For two former McKinney student-athletes, this weekend is the conclusion of the most difficult job interview in the entire sporting world and an opportunity to see if they did enough to hear their name called at the podium in New York City.
Ah, it's the NFL Draft. A chance for millions and millions of football fans around the world to log onto the Internet, turn on NFL Network, and try and be general managers for nearly three months. I don’t know if there is anything more American than that.
You can bet two guys are energized for this weekend: Former McKinney Boyd and Texas A&M receiver Jeff Fuller and former McKinney North and University of Arizona receiver David Douglas. These guys have spent the past four months of their lives dedicated to training and studying in order to prove why they should be drafted by one of the 32 NFL organizations this weekend.
From Thursday through Saturday, the three-day draft marathon, both will find out if they did enough to earn that honor.
While Fuller came into his senior season at A&M with second-round potential, his stock has dropped as much as anyone’s in the draft and is now projected as a fourth-to-sixth round selection. On the other hand, Douglas was seen as a priority free agent heading into the draft process in late December, meaning that he would go undrafted and would have the choice on where to sign based on his offers. But after turning a few heads at Arizona’s Pro Day back in March, there have been several scouts who have him possibly sneaking up into the seventh round come Saturday night.
Fuller is a 6-foot-4, 223-pound wide receiver that runs the 40-yard dash in 4.53 to 4.62 seconds. From 2008-2011 at Texas A&M, Fuller caught 233 balls for 3,902 yards and 34 touchdowns, and with 1,066 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior in 2010, he found himself as a first-team All-Big 12 player. After his junior year Fuller decided to return for his senior season and not come out early for the NFL Draft, a decision many scouts and executives questioned based on his projected draft status. Many scouts and analysts has Fuller on the fast track to be one of the first five receivers chosen in this years draft, but were nervous that injuries and any drop off in production could greatly hamper his status. Sure enough, that’s the definition of what happened in 2011.
With only 70 catches for 828 yards and 6 touchdowns as well as battling both hamstring and concussion issues, Fuller found his stock had plummeted heading into the NFL Scouting Combine in February. McKinney Boyd head football coach Don Drake coached Fuller his junior and senior years in high school, and when Drake was asked about what caused his draft status to drop over a year, he mentioned both the difference in the stats and the deeper variables that scouts tend to look for in a prospect.
“I think that it is one of those things that you have a different pool of candidates this year than last year and the fact that his  numbers were better than last year’s," Drake said earlier this month. "You have a lot of different variables in those things."
Fuller’s critics have stated that his propensity to drop catchable passes in crucial situations as well as his lack of elite play-making elusiveness are two of the biggest factors to why his name won’t be called until the fourth, fifth, or sixth round this Saturday.
“Texas A&M dropped so many passes (this past season) and Fuller dropped more than his share,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said on ‘Path to the Draft’. “He hurt himself this year, and he's a kid who's not going to separate because of a lack of speed. He can't drop that many passes.”
After A&M’s Pro Day in late March, Fuller spoke to reporters about the 2011 season and how his confidence has not waivered a bit despite the criticism.
“I still see myself as one of the best receivers in the nation,” Fuller said. “It was a rough year and I battled a lot of rough injuries, but I still have confidence in my ability and feel like I’m back where I was my junior year, after having some time off and getting healthy.”
On the football field, Drake believes that Fuller will provide an NFL team with a big body receiver who has a distinct advantage at a key matchup.
“A big draw for Jeff would be his size. He is probably 6-4 now and carries about 215 pounds or so,” said Drake. “So in terms of a target in the NFL you have a big bodied guy out there, which is critical for them. And because you have those cornerbacks which are usually 6-1 or smaller, from a physicality stand point, his size allows him to have an advantage over the corner in catching the ball as well as with blocking.”
“So when you look at a kid that is as big and as physical as he is and that runs as well as he does, those are some of the things that guys are very interested in. In terms of catching the football, some of the things he was doing during his junior and senior years and some of the balls he was catching were things he wasn’t doing his first two years, which is progress you want to see in a player. Hopefully those guys, on draft day, will see a kid that continued to improve every year and excelled every year and that he will continue to do that.”
