Before the NFL scouting combine this past February, most conversations about potential top picks in the April 26-27 draft included Darren McFadden, the dynamic running back from Arkansas.
Then he ran at Indianapolis.
Jaws dropped. Player personnel representatives gulped.
McFadden, who has been runner-up for the Heisman Trophy the past two seasons, ran a stunning 4.33 in the 40-yard dash.
Not sure what that means? Consider that former Olympic gold-medal sprinter Justin Gatlin, who two years ago tied the world record in the 100-meter dash, has failed to beat or even match McFadden's 40 time the past couple of seasons while auditioning for several NFL teams.
Talk about separating yourself from the pack.
"He absolutely helped himself," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said afterward. "He is what I thought he was. He has great burst and acceleration."
There are those who wonder whether McFadden could be the next Adrian Peterson. A little more than a year ago, the former Oklahoma running back fell to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 7 and then went on to become rookie of the year. He tumbled in part over concerns surrounding recovery from a broken collarbone.
"I believe [McFadden ran the 4.33] at 211 pounds. So you juxtapose that to a year ago," Mayock said. "Peterson was 217 [pounds], if I remember correctly, and he ran a 4.38 or a 4.40. … So that's pretty darn impressive."
Kevin Colbert, director of football operations for the Pittsburgh Steelers, likes what he sees in McFadden: "He's a great running back. He's big, he's fast and he's productive, [and] he's going to be a great back in the league."
But McFadden has been dogged by character questions that could result in a Peterson-like fall.
He's had a couple of run-ins with the police thanks to two separate incidents involving fights outside nightclubs.
He broke his big left toe in July 2006 when trying to kick someone he thought was involved with attempting to steal his brother's car outside a nightclub in Little Rock. A pin was inserted during surgery to repair the toe.
He insisted he had learned his lesson but got into another fight this past January outside a piano bar in Little Rock. He wasn't charged.
McFadden also had a paternity suit filed against him (initial tests indicated he's not the father, and results from a follow-up are pending) and has two other similar cases to resolve this summer when the babies are born.
He understands the scrutiny of his off-the-field problems.
"I know I put myself in a bad situation I shouldn't have been in," McFadden says. "And I take full responsibility for it."
Even so, St. Louis Rams vice president of player personnel Billy Devaney is a bit wary.
"There's just been some red flags, some obvious stuff," he says. "If you're thinking about taking a guy that high, absolutely you have to cover everything."
McFadden realizes there will be questions about his past.
"Yes, I understand completely," he says. "Because if they're going to invest their money in you [and] you've made those types of mistakes … they need to look at it."
But Leecie Henson, a former teacher of McFadden who still talks to him several times a week, says he shouldn't be slapped with a "character flaw" label.
"These things have cost him dearly, hurt his reputation. But I've talked to him about them, and he's truly regretful," he says. "I know that these whispers about his character are flat-out wrong."