Former Alabama wide receiver Kevin Norwood claims to have the best hands in this year's NFL draft, says he is used to winning championships and expects to continue doing so at the next level, and when his career is done he wants to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
This isn't a young man who lacks confidence.
Despite finishing his career having earned the nickname "Mr. Clutch" for a team that won three BCS national championships, he isn't a household name yet. Norwood attributes his relatively low profile to the modest stats he accumulated while playing in Alabama's ball-control offense and says if you don't know him now, you will soon.
"All of the thousand-yard receivers get talked about the most, but if you look at the number of times they were targeted, they had a lot more opportunities [to catch the ball] than I did," Norwood said. "Alabama was a run-first program, which was great for me because I learned how to block down field, be clutch on third down, get us first downs, keep the ball moving and win championships, but I know I can put up bigger numbers if I get more opportunities."
As Norwood points out, he wasn't targeted often. He finished the 2013 season with 38 receptions while bigger-name receivers like Clemson's Sammy Watkins, Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews and Fresno State's Davante Adams all had more than 100.
But Norwood was a more productive player than the aforementioned receivers and a couple other standouts on a yards per catch basis:
Norwood admits it frustrates him that he isn't consistently discussed among the best at his position, but he realizes more fame comes with personal accolades. He didn't win the Biletnikoff Award like Cooks or get voted onto the All-American team like Watkins, Adams and Matthews, but Norwood says those awards tell only a portion of the story. He says when you analyze why he was so valuable to such a successful team, he should stand out among the other receivers in his class.
"Out of the five years I was at Alabama I only dropped three or four balls while winning three national championships and earning two degrees [in human environmental science and a master's in sports management]," Norwood said. "What other player can say that? I'm not going to say I was the best player on our team, but if you ask anyone there, if the ball is anywhere in my range, I'm going to make the play. My hands are my best attribute and I'm proud of that because I work really hard to perfect my craft.
"No one can say there's no room in the league for guys who make big plays when the ball comes their way. Look at Anquan Boldin or Wes Welker or any other guy that's there for their quarterback. That's their job. And I think I can do the same thing and make my own mark on the NFL. I know I have that special ability."
— Rand Getlin (@Rand_Getlin) April 22, 2014
If earning the trust of your quarterback gets players bonus points in the eyes of talent evaluators, Norwood has a few in the bank. Former Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, who Norwood developed a special rapport with during their time in Tuscaloosa, spoke highly of his receiver at the NFL scouting combine.
"Kevin's one of the best teammates I've ever had. One of the smartest individuals playing the game," McCarron said in February. "I think that's why I could always count on him when we got in a critical situation. I always knew where Kevin was going to be and he knew where he had to be because he knew how to read defenses. He's an even better guy off the field which makes him a great teammate."
Norwood was knocked early in the draft process for "lacking top-end speed." But after running a 4.48 (official, 4.39 unofficial) 40-yard dash at the combine at 6-foot-2, 198 pounds, he silenced a few critics. There were questions about his athleticism, too, but Norwood performed well at the combine, placing fourth in the three-cone drill and 10th in the 60-yard shuttle.
Is he the kind of athlete who wins workout warrior awards? He'll be the first to tell you that's not his game. All you have to do is spend a few moments watching the acrobatic catches he made against Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU and Texas A&M, to see what he's capable of on the field.
While he said he was thankful he had the opportunity to prove he "wasn't slow" at the combine, Norwood didn't have much interest in talking about his performance there. Instead, he focused on the following point: any team that concentrates more on his workout numbers than the way he prepares for and plays the game is going to miss what makes him special.
"My route-running ability and my hands are the things teams can see on film," Norwood said. "But my character is something I'm very proud of, too. A lot of guys might come in to meetings with teams and b.s., pretending to be a person they're not. Me? I'm going to be the same person day-in and day-out. I'm going to be dependable on and off the field, I'm going to work as hard as possible and have a smile on my face while I'm doing it. Not just to try to be the best football player I can be, but to better myself as a man."
Having grown up in Biloxi, Miss., Norwood spent a lot of his younger years chasing the legend of a player who was reared and played college football just a few hours north. That player eventually found his way to Canton, Ohio, where he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Just a few weeks away from realizing his dream of becoming an NFL player, Norwood finally feels comfortable sharing that his ultimate goal is to follow in his idol's footsteps.
"Growing up I watched a lot of Jerry Rice and I hope to have a career like his," Norwood said. "Becoming one of the best to ever do it wasn't about speed with him. It was about creating separation at the top of the routes and getting open. Having great timing with his quarterback. The things you can't do with speed alone. That's what a receiver's supposed to do. And in all of those areas, I think I'm the best."