NFL hopeful Marquise Goodwin takes leap of faith
Marquise Goodwin has always had speed on his side.
The former Texas wide receiver, who will wait for a team to call his name from the podium of Radio City Music Hall at the NFL draft, almost has to shake his own success to be taken seriously by scouts. Two things -- running an NFL combine-best 4.27 40-yard dash, which is just shy of the event record, and representing the U.S. at the London Olympics in long jump -- may actually be working against Goodwin.
You'd think mastery like that would be an asset, but Goodwin knows better. During the months leading up to the NFL draft, which begins Thursday in New York City, he's been asked about his commitment to football and track and field, and whether he would be content choosing one over the other.
"I feel like I have to prove I'm not just a track guy," Goodwin said. "I'm a football guy playing football. People may stigmatize me because my track and field accolades overshadow my football accolades."
A summer ago, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt captivated viewers with his speed and trademark lightning-bolt pose. On social media sites, fans of NFL teams in need of a wide receiver clamored for Bolt. What NFL team couldn't use The Fastest Man in the World on its side?
Ultimately Bolt was approached by professional teams, but they were predominantly cricket teams in Australia and India. Bolt's agent, Ricky Simms, said his client is open about his desire to play soccer when he retires from track and field.
"We haven't been formally approached by any American football teams," Simms said.
Goodwin understands why teams may not run to tackle the fastest man, even one with international name recognition like Bolt.
"He can definitely run fast, he can probably outrun everybody in the NFL, but he's got to catch the ball first," Goodwin said. "There's more to it than just being fast."
Stephen Starks, an NFL agent who worked for a time as an attorney with USADA, has spent some time thinking about the juncture between Olympic sports and football. He said an event like the combine almost makes it seem as though NFL success can be broken down into components like the 40-yard dash and long jump, but it isn't that simple.
"Just because you're a great mechanic doesn't make you a great dentist," said Starks, speaking generally about the process of making the transition. "Both work with their hands, but it doesn't mean they can do each other's job. Just like being fast doesn't necessarily mean you'll be a great football player."
No one knows that better than Goodwin. He has to prove he can catch, block and run routes. If you just have one gear, one skill, you might be the least useful player on the field at any given time.
There is precedent for an Olympian succeeding at football. Tommie Smith, who raised his fist on the medal stand after winning gold in the 200 meters in 1968, went on to play wide receiver with the Bengals. Jim Thorpe was an Olympian and football player after the turn of the century, but then again he may have been the greatest athlete of all time. During his NFL career as a running back, Herschel Walker competed in the two-man bobsled at the 1992 Olympics and finished seventh.
Yet the history of athletes converting from track to the NFL isn't particularly long, and it hasn't happened much recently. Jeff Demps is an exception, a running back and return specialist for the Patriots who won a silver medal in 4x100 relay at the 2012 Olympic Games. After signing with New England, he spent the season on injured reserve and there are reports Demps may return to track sooner rather than later.
Renaldo Nehemiah was a world-class hurdler and played for the 49ers in the early 1980s. He said football players have become much faster since he played, which dims the allure of an Olympic speedster. He also said teams are faced with salary caps and roster limits that make it harder to take a chance on a player perceived as a project.
"Exceptional speed is an eye-catcher," said Nehemiah, now an agent for Olympic athletes. "But you need the skills to back it up."
Goodwin has those, Nehemiah said. His production while playing for Texas speaks for itself. Goodwin played in 50 career games, making 22 starts at receiver, and ranks among the Longhorns' all-time leaders with 120 career receptions (11th), 985 kickoff return yards (sixth) and amassed 2,776 all-purpose yards. Making the transition from college to the pros is difficult enough for any player, but Goodwin has the speed and the skills to be the exception.
"I don't have any doubts he can play at the NFL level," Nehemiah said.
Bolt himself hopes to convert from track and field, but he aspires to play soccer after his running days are over. It's a sport Bolt played as a child, and one he still has the skills and aptitude for. Passion and skill may not be as easy to measure as a 40-yard sprint, but they are key.
And that is ultimately what Goodwin will have hoped to prove when the clock starts on draft night. He will be in Dallas with family, and isn't expecting anything to happen for him until at least Friday. But he is content he has made his choice -- now he just hopes he has proven that to the teams interested in him.
"Right now I'm just focusing on football," Goodwin said. "I've had my fair share of track and field, now I'm just trying to make my mark."