Green Bay Packers 2016 Draft: Interview with Navy Quarterback Keenan Reynolds

Dec 28, 2015; Annapolis, MD, USA; Navy Midshipmen quarterback Keenan Reynolds (19) throws during the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Navy-Marine Corps. Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 28, 2015; Annapolis, MD, USA; Navy Midshipmen quarterback Keenan Reynolds (19) throws during the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Navy-Marine Corps. Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

The conversion of highly successful college quarterbacks into other roles has become a common occurrence in the NFL, as coaching staffs try to constantly find ways to translate the elite athletic skills of collegiate signal callers who may lack the size or passing skills to continue playing at their current position.

These conversions have yielded mixed results in that for every Julian Edelman, there’s a Matt Jones that stands as a failed example of a highly-skilled athlete who couldn’t make the switch as Jacksonville Jaguars fans can sadly attest to.

One of the more successful transitions took place 26 years ago when the Washington Redskins selected Brian Mitchell as their fifth-round pick from Southwestern Louisiana. The 5-foot-11 quarterback entered the 1990 draft as the first collegian to throw for more than 5,000 yards and rush for over 3,000 yards.

It didn’t take long for Mitchell to establish himself as one of the premiere return specialists in the NFL by leading the league in all-purpose yardage four times during his 14-year career along with earning All-Pro honors three times during the 1990s.

Ironically enough, Mitchell had never once returned a kick in college.

One college prospect who faces a similar fate is Navy’s all-time leader in touchdowns Keenan Reynolds. The decorated service academy quarterback wrapped up a highly successful college career by finishing fifth in the 2015 Heisman Trophy running.

But running, in all fairness, is what he specialized in as the field general in Ken Niumatalolo’s triple-option attack. In his 49 games as a Midshipman, Reynolds attempted all of 445 passes.

So unless Niumatalolo gets an NFL coaching job sometime soon, the Tennessee native is perfectly fine with finding a new position that will give him an opportunity to help a pro offense with his explosiveness and elusiveness in the open field.

So far, Reynolds has been impressive on many fronts in his offseason prep work by putting in outstanding practice sessions at the East-West Shrine Game and testing well at both of his pro days by posting a 4.57 40 time, a 37.5-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot broad jump.

As far as where he’ll ultimately line up, the consensus seems to be that Reynolds projects best as a slot receiver due to his change-of-direction prowess that could potentially present nightmares for defensive backs who try to anticipate what direction he’ll take coming off the line.

The rookie-in-waiting also gets high marks in his overall agility and ability to string moves together, which allows him to avoid being on the receiving end of violent hits.

His prospects as a full-time running back don’t seem as promising due to his narrow base at about 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, but there’s no reason why he couldn’t perform as a pass-catching satellite player out of the backfield much like Theo Riddick has in Detroit.

Players with Reynolds’ combination of production, elite movement skills and high-level character come in limited supply, which should strengthen the chances of the Navy product hearing his name called any time from the early to later portions of Day 3.

During my conversation with the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, he came off as a highly motivated and competitive individual who is serious about making a name for himself in the pros even if that means being in naval uniform instead of an NFL jersey in his first two seasons.

Here are his thoughts just hours before the start of the 2016 NFL Draft.

Q: As you wait for your name to be called in the NFL draft, you’re facing a position switch that could see in a number of different roles? What position do you think best suits you?

A: I think that’s all going to be predicated by a team’s needs. I’ll go with what they need me as.

Q: What are teams telling you and what types of questions are being asked?

A: They ask if I could play receiver…if I can catch the ball. They ask if I can move around and switch positions. Some people really didn’t know whether I wanted to do it or not, but I’m totally open to it. I had an opportunity to move around a bit during my second pro day actually. I had a second opportunity to run around, run some routes. I did a little of everything.

Q: We know the Patriots have always been big fans of drafting or signing athletes out of the U.S. Naval Academy. What other teams have shown interest in your services?

A: The Ravens. I had an opportunity to go to their local pro day workouts, plus I had 17 teams come out to my pro day.

Q: You currently have a two-year commitment of service. Will it be a big challenge for you to keep yourself motivated to play football during that period?

A: First of all, my commitment to service is my number one thing and that’s official policy. Being motivated won’t be an issue for me. But you look at guys like Joe Cardona, who was drafted and played right away. He got that unique opportunity. He went right into the league and was able to do both. So we’ll see what the Navy does as far as working with me after the draft. But either way, I’m going to be excited. I can’t speak to what’s going to happen right now.

