INDIANAPOLIS – Coming down from the combination of excitement heavily tinged by adrenaline, marketing agent Mike Conley Sr. was hungry. He mowed through a plate of nachos at Champions Sports Bar in but a few celebratory minutes, inspired by another display of speed.
Darren McFadden, who is represented by Conley and contract agent Ian Greengross, may have outrun the questions.
That's what a 4.33-second time in the 40-yard dash will do at the NFL scouting combine. It doesn't just turn heads, it turns opinions. In short, the notion that McFadden's two publicized incidents at bars and some other more minor issues will get in the way of him being one of the top picks may have disappeared as fast as he ran.
It was certainly gone before Conley was done with the nachos, topped off by a few fries off someone else's plate.
"He's a game-changing talent," said Kansas City president Carl Peterson, whose team holds the No. 5 overall pick and has running back Larry Johnson already in the fold. "He helped himself a lot today … if he's at No. 5 overall, I'm going to have to consider him long and hard. … And I have a great running back."
Or as St. Louis coach Scott Linehan said: "He didn't just run fast, but it was his stride that was really impressive. He ran easy, like he could have run 10 more sprints just like that. A lot of guys, you can see they're giving it everything they have."
Until Sunday, the debate over who should be the No. 1 pick in the draft was a mass of confusion between McFadden, quarterback Matt Ryan, defensive end Chris Long, offensive tackle Jake Long and defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey.
McFadden's blazing time may have altered the picture a bit, combined with the speculation that Dorsey has a more severe leg injury that may require surgical repair. Suddenly, you have to wonder if any team can afford to pass on a guy who could be the next Adrian Peterson.
Of course, the Dolphins at No. 1 probably still won't take McFadden. But the Dolphins really don't want to take anyone at No. 1. Between Ronnie Brown coming back from injury, Ricky Williams being the backup and more needs than a diva actress (and did we mention the $30-something million in guarantees for the No. 1 pick?), even McFadden would be a luxury for the Dolphins at this point. Similarly, McFadden would be a luxury for St. Louis at No. 2, which has Steven Jackson.
But once you get to No. 3 with Atlanta, then Oakland, the Chiefs, the New York Jets and New England, McFadden gets really tempting. And the Dolphins and/or Rams hope tempting enough that one of those teams might want to trade up with them.
Those teams will have to deal with some baggage McFadden carries. He was briefly handcuffed, but not charged, by police following a fight at a piano bar in his hometown of Little Rock, Ark., last month. He was also involved in a fight outside of a nightclub in Little Rock in July 2006 that reportedly resulted in him needing toe surgery.
Over the weekend, McFadden said that he has two children on the way, one in July and another in August. None of those issues are overwhelming and McFadden already has a lawyer to handle the paternity matters.
But in the Pacman-Vick era of the NFL, everything can be troubling. Furthermore, there are people who worry about McFadden's immediate family being the source of a lot of his problems.
On the football side, McFadden had 22 fumbles in three seasons. McFadden also weighed "only" 211 pounds, roughly seven pounds lighter than Peterson a year ago at the combine. There are questions about his leg strength and, ultimately, his ability to take the pounding of an NFL career.
Conley and his crew, including Greengross and trainer Lance Walker, said those concerns should be turned around to advantages.
"People don't understand, Darren is still developing," said Conley, a 1992 Olympic gold medalist in the triple jump. "He's only 20 now. He's going to get stronger."
Evidence of that is the 10-foot, 8-inch mark McFadden posted in the broad jump, Conley noted. It was second among the running backs but is an indication of how powerful McFadden's legs are.
Some of that development was held back during his three years at Arkansas because of a knee injury he suffered in high school, Walker said.
"He wasn't able to do squats in weightlifting until we got him," Walker said. "He had a knee injury in high school and the strength coaches at Arkansas didn't want to risk him doing squats while he was there. They have a great program there, but their goal is to make sure they get him on the field while he's there."
Walker said he showed McFadden how to do squats while they were training in McKinney, Texas, where McFadden also works with former Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson. Within a few minutes of learning how to do it, McFadden was doing reps with 315 pounds.
"Think about what's going to happen now that he can spend more time training and has a really controlled regimen," Walker said. "I think we're just scratching the surface."
For example, Walker noted how McFadden ran the 40 in plain training shoes, nothing much more than regular tennis shoes, a long way from the specialized cleats everybody else wore.
"Those cleats that are like this heavy," Walker said, tossing a napkin in the air. "If he runs in those, who knows how much faster he runs."
Any faster and who knows how much more excited eating Conley might have done.
- Darren McFadden