QB Taylor Heinicke Hopes to Become 1st Player Ever Drafted from Old Dominion

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IApril 21, 2015

Chris O'Meara/AP Images

Taylor Heinicke does not possess a cannon right arm, Ben Roethlisberger-like size or game-breaking speed at the quarterback position. 

He also did not play for a big-time college football program with a rich history of producing NFL players. 

No matter. Heinicke—a 6'1" quarterback with production value and upside potential—is attempting to overcome the roadblocks and become the first player in the history of Old Dominion football to be selected in the NFL draft. 

There are no guarantees, however. 

Some combination of Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota will likely kick off this month's 2015 NFL draft. The two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks highlight an otherwise shallow class at the game's most important position. Yet, all it takes is for one team to fall in love with Heinicke, who should have a fighting chance to come off the board in the later rounds. 

NFL.com's Lance Zierlein currently ranks Heinicke No. 11 among quarterbacks as a potential seventh-round prospect. Dane Brugler of CBS Sports has a similar assessment, ranking Heinicke as his No. 15 overall quarterback and a potential priority free agent. 

A total of 14 quarterbacks were selected in the 2014 NFL draft. An average of almost 13 quarterbacks have been drafted per year over the last five drafts, with a low of 11. If the NFL values Heinicke as highly as many draft analysts, and this draft sticks to the five-year trends at the position, it seems likely the Old Dominion star will hear his name called at some point.

Heinicke would then become the first player in the school's history to be drafted by an NFL team. 

Old Dominion revived its football program in 2009. Six former Monarchs have signed professional contracts as undrafted free agents, but the school has yet to produce a legitimate draft prospect in football. 

Always the underdog, Heinicke is looking to become the first. 

Despite a highly decorated high school career in Georgia, Heinicke went relatively unrecruited at major programs before deciding on Old Dominion—then a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) school. He quickly took over the reins, starting as a freshman and helping lead the Monarchs on the march toward the jump up to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). 

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
Taylor Heinicke: College Stats at ODU
GCmp/AttCmp. %YardsYrd/AttTD/INT
ODU: 35-16 since 2011

Over 46 career starts, including nine as a true freshman, Heinicke completed 67.7 percent of his 1,829 passes for nearly 15,000 yards and 132 touchdowns. 

Arguably his best season came as a sophomore, when he threw for over 5,000 yards and 44 touchdowns while rushing for another 11 scores. He was given the Walter Payton Award, which is presented annually to the best player in the FCS. The Monarchs advanced to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs before falling to Georgia Southern—the deepest the school had ever been in a football postseason.

Old Dominion eventually moved up to the FBS ranks in 2014. Heinicke's numbers dropped slightly—and predictably—but he still completed 63.2 percent of his passes with 30 touchdowns. The Monarchs finished a respectable 6-6, with four wins inside Conference USA.

Over the last four years, the school won 35 games. 

Old Dominion's rise from the college football ashes was partly fueled by its hyperproductive quarterback. 

In fact, Heinicke entered the draft process as one of the more productive college quarterbacks in recent memory. He leaves Old Dominion ranked third in FCS history in total offense (16,279 yards), fourth in touchdown passes (132) and sixth in passing yards (14,959). 

The last few months have been about disproving the many critics. 

He stood out as the best quarterback at the East-West Shrine Game, despite a somewhat disappointing effort in which he completed just two of nine passes. An invite to the NFL Scouting Combine never came, but his March pro day provided an opportunity to put on a show for NFL eyes. 

And the reviews were positive. 

"I don't know if Taylor could have done any better," Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder said, via Harry Minium of The Virginian-Pilot. "He's changed the perception that a lot of guys had of him."

His work beforehand helped produce the outcome. 

According to Paul Thomas of the Gwinnett Daily Post, Heinicke worked with several trainers in preparation of his pro day, including former NFL players.

He worked out for at least six hours daily with Earl Williams of Georgia Sports Performance. Eric Johnson, a former defensive back for the Oakland Raiders, helped with speed and agility. Add in a change in diet, and Heinicke added over 15 pounds to his 6'1" frame.

Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

The final piece of the puzzle—a crash course in quarterbacking with former NFL Pro Bowler Jeff Garcia—was equally important. 

Heinicke spent three days in San Diego picking the brain of and working out with Garcia, a similarly built quarterback who thrived at various stops in the NFL. 

"The cool thing about (Garcia) is he's been through it all," Heinicke said, via Thomas. "He's only a 6-foot-1 guy, he's undersized. He went through it all and I feel like I'm kind of in the same situation he was in." 

Garcia played 12 seasons in the NFL, making 116 starts and throwing 161 touchdowns. He was selected to Pro Bowls in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2007, while also starting six playoff games. 

The experience clearly rubbed Old Dominion's draft hopeful the right way. Heinicke explained:

I just love being in his presence. He's still got the fire in his heart; he still thinks he should be playing and it just drives me to get better. I love the energy and when I'm with him I really try to soak in everything that he does. How he approaches everything, because he's successful for a reason.

The whole package came together at his pro day, which was partially scripted by Garcia. 

Heinicke threw almost 70 passes, and by the end, some of the question marks surrounding his game had been quieted. 

"We had four scouts who came up (Thursday) and said his arm strength is not a question anymore," Williams said, via Minium. "Mission accomplished."

Most draft analysts considered arm strength among his biggest knocks, which include less-than-ideal size. 

"Heinicke has the ball placement and accuracy of an NFL backup when he's protected and dealing, but his small stature combined with his inability to drive the ball and make NFL throws could be hard to overcome once he gets into an NFL camp," Zierlein wrote in his draft profile. 

Brugler called his arm strength "average," noting he struggled to drive the ball down the field when he did not have a strong base under him. 

Short with a weak arm is no way to get drafted as a quarterback, but Heinicke brings more to the table, especially as a backup prospect. 

Zierlein wrote that he has "a feel for pocket" while using words such as "poise," "touch" and "patience" about his quarterbacking ability. Brugler noted his "quick, easy release" and complimented his "natural leadership" ability.

Successful NFL quarterbacks have done more with less.

Now, the rest of the draft process is mostly out of Heinicke's hands. 

In roughly a week, the draft will begin. By the end of the three days, Old Dominion could finally have its first-ever pick in the NFL draft. It would be a fitting conclusion, given all Heinicke—the ultra-productive quarterback and possibly the best player in the school's short history—has done to put Old Dominion back on the football map. 

Zach Kruse covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. 

Follow @zachkruse2


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