INDIANAPOLIS – Willie Snead is a wide receiver, so he's somewhat of an expert on timing. Precision routes are one form, striking while the iron is hot is another.
Snead left Ball State University after his junior season to enter the NFL Draft, a decision that puzzled some but made perfect sense to Snead.
He's coming off a great 2013 season – one of the best in the country – and his quarterback Keith Wenning is graduating and moving on.
The fact Wenning would not be around next season played a major role in Snead jumping to the NFL, where he is participating in the Combine this weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Keith and I had definitely built up chemistry,” Snead said. “To have my last go-round with a new quarterback, I didn't know if I would be asked to do as much. …We could be a running team next year. I felt like it was my time to move on. I put up enough numbers.”
The numbers were impressive: Snead caught 106 passes for 1,516 yards and 15 touchdowns. His yards and touchdowns ranked third in the country. He caught nine or more passes in seven of Ball State's 13 games and had nine 100-yard games.
The numbers weighing against him include his height (5-11) and his speed, which is not considered elite, although he'll have a chance to prove exactly where he stand in the 40-yard dash at the combine testing on Sunday.
Snead's attributes are precise route-running and reliable hands. Many successful wide receivers have proved over the years that speed isn't everything.
“I'm just ready to get on the field and show that I am one of the best in this draft,” Snead said. “I really believe that.”
Snead's father, also named Willie, spent time in the NFL and eventually went into coaching. He encouraged his son to enter the NFL draft.
“I talked to a lot of guys who used to play in the NFL and what they said was, 'You're a great player who has a chance to stick in the league,' ” Snead said. “That helped me a lot.”
In a fairly deep wide-receiver draft, Snead could still snag a mid- to late-round draft spot if he performs well at the combine and in other workout situations.
The Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots were two teams that spent time talking with Snead after he arrived at the Combine and before he started the on-field workouts.
“I'm going to show them I can run great routes, I'm going to catch every pass at the Combine and I'm going to run a great 40,” Snead said. “I have a little chip on my shoulder and I'm going to surprise people and turn heads.”
Snead certainly has the confidence necessary to succeed in the NFL. Wide receivers are among the players most heavily scrutinized and most open to criticism because their mistakes – such as poor routes or drops – are easy even for the casual observer to see.
Snead said he is looking forward to the chance to have Wenning throwing him some passes in Combine workouts, too, since they have such familiarity. However, Wenning is not one of the designated “throwing quarterbacks” who work with all receivers so it's uncertain how much time they'll work together.
“There are a lot of great receivers here and guys from big-time schools with big names,” Snead said. “I feel like I'm under the radar right now, and I just have to prove myself and show I can be among the best.”