A common line repeated time and again by most prospects in pre-draft interviews is how they will do whatever it takes to help their future NFL team, even if that means changing positions. The truth is most rookies have no choice in the matter. They’ll either adapt or make room for the next warm body in waiting.
No one cares how many touchdowns you’ve scored versus Kentucky or Saginaw Valley State. The talent procurement business is all about projections, or rather, past production often takes a backseat to an athlete’s future performance indicators that are determined by his measurables and football skills. It can be a humbling experience for some.
Arizona State’s D.J. Foster didn’t need to get drafted by an NFL organization to experience his own transition by shifting from the running back position to wide receiver as a collegian in the Pac-12.
Well, one might say college football is littered with high school quarterbacks that have gone on to play safety, tight end or some other position. But not many, however, willingly make a position change once they are established stars or team leaders three years into their college careers.
Known as the “Human Video Game” from his days at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, Arizona, the 5-foot-11, 198-pound Foster was not only a five-star recruit, but the number one college prospect in his state.
He went on to serve as an elusive multi-purpose runner and pass catcher out of the backfield in his first two years, averaging 4.8 and 5.4 yards per carry as a committee back while also recording 38 and 63 receptions over that stretch.
It was as a junior that Foster emerged as the feature running back in Jay Norvell’s fast-paced, zone-read offense by gaining 1,089 rushing yards with a 5.6 yards-per-carry average and 62 receptions.
It was by this time that Foster had become the face of his football program as not only its best player on offense, but also as a respected team ambassador who was often the go-to guy when media members needed an interview or a insightful quote.
Yet going into the team captain’s final year as a Sun Devil, the coaching staff opted to move Foster into more of a full-time role at the wide receiver position given the fact that the team was stocked with impressive depth at running back with the likes of Demario Richard, Kalen Ballage and Gump Hayes.
While Foster had already been on the receiving end of 163 passes in his career up to that point, he would now be required to run most of his routes either out of the slot or lined up outside.
This was unchartered territory for the dynamic playmaker. As a wide receiver, Foster was expected to learn new terminology, add new patterns to his route tree along with having a better understanding of concepts, such as getting off the line cleanly when a defensive back comes up to the line of scrimmage and tries to jam you.
The versatile weapon was a team player the whole way through by understanding the reasoning behind the move and dedicating himself to becoming a more polished pass catcher.
Foster wasn’t the same game breaker in his new role, but was still highly productive and was named Arizona State’s MVP, as he closed his four-year journey through Tempe as one of only five players in NCAA history to gain 2,000 yards rushing and 2,000 yards passing.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to what an NFL team sees in any prospect. In Foster’s case, the question remains: Will they see him as the dynamic and elusive ball carrier with great acceleration and pass catching ability out of the backfield or will they merely view him as a raw slot receiver who is still learning the ropes?
At this point, the type of coaching staff he lands with will be far more important than where he gets drafted.
Foster was generous enough with his time to offer me his reflections of his days as a Sun Devil and what he thinks his value can be as a professional football player.
Next: Interview with Foster