NFL Combine: Quartet of Hokies went into showcase with different goals

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INDIANAPOLIS – With two older brothers who played in the NFL, Kyle Fuller wasn’t at all worried about the situations he’d encounter while at the NFL combine.

He knew he’d spend four long, grueling days answering questions from coaches and scouts on all sorts of different topics. He knew he’d be subjected to extensive medical evaluations as teams tried to protect their investments. And he knew that above all, he was ready for it.

“One thing I took from it is just relax,” Fuller said. “This is something I’ve done all my life. Just go out there and take care of business.”

The cornerback is one of four Virginia Tech players who were invited to the league’s annual scouting showcase, and each arrived with different goals. Quarterback Logan Thomas wanted to show he’s fully capable of being a professional quarterback. Defensive end James Gayle was hoping to demonstrate he could play outside linebacker as well. Cornerback Antone Exum wants to prove he’s healthy after playing only three games during his senior season.

Fuller, meanwhile, is hoping to prove he’s the best cornerback entering the draft.

“I would love that,” Fuller said. “That’s one of my goals. All I can do is show what I can do. I can believe that I’m a first-round pick or whatever, but I’m not focused on that. I just have to do what I have to do, and whatever team takes me, I’ll be happy to be with them.”

Several reputable mock drafts hosted by national media outlets project Fuller to be taken in the first two rounds of the NFL draft, which begins May 8. The paths for his Virginia Tech teammates aren’t as clear; Gayle and Exum should be taken in the middle rounds, while there are enough questions surrounding Thomas‘ fundamentals that he could wind up as a mid- to late-round pick or even undrafted altogether.

“Obviously, people have their own opinion, but I thought I played pretty well [as a senior],” Thomas said. “I learned the game of football. This offense was my first season under a [pro-style] football staff and I was able to understand what was going on. With the offensive coordinator change, I had a great time. I actually felt I improved myself a lot more than people give me credit for.”

Exum was a potential high-round draft pick a year ago before he decided to return to Virginia Tech for his senior season, but he tore the ACL and lateral meniscus in his right knee while playing in a pick-up basketball game last January. After sitting out the first seven games as part of his recovery, he played every snap in the next two before sustaining a high left ankle sprain against Miami that cost him the rest of the season.

Gayle, who measured in at 6-foot-4 and 259 pounds, would need to bulk up to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme but has the body type to play outside linebacker in a 3-4. Despite his athleticism – his 37-inch vertical leap tied for third amongst all defensive linemen tested Monday, and his 4.70-second 40-yard dash ranked seventh – his lack of experience standing up makes it unclear if he’d be more than a situational pass rusher in the NFL.

“I feel I can do both,” Gayle said, referring to playing the two positions. “Obviously, I probably need to gain a couple pounds to play defensive end, but I can easily do that. I played at 270 in college. I feel like right now I can play outside linebacker. I feel comfortable.”

Mike Mayock, a draft analyst for the NFL Network, said in a teleconference last week he’ll be looking forward to the two cornerbacks’ performances on Tuesday. With regards to Fuller, Mayock is curious to see how fast he is. With Exum, the injury concerns and his size – he measured in at 6 feet and 213 pounds on Saturday – could dictate where he plays in the NFL.

“The injury thing is tough on [Exum] because he’s a good football player, and I kind of wanted to know, ‘Was he a corner because of his size? Can he play safety? How well?’” Mayock said. “The Fuller kid I really like. I’ve got him as my third-ranked corner. I think he’s a first-round talent. He’s long, he tackles, he has ball skills. I think the key for him is what he runs that 40 in. If he comes in as a sub-four, -five, I think he’s a first-round lock.”

That’s part of Fuller’s plan. His oldest brother, Vincent, a safety, was drafted in the fourth round by the Tennessee Titans in 2005 and played seven seasons. His other brother, Corey, a wide receiver, was drafted in the sixth round by the Detroit Lions last April but spent the entire season on the practice squad.

Having competed heavily against both brothers while growing up, being taken before them in the draft would be an important accomplishment for Fuller.

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