Late to the Game: Foreman’s Frame

 

D’Onta Foreman is about to make recent Texas history. Maybe. Probably? I’m bad at predictions, which means I’m technically one of the world’s preeminent sports writers.

If you believe mock drafts (you shouldn’t, if I’m being honest), Foreman is about to go anywhere from the late first round to the early fourth of the 2017 NFL Draft. This, of course, will depend on a few important variables: team need, draft order, and how scouts perceive his performance at Texas’ Pro Day. Though he’s “built like a tank with broad shoulders and thick thighs,” according to CBS, a stress fracture in Foreman’s foot caused him to miss the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, or, as retired NFL lineman recently called it: “one big mental test in your underwear.” That’s literally a well-worn nightmare trope.

Missing the Combine may have hurt Foreman’s draft stock, which might dismay Longhorn fans. Or not; maybe unless they become a Kevin Durant, a Jordan Spieth, or a Jamaal Charles, once they start collecting those sweet bitcoins we don’t quite care anymore. Regardless, a Longhorn skill-position player, classified as offensive players who touch the football, hasn’t gone in the first two rounds of the NFL draft since the Steelers selected Limas Sweed in 2008’s second round. That’s eight straight drafts without a quarterback, wide receiver, running back, or tight end coming off the big board before the Dr Pepper goes flat in the green room. Yes, I can count.

Is this important? Maybe. If you were a highly touted high school wide receiver or running back from Katy or Odessa, would you be more inclined to attend, say, Baylor or Texas A&M, schools that regularly pump out early-round skill players, rather than Texas?

Take, for example, our frenemies to the east. Since 2008, the Aggies have sent TE Martellus Bennett, QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Christine Michael, WR Mike Evans, and QB Johnny Manziel to the NFL in the first two rounds, earning each player millions of extra dollars in guaranteed money. In even more recent history, Baylor has had three first-round skill players: QB Robert Griffin III and WR Kendall Wright in 2012, and WR Corey Coleman in 2016.

Perception matters here, one would think; a quarterback leading a top-10 team looks better than one leading a Big 12 basement dweller. Texas has posted three consecutive losing seasons, and four in the last seven years. But to my surprise, the three teams have shockingly similar records since 2008: Baylor is 71-43 with seven bowl appearances; Texas A&M is 70-45 with eight bowl appearances; and Texas is 71-44 with six bowl appearances, one of those being the 2010 BCS National Championship Game and that’s all I promise to say about that game that for some reason never makes it into the Longhorn Network’s rotation.

The discrepancy in draft picks, then, can be at least partially attributed to recency bias; 25 of those 71 Texas wins came during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, and the Longhorns haven’t won 10 games in a season since the beginning of Obama’s first term. Texas isn’t a historically bad place for skill players to develop for the NFL, but its recent string of poor seasons would lead any (reasonable) fan to understand why an offensive player with 4.4 speed might want to take his talents to Fort Worth, or, sadly, Norman, Oklahoma, where they don’t even serve real beer.

Then again, Foreman was a two-star running back, ranked 67th in the country at his position, and seen by many as part of a package deal with his more sought-after twin brother Armanti, and he’s the player most likely to end this streak in a couple months. To hell with star ratings.

But Texas has also had some bad breaks with so-called transformative high school recruits. Johnathan Gray came to Texas from Aledo as the top running back in the country in 2012, but was never the same after an achilles tear the following year. Malcolm Brown, the touted tailback from the year prior, never really panned out on some middling Texas teams. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert … well … you know that story.

There’s also been some malpractice on the part of NFL scouting divisions. Jamaal Charles fell to the third round in the 2008 NFL Draft, behind such ball-toting luminaries as Felix Jones, Kevin Smith, and Rashard Mendenhall.

Jordan Shipley and Colt McCoy, fittingly, went back-to-back in the third round in 2010. That seems about fair for a WR who is no longer in the league and a career backup QB, but the following passers went in front of McCoy: Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, and Jimmy Clausen. Bradford has been either injured or mediocre (sometimes both!), Tebow is a sideshow for my favorite baseball team’s farm system, and Clausen washed out of the league already.

Track star Marquise Goodwin went to the Bills in the third round in 2013, and 2016 was his best season yet. [Checks Goodwin’s Football-Reference page.] Hmm. Maybe malpractice is a strong word.

The key for Foreman to rocket up the top of draft boards is to prove that he’s more than a wrecking ball, that his value exceeds that of, say, the similarly stout running back LeGarrette Blount. Two weeks into free agency, Blount, coming off by far the most prolific season of his career, is still without a new contract. He just turned 30, sure, but it’s his perceived lack of versatility in the passing game that really hinders him.

Listed as pushing 250 pounds during his junior season at Texas, Foreman has cut his weight down and intends to play as a 230-pound back, coincidentally the same as Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams, two Texas legends who found immense success at the next level. In fact, his weigh-in at Pro Day has him down to 234. His heavy frame, combined with his lack of pass-catching duties at Texas, mean he’s already likely pigeonholed as an early-down back, not asked to catch passes or pass block much, but rather to move the pile as a bruiser. Aside from tweeting that he can, in fact, catch a football, the newer, more svelte Foreman will look to show scouts that he can do more than run over defenders.

Let’s take a quick GIF break. Let me pick one at random.

Stunning.

It’s generally accepted that the first three RBs off the board will be Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, then LSU’s Leonard Fournette (who will play right at the same height and weight as Foreman), followed by Stanford’s Christian McCafferty. CBS says that Foreman is the 10th best prospect at the position, behind two different Oklahoma RBs (Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine), an affront to this writer’s sense of decency. Again, you have to drink something like 14 beers to even catch a whiff of a buzz up in Oklahoma. A friend told me so. It’s simply inhumane.

Whether Foreman’s tape and Pro Day performance—he ran identical 4.45-second 40-yard dashes—is enough to convince the right scout to take an early round flier on the Texas City native gets a big old 🤔 from this writer. Coming off a down recruiting year, however, Texas could really use a bump up in stature, as Foreman’s frame shrinks.

 

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