INDIANAPOLIS – Drue Tranquill did his 31st rep of 225 pounds on the bench press, sat up and calmly walked away from the apparatus.
It was a moment of serenity amid the cacophony of the NFL scouting combine, which mimics a three-ring circus and petting zoo all in one. But Tranquill is traipsing away making headlines and sending his draft stock soaring.
“We'll let the results speak for themselves,” he said.
The Fort Wayne native left Indianapolis occupying the No. 1 spot on the bench press among linebackers, the fifth-highest vertical jump (37.5 inches), the fifth-fastest 20-yard shuttle time (4.14 seconds), the sixth-fastest three-cone drill (6.94 seconds), the seventh-fasted 40-yard dash (4.57 seconds), and the ninth-longest broad jump (122 inches).
The journey to this point started with a senior season at Carroll High School that featured 75 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, four sacks and an interception, prompting Notre Dame to pry Tranquill away from Purdue. The senior year exclamation point signaled inevitable distinction in South Bend.
Stories, however, don't always unfold as the protagonist intends. Tranquill's Notre Dame career spanned five seasons after he suffered ACL tears in each knee 10 months apart, leading to an extra year of eligibility and a hardened exterior.
“It was tough,” Tranquill said. “I had never been injured before, so to go through that when I was trying to earn my spot, earn the respect of my teammates, earn a role in the program, it was hard blow. But I've learned so much from it. Now I've played in 42 straight games. Learned a lot of lessons.”
Tranquill, 6-foot-2 and 234 pounds, simply has to turn on the tape to impress NFL scouts. In his final three seasons, he recorded a combined 239 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, three fumble recoveries, two interceptions and one forced fumble. And the numbers were produced at safety and linebacker.
“I think that's what makes me so complete as a football player, the versatility I bring to the pass game,” Tranquill said. “It's developing into a passing league. Something like 70 percent of plays from the past season were pass plays. Linebackers have to run. I think it makes me an interesting prospect at the next level.”
A two-time captaincy, Academic All-American honors, the Wuerffel Trophy and Senior CLASS Award nomination contribute to a narrative of strong leadership and intelligence. Tranquill earned a degree in mechanical engineering.
“Tranquill is a strong, tough football player who loves to play the game,” NFL analyst Lance Zierlein said. “What evaluators are going to see is a player who has below-average size, recovery athleticism and man cover skills. He might not get much bigger so he needs to gain the attention of general managers with explosive testing, and then prove he can shine as a special teamer in order to secure a roster spot and make a living as a backup linebacker.”
Teams should be enthralled by his physique, sublime pursuit to the football and the ability to play special teams – and perform well. Any player who can fill a special teams niche becomes infinitely more valuable in the NFL. But concerns about Tranquill's age (he'll be 24 during his rookie season), two torn ACLs and missed tackles are legitimate.
Tranquill, who's projected as a mid- to late-round selection, is betting on himself. Listening to Irish coach Brian Kelly describe it, franchises will have a hard time passing on Tranquill.
“He was a captain and a leader, but he was hard to follow in a sense,” Kelly said. “The bar for him is so high, and sometimes for other players, it's hard to imagine being Drue Tranquill – almost a 4.0 engineering student, a great player, a great citizen, great in the community. He's almost too hard to imagine and too hard to mirror.”
Life changed dramatically for Tranquill in July when he got married. It will take another shift in April when he's drafted. But the ultimate adjustment will come in May, the month a baby boy is supposed to arrive.
“It's stressful,” Tranquill said. “I could be in OTAs and the baby could be on the way. I just have to trust the Lord.”