Undrafted rookie linebacker Ali Highsmith is trying to get past the disappointment of being passed over on draft weekend.
Was it as simple as the 40-yard dash being the run that crushed Ali Highsmith's draft dreams?
He doesn't know. The Cardinals' rookie linebacker expected to be drafted in late April. He was coming off a season as one of the top playmakers for an LSU team that won a national championship. He was touted as one of the better prospects.
Then came the NFL scouting combine and Highsmith's slow 40 time -- a shade higher than five seconds, shockingly slow. And Highsmith suddenly wasn't as good of a prospect.
Highsmith insists he doesn't know why he went from potential first-day draft pick to undrafted.
"That's a question I wish I could answer for you now but I can't," he said after a recent organized team activity. "I still want to know.
"But it's behind me now, and I've got to start a new chapter in my life. So that's what I am doing."
Cardinals linebackers coach Bill Davis was incredulous himself of Highsmith's plight. The combine time didn't help Highsmith. That Davis knows. But Davis also said the scouts and coaches around the league that he talked to had Highsmith pegged anywhere from the second- to the fourth-round of the draft until that fateful run.
Davis also believes Highsmith ran a weaving 40, costing him valuable milliseconds. When Highsmith ran at LSU's pro day, he was around 4.7, a decent time.
But it didn't change any minds, apparently. By the time the draft ended that Sunday afternoon in April, Highsmith had gone from the high of starring for the most powerful college team in the nation to the low of being unchosen.
"I go back to this: if you are a good enough football player, you are big enough," Davis said. "If you are a good enough football player, you are fast enough. If you are a good enough football player, you are tall enough, you weigh enough. First, you look at him as a football player, and that's what Ali is.
"At LSU this kid made all kind of plays. This guy was all over the field, he understood what was coming at him, he covered guys, and a lack of speed never showed up on film, just in a 40 yard dash. He has a great chance to make it in the NFL."
The Cardinals went after Highsmith hard as an undrafted free agent. He isn't huge – 6-foot-1, 223 pounds, which also likely dented his stock – but he is playing as a backup weakside linebacker for the Cards, behind starter Karlos Dansby and veteran free-agent signee Matt Stewart.
Highsmith admitted he went "through a disappointment stage" after not being drafted but he got past that once the Cardinals were through with their first minicamp. Dansby said that not only has Highsmith not moped, Dansby was left with the impression – given Highsmith's talent level – that Highsmith was a draft pick.
"He he came from an SEC school, so I have a lot of respect for him," Dansby said. "He is catching on very fast. It's a mental game for him, but he is ahead of the curve right now. I am excited about that going into training camp – maybe I can get a breather or two."
Highsmith should excel on special teams, a must for any undrafted or lower-round draft pick to make the team. Even Davis understands that, and for Highsmith, who played all the special teams at LSU, such contributions should not be a problem.
And eventually, Highsmith could move into the defense. At least, that's what Davis believes after coaching Highsmith for a little more than a month, regardless of what his 40 time once might have represented.
"I believe Ali has all the talent," Davis said, "to make it in the NFL."
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 6/3/08.