But while what a prospect can do on the field is the most important aspect that a scout looks at, they also dig deep into a player's past and talk to former players, coaches, and family members to get a good idea of who this person is that the organization could invest millions of dollars into for the next few years. With a prospect like Fuller, Drake sees his off the field intangibles as something that makes Fuller an even more attractive player.
“Jeff is a very hard worker and someone who has a really good attitude and work ethic," Drake said. "I not only base that on what he did on the field for us when he was here, but what he did in the classroom. I use Jeff as an example to my kids now about how to get it right in all the areas of your life.”
Douglas is a 6 foot and 1/4 inch, 206-pound wide receiver who ran an impressive 4.46 forty-yard dash at Arizona’s Pro Day in March. In four years as a Wildcat from 2008-2011, Douglas caught 151 passes for 1,542 yards and 11 scores, but his most impressive season was in 2011 where he caught 65 balls for 666 yards and 4 touchdowns. His best game of the season came on November 5th against Utah, where he caught season highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns with 10, 152, and 2.
While almost every scout had probably seen film on Douglas and had an idea of who he was, he turned some major heads after his workout on campus for Arizona’s Pro Day that resulted in his stock climbing up into sixth or seventh round potential. In fact, Douglas has worked out for several teams over the past month, including the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys.
When asked to give a short scouting report of Douglas, Drake talked about how he has overcome some recognition issues ever since he left McKinney North in 2008.
“He has probably been underrated, to be honest with you. I mean even coming out of high school into college he was one of those guys who flew under the radar. And finally at Arizona, we all know what he has done his last four years,” said Drake. “He has kind of experienced some of those same emotions and factors heading into this draft, and it wasn’t until his pro day that everyone was like ‘Who’s this guy?’”
In terms of what he can do on the field, Douglas is an excellent route runner who is solid with his hands and does not let the ball play him. However, his lack of size and questionable elusiveness has left scouts puzzled on how to approach a player like Douglas, especially one that showed unsuspecting speed in only a T-shirt and shorts. But when it comes to the off-field intangibles, Drake believes that there are not too many kids that are better than Douglas.
“I’m excited for David because when I think of good guys finishing first, he is one of those guys I think about just because he carries himself the right way.”
But if you throw away the intangibles and all of the critiques and the analysis, Drake says that it all comes down to one thing and one thing only on the football field.
“Regardless of some of the things those scouts look at during the process, it comes down to whether you can get open and catch the ball or not, and then whether you can do something with it in terms of yards after the catch,” Drake said. “You have got to be given an opportunity, and a guy like him will not disappoint.”
One of the most interesting story lines during the draft process is seeing which prospects work out with one another, so it is newsworthy to point out that Douglas had the opportunity to train and catch passes from the number one overall pick of the Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck. If anything else, that has to be good preparation for what a prospect will be seeing in just a matter of months.
When I sat down with Drake to discuss the two players, he spoke over and over again about their characters and who both young men are as people, qualities that he says could have an impact in the league even if they could go unnoticed in a very negatively driven media world.
“I think it is very important," he said. "I think more times than not that it is guys like Jeff and David that make solid careers in the NFL and succeed because they do carry themselves well. There are so many guys like that in the NFL today, but the ones you often hear about aren’t that way.”
It is pretty safe to say that you won’t hear either players name called on Thursday or Friday night, but the city of McKinney and two different high school football programs could see its former players continuing their football careers and fulfilling their dreams as NFL players. The NFL Draft will be televised on ESPN and NFL Network from Thursday through Saturday. Round one is Thursday night beginning at 7 p.m., while Rounds 2-3 begin at 6 p.m. on Friday night with Rounds 4-7 occurring on Saturday beginning at 11 a.m.
Keep it tuned into TownSquareBuzz.com this weekend for draft alerts and analysis if or when Fuller and Douglas are drafted. In addition, look for my column on Friday morning where I play general manager and say whether or not I would draft either prospect if I had the option to.
Have a happy draft week everybody!
Photos: Top left, Jeff Fuller; Above, right, David Douglas