LA Rams Report caught up with Pete Sampson, the editor of Irish Illustrated, Scout’s home for all things Notre Dame. Pete has been around the game a long time and with the NFL Draft coming up, we thought it would be worth our time to have a chat with him about one of the NFL Draft’s rising stars, wide receiver Will Fuller.
Fuller’s impressive showing at the NFL Combine is sure to have turned some heads and the Los Angeles Rams are in need of a top receiver. The Rams are currently slated to pick at the No. 15 spot and they need a quarterback, wide receiver, and defensive backs. Just how much of a gamble they might take on someone like Fuller will depend on how they prioritize their greatest needs, so let’s check in with Pete and find out how Fuller stacks up with the rest of the candidates.
Let me start by saying thank you, Pete. I know it’s an extremely busy time right now with the NFL Draft, recruiting, NFL Combine, and the Premier League. It’s always appreciated when someone of your caliber is willing to stop by and share a little expertise on what you do best. Why don’t we kick this thing off by letting you explain who you are to those who might not be familiar with your work.
PS: Thanks for having me. I’m the editor of Irish Illustrated on Scout.com and have been covering Notre Dame football since 2001. So it’s been a while and I’ve seen plenty of Notre Dame come and go, some overhyped, some underhyped and a few guys that we actually got right.
Let’s just jump right into it and talk about the man of the hour -- Notre Dame wide receiver Will Fuller. I’ll start by asking your thoughts on his Combine performance. How much did he help his stock after the Combine or does this just kickstart the interest phase and he will have to come good on Notre Dame’s Pro Day?
PS: I think Fuller was as advertised at the NFL Combine with his speed hitting the 4.32 mark. To me, the surprise was how much better that was than everybody else. In other words, I wasn’t surprised that Fuller got into the 4.3 range or that he was the fastest receiver there. What shocked me was the fact that just one other wide out broke 4.4.
What I still want to see from Fuller at his Pro Day (March 31) is better hands. He had an issue with drops during his Notre Dame career and it’s not clear how much he can improve in that department versus how much of that is just basked into his build. His hands were the smallest of the receivers at the combine and if you’ve spent time around this kid, he’s basically a petite superstar football player. He hasn’t had injuries in college, so that’s a mark in his favor. And he’s extremely tough for his size, playing the Fiesta Bowl on an ankle sprain and still scoring a long touchdown.
Sitting on the No. 15 pick in the Draft gives the Rams some options, but it could also create a minor headache trying to figure out how to spend that pick such that it won’t come back to haunt the organization. For a team in need of a No. 1 wide receiver like the Rams, how “sure” of thing is Fuller in this Draft? Do you even expect him to be there around No. 15?
PS: I expect him to be around at No. 15 and I think that’s too rich of a position for the Rams to grab Fuller, whose game has some similarities to Tavon Austin. If the Rams really wanted Fuller, trying to trade up at the back of the first round of early in the second makes a lot more sense.
One of the stronger examples of Fuller’s ability, in my opinion, was his performance against USC this past season. Whether the Trojans challenged him with speed or physicality at the defensive back position, Fuller dismissed them like they were students going to recess. From a technical standpoint, what are his biggest strengths headed into the Draft? Are there some areas he could use some improvement? How does he compare to the other draftable candidates?
PS: Technically, Fuller is quite good in terms of his route running. He’s a very hard worker and really a no nonsense character in terms of work ethic. You’re not going to get a lot of drama with this kid, which is a plus. His biggest strength is speed, but it’s not just straight-line speed. As a sophomore, Notre Dame used a lot of tunnel screens with Fuller with a ton of success. He scored on that play at Florida State, which obviously has elite athletes trying to defend it. Teams took that away this year, but that opened up more deep shots, which Notre Dame hit regularly. To me, the biggest strength of Fuller’s game is the ability to separate while the ball is in the air. It was a 73-yard touchdown, just a straight go route, but the cornerback gave Fuller a 10-yard cushion at the snap. Fuller ate it right up. When the ball is launched, he’s even with the corner. When the ball comes down, he’s got a two-yard advantage. There’s a sixth gear to this kid’s game that is very unique. You know how people talk about track speed vs. football speed? Well, Fuller had the best track speed at the combine. But he’s even faster in terms of his football speed.
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Fuller has that history you look for in receivers of being consistently good at every level so far, maybe more than good, perhaps dominant.. Cam Worrell, my co-host on the Flipping Tables Podcast and a former NFL defensive back, likes the way Fuller attacks the mental side of things and the way he can transition from different types of games -- he can matchup with a physical DB or a burner. Has this always been there with Fuller or was that something he had to develop during his time at Notre Dame?
PS: Fuller has always been sort of a football junkie type of kid and he really gets off on seeing himself as the underdog. He was a four-star prospect in most places coming out of high school but didn’t have a great offer list. ESPN had him as the worst player in Notre Dame’s class that year. So in terms of mentality and maturity, you know what you’re getting with Fuller. Not saying he’s perfect citizen, but he’s a reliable football players who’s going to work.
He’s had a couple no-show performances for various reasons. At Boston College this year he had concentration lapses and really struggled with drops. At Clemson, Mackensie Alexander shut him down with Jayron Kearse often over the top. That was a game where I think Fuller got mentally taken out of the game by Alexander, who talks a lot. Fuller is much more quiet.
Before we let you get out of here, I wanted to ask how you see a guy like Fuller fitting in with Jeff Fisher’s offense, from what you know of it? Would he make for a solid pick or would that pick be better spent on another player, if that makes sense? Any last thoughts or comments on Fuller?
Thanks, Pete. Your time and knowledge are always appreciated. You can let people know where they can find you on social media or where they can get in touch with you and the site.
PS: I think Fuller would really fit in with most offenses, assuming you’re willing to take some deep shots and stretch the entire field. I don’t know how much Fisher likes to do that, but it seems like Fuller would be a wasted talent if you’re not at least looking to do that. That being said, Fuller can work underneath very well with slip screens and bubble screens, which are harder to run in the NFL with the rules for offensive linemen blocking down the field on pass plays. In terms of having Fuller go over the middle, he barely did that at Notre Dame. At his size, I wouldn’t call going against NFL safeties and linebackers a real strength of his game.