Senior tailback Justin Beaver has always wanted to play in the NFL.
"I've been thinking about that my whole life," the Division III Player of the Year from UW-Whitewater said at Wisconsin's Pro Day on March 5th. "I've been told it's not possible 1,000 times. But that is what pushes me to keep going and try even harder. Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed of playing in the NFL."
Beaver has certainly done his part to this point, rushing for 2,455 yards and 15 touchdowns in his senior season alone and 6,584 yards and 44 touchdowns during his career as a Warhawk.
He also ended his career well, rushing for 249 yards and a touchdown and 31 carries against Mount Union, which is the juggernaut program of Division III college football.
Justin Beaver rushed for nearly 2,500 yards last season
AP Photo/Sam Dean
But his most convincing argument may have come at Wisconsin's Pro Day, where, according to school numbers, he posted a 4.41 time in the 40-yard dash and, perhaps more importantly, a 3.96 in the short shuttle and 24 reps on the 225-pound bench press.
He would have been tied for 10th in the bench press had he attended the Combine and posted that number, and he would have been the fifth-fastest running back in the 40 and posted the best time in the short shuttle.
The short shuttle is an important drill for a player like Beaver since it measures acceleration and change of direction skills — two abilities that are crucial for success and survival at the NFL level for a player of his size (5 feet, 8 inches, 192 pounds).
However, even though he performed well at the collegiate level and impressed scouts with his numbers at the Pro Day, it may not be enough to get Beaver drafted, although it may be enough for him to win his way onto a roster as a free agent.
Working against Beaver is his lack of bulk, lack of experience against quality competition, and lack of demonstrated versatility.
The most recent prospect that Beaver could be compared to is Garrett Wolfe of the Chicago Bears. Like Beaver, Wolfe played for a lesser team — Northern Illinois is still a Division I team, but they are certainly not considered to be a powerhouse.
Wolfe is also a small player for the position at 5 feet, 7 inches, 180 pounds and, although he carried the ball 25-30 times a game for the Huskies, scouts had serious questions as to whether or not he would be able to match that production at the NFL level.
But the production was too much to pass up — Wolfe totaled over 2,100 all-purpose yards and 19 touchdowns in 2006 — and he ended up being drafted at the end of the third round.
The DIII Player of the Year hopes to sneak into the Draft
AP Photo/Steve Helber
Is it unrealistic, then, to think that Beaver may sneak into the bottom two rounds of the 2008 draft? Probably.
Wolfe had the benefit of playing against Division I competition, and playing well. His signature game in 2006 came against Ohio State when he piled up 285 total yards and a touchdown.
Though Mount Union's dominance in Division III is legendary, they certainly do not present as stiff a challenge as the Buckeyes do. Wolfe was involved in Heisman discussions for half the season and was also invited to the Combine.
Additionally, and most notably, Wolfe caught 56 passes throughout the course of his career at Northern Illinois and contributed on kick and punt returns, while Beaver had only three receptions in his senior year and only had spot-duty on special teams.
So, even a selection in the sixth or seventh round seems like a stretch for a player that doesn't have extensive special teams experience and who hasn't really been tested as a receiver.
The Colts were one of two teams — the other was the Patriots — that showed interest in Beaver following his Pro Day workout, so marking him down as a priority free agent should be sufficient.
After all, Bill Polian's track record with undrafted free agents has been exemplary and 2,455 yards is impressive against any level of competition with any number of carries.
If Indianapolis makes the first step and offers Beaver a free agent contract, perhaps he'll do the rest and make the Colts front office look brilliant once again.