Q: During the East-West Shrine Game, former Dallas Cowboys talent evaluator Gil Brandt said he saw you developing into a Wes Welker type of player. Do you agree?

A: I definitely in time could be Wes Welker or a [Julian] Edelman or [Antwaan] Randle El; those are the kinds of guys I identify with. But everything obviously is going to be predicated on my performance.

Q: What types of challenges does the receiver position present?

A: My hands are pretty natural, but it’s running routes and running in and out routes that I’m spending a lot of time working on.

Q: Looking back at your playing career at Navy, what’s something that really stands out?

A: Being the winningest senior class in school history tied with the class of 1909.

Q: What is the most underrated part of your game?

A: The mental preparation side of things is something people don’t see. It’s a big deal for me and it’s what’s allowed me to be successful.

Q: You practiced at the East-West Shrine Game, but you didn’t play. Can you describe your experience at the event?

A: I got hurt and wasn’t able to compete like I wanted to. I didn’t want to risk further injury so I decided not to play. But the experience was awesome. I had a great time with a lot of the coaches and a lot of the players.

Q: Did you pick up anything from any of the coaches in terms playing another position?

A: I did get to talk to the coaches. I spent time with them and got to listen to what they had to say about their experiences in the NFL and what it takes to be successful.

Q: The record books indicate that you’ve fumbled the ball 32 times and lost 18 of them throughout your career. Is ball security something you’ll be working on?

A: Let me clear about that ball security thing. That’s really irritating that it’s kind of a story because as a runner, I had single-digit lost fumbles. Most of the fumbles that were tacked on to my stat sheet were from errant center-snap exchanges and pitches that went wrong. So as a runner, I could think about five or six times when I lost the ball on fumbles out of 977 carries. So it’s really irritating when I see that stat because it takes into account center-snap fumbles, lost fumbles in running the option and in pitches that were dropped or knocked down or what have you. That’s really irritating to deal with. It’s something I’ve had to clear up and I’ve been asked that before.

Q: How much time did you have to dedicate to film study with all your responsibilities as both a student and naval officer?

A: We watched film more than some of the top five schools and I tried to watch as much as I could on my own as well.

Q: Talk about your leadership skills. How can you apply that to the NFL?

A: Definitely being from a school that breeds leaders, I’ve had the opportunity to be a leader. I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to be a successful leader through application and I think that will transfer well into the locker room. I can stand out and be an active leader that way.

Q: Where are you now as a blocker especially when it comes to picking up the blitz?

A: I’m comfortable with anything that they’ll ask of me.

Q: Growing up in Tennessee, how did you first get involved in football?

A: I’ve always had a football in my hands since day one. So ever since I could remember, I was always running around with a football in my hands from the very start.

Q: What team did you root for growing up?

A: I was a Tennessee Titans fan.

Q: Do you watch much of the Packers? What are your impressions of them?

A: I watched several of their games over the span of my lifetime. I was a Brett Favre fan. I actually used to wear a Brett Favre jersey. I just liked the way he played, his confidence and he was on a championship squad.

Q: Who are your favorite Packers to watch?

A: I like Aaron Rodgers. His level of play is unmatched. His leadership and the way he takes over a game and his Hail Mary touchdowns… to have two in one season is just crazy. I remember waking up when I was at the Shrine game. I actually fell asleep and woke up to him throwing a Hail Mary in the playoffs. I was like, “Wow”. I also like Randall Cobb, he’s a Tennessee guy. My high school actually played against him three years in a row in the state championship before I got to high school and he torched us every single year. I remember watching Randall Cobb highlights in high school trying to figure out how I could be like him as a quarterback.

Q: What is your biggest strength and your biggest weakness?

A: My strengths are preparation, toughness and heart. My weakness is just my size.

Q: How will your experience at quarterback help you transition to another position?

A: I think it’s going to be huge because I’m going to be able to see the whole field. That’s going to translate well going from having to know 11 positions to knowing only one position.

Q: What are your expectations this weekend?

A: I have no expectations. I’m just along for the ride to be honest with you.

Q: What are your plans once the draft comes on tonight?

A: I’ll watch everything with my friends and family in Maryland.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not preparing for a game or training?

A: I like to bowl and I like to read books.

Q: What was the last book you read?

A: Relentless by Tim Grover.

Q: What’s your favorite meal?

A: Pizza. All day, every day.

Q: What was the last movie you really enjoyed?

A: Batman v. Superman

Q: Who is your favorite athlete outside of football?

A: Muhammad Ali.