Kevin Kinder\

WVU Punter Nick O'Toole Sees Evaluations of Performance, Not Workouts, For NFL Draft

Football specialists are often viewed a bit differently than position players, but their evaluations for the NFL Draft and resulting professional jobs might be the most realistic of any in the sometimes puzzling activities that surround the assessment of talent by general managers, scouts and player personnel directors.

It's played out hundreds of times – so many in fact, that it's widely accepted even though it doesn't make a great deal of sense. A college player who has performed at the highest level in those ranks tumbles down the draft chart, or doesn't get selected at all, because he doesn't perform well on some standard of measurement, such as height or 40-yard dash time. Conversely, there are the “workout warriors”, who blaze through cone drills and bench press small buildings, thus enhancing their draft stock out of all proportion. In so many of these cases, the actual performance in games becomes secondary at best.

For specialists, though, there's more reliance on the long view – and that includes first and foremost what a kicker, punter or snapper did over the course of his college career. For players such as West Virginia punter Nick O'Toole, that's a good thing.

“What, you don't think my shuttle time is going to get me drafted?” the humorous O'Toole joked as he prepared for the NFL Draft this weekend. “Really, though, the only difference between us and the other players is that most teams won't bring you in for a personal workout. There are a few, but they tend to go more off film evaluation and what we did all year. I did have one workout scheduled (in addition to participating in Pro Day at West Virginia) but that one got canceled. Still, the team there said they still liked me and was definitely interested in me.”

From a football purist standpoint, it's nice to hear that the actual playing of the game carries more weight in some circumstances, and O'Toole is confident that his body of work at WVU will help him land, if not a draft selection, at least a quality chance to make a team as a free agent. He has hopes for the former, but isn't pinning all of his hopes on it.

“Everyone wants to hear his name called, but it all depends on what teams need and where they are in the draft,” he said, rightly summing up some of the vagaries that can affect each player's chance of being selected. “I know a bunch of other guys will be going through the same thing that I am. I just have to hope for the best [being drafted] and prepare for the worst. I'll definitely be ready to compete in mini-camps either way, and that's where the teams can see what you do over time, and not just on one day like a Pro Day. They want to see how you handle adversity and how you compete. I just have to go into it with the best mindset I can.”

O'Toole has had contact with several teams, including the Arizona Cardinals, and is now playing the waiting game until this weekend. He's talked with fellow specialist John DePalma, who is also in the same boat, and who will also face the same pressures of performing well when the mini-camp season arrives. O'Toole's approach, which retains much of the free-spirited outlook that made him a fan favorite at WVU, should help him navigate those critical days, and will hopefully land him a spot at the top of the pro ranks.

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