MANHATTAN — Winning 11 games, gaining more than 3,500 yards and finishing third in Heisman Trophy voting is normally enough to secure an NFL future for a college football player.
Sometimes it takes more.
No one understands that better than Collin Klein.
The former Kansas State quarterback has had to prove himself all over again the past few months while preparing for the NFL Draft, an event that often rewards and punishes players based on pro potential more than past accomplishments.
Ever since his college career ended in January with a loss in the Fiesta Bowl, Klein has worked around the clock to prove he is worthy of an NFL roster spot. He trained with former NFL player Jake Plummer in Denver, he adjusted the way he reads plays at the line of scrimmage and drops back in the pocket, and he made some tweaks in his throwing motion. He also worked out in front of pro scouts at the East-West Shrine Game, the NFL Combine and K-State’s Pro Day.
Those experiences built up his confidence. Though he has no expectations for the draft, his agent, Peter Schaffer, expects Klein to be selected between the third and seventh rounds.
Some disagree with that assessment, arguing that Klein’s skills won’t translate to the NFL as a quarterback. They say he won’t get drafted unless he is open to switching positions. But Klein, who played receiver at K-State as a freshman, is committed to quarterback.
“In my heart, I know I can do it,” Klein said. “That’s the position I love to play. Until that door closes, I’m going to walk through it. I have the work ethic and all the physical tools to do it. I was very fortunate to have good coaches at K-State. I feel very well equipped.”
What will it take for Klein to succeed as an NFL quarterback? It is an interesting question.
With the rise of dual-threat quarterbacks such as Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, offensive coordinators in the NFL seem more open than ever to move quarterbacks out of the pocket and put them in positions where they can create in space. But Klein’s skills don’t always lead to success beyond college.
His biggest attributes: At 6-foot-5 and 226 pounds, he has ideal size, and no one can question his toughness or leadership. At K-State he routinely broke tackles, played through injuries and represented the school impeccably.
His biggest weaknesses: His unorthodox throwing motion turned off college recruiters, and he has never accurately thrown the deep ball. He made more plays on the ground than he did through the air with the Wildcats, and run-first quarterbacks don’t survive long in the NFL.
ESPN NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper has doubts.
“As a quarterback, I don’t see it,” Kiper said Wednesday during a conference call. “He wants to be a quarterback. I think he will have to be a tight end/H-Back. He doesn’t really want to move to those positions, so I think he is a late rounder or an undrafted free agent.”
Schaffer has a response to that type of analysis.
“The thing that is interesting about Collin, when you look at the quarterback position, is that he does what matters most: Win football games,” Schaffer said. “He may not be as pretty as Tom Brady, but he took a team at K-State that didn’t have a lot of marquee names to a Big 12 championship and the Fiesta Bowl. That is what quarterbacks get paid to do: Win games. No one is better at that in college football. Teams respect that a lot.”
So much so, Schaffer said, that no NFL team has asked Klein to work out at a position other than quarterback.
For now, Klein is spending his days working out with former teammates at K-State and his nights at home with his wife. No teams have requested him for an individual workout, but he is expecting that to change in the next two weeks.
“We are ready for anyone who calls,” Klein said.
Klein got his first taste of the NFL spotlight at the NFL Combine. Klein remembers being asked how he would react during certain in-game situations and to draw up hypothetical plays. He was ready for them. The strangest question he recalls: Was he a night person or a day person?
That one threw him off. He was expecting deeper queries. There were no questions about his past or character. Now he understands why.
They knew the type of person he is. They wanted to know what type of NFL player he can be.
“I guess we’re going to find out,” Klein said. “Honestly, the only difference from college is now you’re playing with the best of the best. People are going to be faster. The game is going to be different in some categories. You are dealing with players and coaches where this is what they do. They have more time to devote to it and more time to study. Everyone has to be on point.”
That wasn’t a problem for Klein at K-State. Despite injuries and defenses focused almost entirely on him, he was always ready to give his best effort.
No matter what happens between now and the NFL Draft, that won’t change.
“One of our team goals at K-State was consistency,” Klein said. “I always wanted to look myself in the mirror and know that I left it all out there and I did everything I possibly could. Obviously, the environment is different now and the scene has changed a little bit, but I’m still trying to be the best that I can be. That is all I’m really trying to do.”