Thursday, April 23, 2009

Flossmoor's X-Man wants a Saturday call

2009 has seen plenty of buzz around Flossmoor's Xavier Fulton, affectionately known as the X-man around here, who has made a solid commitment to moving to the next level and playing on Sundays in the NFL. His pure athleticism and raw talent even have some projecting Fulton to go as high as the second round.

Fulton came out of Homewood-Flossmoor High -- where he played both ways -- to go to the Fighting Illini. He was recruited as a defensive end, but switched to offensive tackle in 2007. An All Big Ten Offensive Linemen in both 2007 and 2008, Fulton was invited to the Senior Bowl. After a rough week of practice where he played both tackle positions, Xavier was named one of the Top 10 2009 Senior Bowl Performances for his play in the game:

Got called for a questionable holding call, but I thought he moved better than any OT in the game. He can really get downfield and make some things happen. I think this kid is a serious sleeper because of his athleticism. Could be a better pro than college player.

Graduating in December (Xavier was a fifth year senior), he spent 2009 preparing for the draft at D1 Sports Training. Fulton was "impressive" at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, finishing "among the top performers from the offensive linemen group who worked out for the over 600 NFL coaches, general managers and scouts. His 40-yard dash time, broad jump and three-cone drill performance ranked in the top-3 on the offensive line." Randall Weida observed:

Xavier Fulton had a productive NFL Combine. He ran a 5.04 second 40 yard dash which was one of the best times for a lineman. He also showed good technique during position drills and coaches are encouraged by the fact he's only been playing tackle for two seasons. Fulton is a perfect fit in a zone blocking scheme and should be taken by the mid third round of this years draft.

Sports Illustrated named Fulton as one of the top "players who stood out and improved their draft stock."

Fulton was impressive from the start of the combine as he completed 27 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press Friday, then ran his 40 in a time of 4.91 seconds on both tries. He later looked terrific in position drills. Fulton has been dealing with a shoulder injury since tearing a labrum in the middle of the season. He could have very easily bowed out of performing at the combine but decided to give it a go. Fulton will have surgery to repair the injury next week.

One analyst said, "No one player improved his draft stock more at the combine than this man."

Predictions for where Xavier will go in the draft are all over the map. Some hope that his injury and surgery will push him down to the later rounds (making him a "steal" for some team), but the consensus seems to be that his tremendous upside will find Fulton drafter sooner rather than later. With four offensive tackles thought to go off the board in the first round, the prospect of Xavier getting a Saturday afternoon call isn't that absurd. The NFL site summarizes:

Positives: Naturally large man with the frame to add at least an additional 10-15 pounds without a significant loss of quickness. ... Raw, but possesses rare tools. ... Lacks consistency with his initial quickness off the snap, but gets excellent depth in his kick slide to protect the edge as a pass rusher. ... Natural knee bender who plays with balance. ... Still learning to use his hands, but flashes explosiveness in his hand punch and the ability to turn and sustain. ... Athletic enough to block on the move. ... Hustles to the second and even third level. ... Only beginning to scratch the surface of his talent after spending the first three years of his career at defensive tackle.

Negatives: Raw. ... Made the transition to the offensive line in 2007 and was surrounded by experienced line mates and ultra-athletic skill position players, aiding in his development. ... Too often late off the snap for a player of his athleticism. ... Relies on athleticism, rather than technique, to control his man and can be walked back to the quarterback when he plays too high, exposing his chest. ... Flashes a good initial pop in run blocking, but is not a masher. ... Good athleticism, but can get out of control blocking on the move, allowing his assignment to evade him. Legitimate durability concern: Torn ACL ended his 2005 season prematurely and forced Fulton to take a medical redshirt for the '06 season. ... Struggled with a shoulder sprain throughout the second half of the 2008 season.

It adds: "Scouts want to see him improve his technique and show strength as a run blocker."

Fulton is being called the seventh or eighth best offensive tackle, although some teams might convert him to guard. Those who think he might go as high as the second round would agree:

He is similar to 2008 first round pick Duane Brown in that he is a small zone blocking tackle, who is new to the position. Both were relatively inexperienced, but Fulton could be an even better prospect. He has tremendous speed and athleticism for an offensive lineman and loves to get out into the open field and lay hits on opposing linebackers in the run game. Fulton is still raw, so he occasionally doesn't pick up more complex blitzes and stunts. He does however, have the athleticism to recover on many of those plays. He is strong enough to withstand the bull rush of defensive ends, and quick enough to stay in front of speed rushers. His speed and size make him an ideal fit in a zone-blocking scheme. Fulton will need to show teams he has the strength to block elite ends in the NFL. Because he isn't a good fit for every team's system, he may not get drafted until the late third or early fourth round.

As such, Xavier's been named one of the 40 Players To Look Out For in the 2009 NFL Draft, in part because "he can play multiple positions on the line." Xavier has been brought in by several NFL teams, including the New York Jets.

No comments: