UCLA’s Devin Fuller is taking a different route to the NFL
The NFL Combine is something every draft prospect looks forward to attending. Unfortunately, not everyone gets an invite.
This year, 332 participants made their way to Indianapolis for the "Underwear Olympics," where they’d be poked and prodded by scouts — both figuratively and literally. Everything from hand size to 40-yard dash times are put under a microscope by talent evaluators, which can either hurt or help a prospect.
For those who didn’t get the call for the combine, the draft process is different. There are fewer opportunities for scouts to get an up-close look at them, which many view as a disadvantage. Missing out on the combine is unmistakably a letdown for those prospects, but it doesn’t mean a non-invitee can’t be successful in the NFL.
Last year alone, 41 players who weren’t invited to the combine were drafted — three of which went in the fourth round. On the other hand, 108 prospects who were invited went undrafted.
Former UCLA wide receiver and standout return man, Devin Fuller, isn’t taking the traditional route to show off his talent for scouts. He was one of several players snubbed from this year’s combine.
"It was definitely disappointing for sure, but I cant dwell on it too much," Fuller told FOX Sports recently. "I know the player I can be. It just takes one team to like me."
His absence from the combine wasn’t just a surprise to him. Several teams that he’s talked to were also taken back by the fact that he didn’t receive an invite.
"All the teams that I’ve talked to were very surprised that I didn’t get an invite," he said. "But they don’t really decide that, obviously. I’m just concentrating on things I can control."
Despite not being in Indianapolis over the weekend, Fuller prepared as if he would be. Practicing all the drills that teams put players through at the combine is something he’s worked on while training in Virginia.
"I’ve been working on all the combine drills," he said. "The 40-yard dash, short shuttle, bench press, L-drill. All those workouts and then position drills for wide receivers. I’m trying to get my speed up."
— Devin Fuller (@Devin7Fuller) February 23, 2016
Although his receiving stats took a hit in 2015, Fuller was one of the top kick returners in the Pac-12 last season. His 24.2 yard average was sixth in the conference. And against BYU, he had 194 return yards combined on kicks and punts.
Being a contributor on special teams certainly helps Fuller’s draft stock, especially given the impact guys like Tyler Lockett and Ameer Abdullah had in 2015. He’s still a wideout first, though.
"The fact that I can help in special teams probably changes the way scouts look at me, but that doesn’t change how I approach my training," he said. "I plan on catching the ball, first and foremost. The receiver’s job is to catch the ball."
As a junior in 2014, Fuller caught 59 passes — second on the team — for 447 yards and one touchdown. This past season, his numbers dipped slightly offensively, but his stats in the return game took off as he adjusted to his increased role on special teams.
His versatility in two facets of the game can only help him, even with being snubbed from the combine.
"I want to do everything I can to help out a team," he said with regards to being a return man in the NFL. "My goal is for a team to fall in love with me and give me a chance to be on their roster."
A big day in his preparation leading up to the draft will come on March 15: UCLA’s pro day. It will be his first opportunity to showcase his skills for scouts, and there will undeniably be plenty of them in attendance.
The Bruins sent nine prospects to the combine, which is third-most for any school in the country. Ohio State had the most with 14, followed by Michigan State (10) and Alabama (9), which is tied with UCLA.
"At the pro day," Fuller said on how he’ll impress scouts before the draft. "Hopefully I post a good showing with all talent we have at UCLA. We have nine guys at the Combine so the scouts will be there for the pro day."
With a few weeks to go until that all-important day comes, Fuller’s training regimen has been intense. His diet has been equally as strict.
There’s no place for junk food on a prospect’s plate, and Fuller is no different. Staying in the best shape possible is a top priority.
"It’s a lot different," Fuller said of his training now versus his time at UCLA. "I have a strict diet. I’m eating well, eating clean for five meals a day. I’m also training six days out of the week. At UCLA, we trained for two hours a day, five days a week."
Fuller doesn’t have any classes to worry about for the next few months. He’s already finished all of his academic duties as a Bruin and graduated one semester early. All that’s left to do is walk at the school’s commencement in June.
Of course that’s huge feat for Fuller, and it helps his preparation leading up to April’s draft.
"I graduated already, so that’s a lot off my plate mentally," he said. "I’m just focusing on football now. Just knowing I graduated and will get a good degree from UCLA is a big accomplishment for me."
Aside from learning a lot in the classroom at UCLA, his head coach has helped him prepare for the NFL. Jim Mora Jr., who coached the Atlanta Falcons for four seasons, has experience in the pros.
Those four years didn’t go particularly well for Mora, but they will benefit Fuller and his fellow draft hopefuls as they take the next step towards becoming an NFL player.
"His background definitely helps," Fuller said. "Everything we do at UCLA is somewhat like the NFL. And [we all] have dreams of transferring our talents to the pros. So the program that he has instilled in us has got me feeling like the NFL is not that big of a transition."
Fuller will look to join the long list of combine snubs to prove scouts wrong and make it in the NFL. It’s not just a lengthy list, either. It’s one littered with All-Pros and perennial Pro Bowlers.
Wes Welker and Antonio Gates are two names the headline the group, along with Julian Edelman, James Harrison, Victor Cruz and Osi Umenyiora. Having his name talked about in the same breath as those players is undoubtedly a goal for Fuller, and every prospect to miss out on the combine.