Arizona State running back D.J. Foster believes he can excel in hybrid receiver/running back role in NFL.
INDIANAPOLIS -- A cadre of well-known Arizona athletes roamed around Fischer Sports Institute one afternoon last week.
As Rangers first baseman and former Arizona State star Ike Davis walked out of the non-descript white building in South Phoenix, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer walked in. Inside the performance center was Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu, rehabilitating a torn ACL.
In the corner of the lobby, lounging in a chair next to a table full of neatly-placed ESPN The Magazines, sat D.J. Foster, taking a quick lunch break before a return to his daily grind.
The former Arizona State running back/wideout has achieved local prominence like the others, due to a prestigious prep career at Scottsdale Saguaro High School and his four years with the Sun Devils. Foster is different, though, in that he has never tasted professional success -- and as he prepares for April's NFL draft, that future is cloudy.
Foster was a star recruit out of high school and made an immediate impact at ASU, but a subpar senior season and an undefined position has his draft status in flux. Foster believes his name could be called between the second and fourth rounds of the draft, but projections have him as a late-round pick.
The next few days will be crucial for him here at the NFL Scouting combine. Foster hopes to ace the on-field drills and satisfy questions about how his hybrid role can be effective. If the pressure is getting to him, Foster isn't letting on.
"I'm the kind of person who enjoys the journey," Foster said. "Going from Saguaro to ASU, I enjoyed the journey. I had a great four years at ASU. That was great, and I'm definitely looking forward to this next process. It's something we've all dreamed about as a kid, to get to that level. And having it right at my fingertips, I'm excited."
Foster had a standout junior season at running back and considered entering the draft, but instead returned to Arizona State and switched to wide receiver in 2015. It didn't work out, as Foster went from 1,081 rushing yards, 688 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior to 280 rushing yards, 584 receiving yards and four scores as a senior.
Foster admitted that his senior season was a disappointment statistically, but he said it's only a part of the evidence he put on tape.
"At the end of the day, I played all 53 games," Foster said. "I have 53 game tapes of the good, the bad and the ugly, which is nice, because if they have a question they can look back and find whatever they're looking for."
Foster, listed at 6-feet and 195 pounds, will perform combine drills with the wide receivers after playing running back at the Senior Bowl. His goal is to run the 40-yard dash in the high 4.4- or low 4.5-second range. As for his professional position, Foster said it's up to NFL teams to decide where they want to use him, but he feels like he's best suited in the backfield.
"When I get asked (by scouts), I tell them I'm a running back who can play wide receiver," Foster said. "And I believe that. I played running back my whole life, since Pop Warner. I've always been able to go out to the wide receiver spot in the slot or out wide -- and I feel like I have the athleticism and ability to do that as well -- but I truly believe that what my passion is and what I'm good at is the running back position."
The hybrid role is popular in the NFL. Darren Sproles has excelled at it for years, Dion Lewis burst onto the scene this season with the Patriots, and the Cardinals employ both Andre Ellington and David Johnson in that vein. Foster said he tries to pattern his game after Percy Harvin and Randall Cobb.
"Anytime you have versatility it's a benefit," Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said. "At that position now with the NFL the way it's gone with the passing game, you have to have two things: Runners are eliminated if you can just run; you've got to be able to protect, and you've got to be able to catch the ball."
Foster has studied the Cardinals offense and believes he would be a good fit. He was the local prep legend and spurned out-of-state colleges to play in Tempe. Another chapter in Arizona would be more than fine with him.
"I love the Cardinals," Foster said. "I've been a huge fan. I know it would make a lot of friends and family happy. All my boys are Cardinals fans so they wouldn't have to buy a different jersey. I think I could definitely add a lot of value to their team, but we'll see. I'll enjoy the journey, and whoever gets me, I'll be excited to go play for."
Images of Cardinals players during their past workouts at the NFL Scouting combine in Indianapolis