DaMarkus Lodge relishing chance to prove himself as all-round receiver
There has been a lot of attention on a dynamic group of wide receivers from Ole Miss in the lead up to the NFL Draft, but DaMarkus Lodge could be forgiven for feeling like the forgotten man.
Lodge, having decided to play his college football in Mississippi – the state of his birth – rather than staying in Texas where he played in high school, enjoyed a productive career at Ole Miss and racked up 1,575 yards and 11 touchdowns in his final two seasons.
He then enjoyed a dominant week of practice after being invited to impress NFL scouts at the East-West Shrine Game but, while fellow Rebels receives D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown are regarded as potential first-round picks, Lodge has been the recipient of comparatively little hype.
Lodge, though, feels that focus on Metcalf and Brown has helped him gain favour with those will make the decisions in this week's draft.
"Those guys are getting the attention that they deserve, they worked hard for it every single day," Lodge told Omnisport. "I saw the time and work put in, those guys deserve everything that they're getting.
"The attention that they're getting is also bringing attention to me too, I might not get talked about as much but, when those coaches come up and see those guys and see them work out, I'm right there with them so without those guys and all the attention they have, I probably wouldn't have all the opportunities to impress these coaches like I did."
Despite the presence of Lodge, Metcalf and Brown in the receiving room, Ole Miss have struggled in recent times and won just 16 games across the last three seasons.
However, Lodge still believes his time there was beneficial.
"I put a lot of time and thought into my decision and obviously I went with my heart," he added. "Whatever I do I always think hard and long about it so I never regret it.
"I think it was a great decision for me, I got to compete with some of the best guys in the country, couple of first-round draft picks at receiver and a couple future first-round draft picks at receiver. I got to learn from all the guys, I don't regret at all."
Combine numbers that Lodge admits were disappointing, and an Ole Miss offense in which he was largely limited to running straight-line downfield routes, may not have helped his cause. Yet Lodge is confident he can quickly adapt to the full requirements of an NFL playbook.
"I've always trained and worked on every route that I can think of," he explained. "So I don't think I'll have a problem transitioning to it, because I think I'm really smooth and I can run every route pretty well.
"Due to the limited route tree at Ole Miss, I didn't get to run those routes and a lot of coaches were concerned about that, and I think we got to show them that we can actually run routes at our pro day. I think it'll be a pretty smooth transition, and I actually think it'll be better for me than running downfield and catching fades and posts all game so I'm excited for it."
Lodge's self-belief is well-placed. Though he did not test like he expected at the Combine, on the field he has demonstrated an ability to use his footwork to separate from defenders at the start of routes and make the most of his 6ft 1in and 202-pound frame to haul in highlight-reel leaping catches near the sideline and get both feet in bounds.
It is a skillset he has honed from watching some of the best in the NFL at the receiver position, with Lodge keen to avoid being regarded as a one-dimensional talent.
"It's a couple that I pick and choose from, there's so many good receivers around the league you can't just choose one and try to model after them," said Lodge when asked who he models his game after.
"Michael Thomas, he's so strong and physical he's going to go up and high-point the ball, no matter where it's at, his catch radius is dang good. I take my releases, the top of my routes, from Odell Beckham, kind of get the toe-tapping thing from AB [Antonio Brown].
"So it's a lot of guys around the league that you can pick and choose from, you never just want to put yourself in one box."