his insurance settlement.
“The Breslin and Lee cases are going to have a potential impact on the continued viability of these policies,” Giller said.
The problem, according to Giller, starts with a phrase in the policy language that states that any slip in the draft comes “solely and directly as a result of injury or illness during the period of this insurance.”
"'Solely and directly’ is slippery language that can result in litigation," Giller said. The insurer can claim that the player slipped as the result of bad workout times, a pre-existing injury, and so forth. Insurance companies make money by selling the policies, after all, not paying claims.
NCAA athletes, meanwhile, are teenagers or 20-somethings explicitly banned from speaking to the type of financial adviser who can help them navigate the complex world of multimillion dollar insurance policies. Policy questions are sometimes confusing, and an incorrect answer can suddenly turn into a legal gotcha.
“The players need someone they can talk to,” Giller said. He would like to see the NCAA relax its rules against speaking to experts who could help “amateur” athletes plan for their professional futures.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that athletes like Silas Redd and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu have received loss-of-value insurance settlements; Ekpre-Olomu fell from the first round to the seventh and collected a $3 million safety net because of injuries he incurred working for the University of Oregon as a football player.
Giller also thinks Smith’s case is straightforward. “To me, it’s a slam dunk,” he said. “If Jaylon drops to the second round, he absolutely deserves whatever the limits of liability are.”
Let’s hope we’re just talking about a slide down the draft board, followed by good health news and a long NFL career. No one wants to see a promising career cut short before it starts. Even if Smith’s prognosis isn’t as bleak as it sounded Friday, he stands to recoup some of the money he lost when he blew out his knee in the Fiesta Bowl.