The Times examines the top prospects ahead of the NFL draft, to be held April 23-25.
As a high school player wanting to model himself after one of the best to play his position, Justin Madubuike watched old footage of former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle John Randle.
When Madubuike got to college, his position coach — presumably having similar thoughts about an NFL great whose technique could help — asked the defensive lineman to do some research on the Pro Football Hall of Famer.
At the recent NFL combine in Indianapolis, after all those years of studying the quick burst and relentless approach of his idol, Madubuike got to see all that greatness come to life.
No introductions were needed when Randle materialized in front of his wide-eyed follower as one of the mentors for the top defensive line prospects for the upcoming NFL draft.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Madubuike said of the unexpected treat. “To actually see John Randle in person, I was pretty stoked.”
While Randle was there to help Madubuike, the protege could have given an impromptu lecture on what made his mentor great.
“Being John Randle,” Madubuike said, “opposing teams always had to know where he was at at all times.”
The same could be said for the 6-foot-3, 293-pound Madubuike, dubbed by the Texas A&M football Twitter account as “Our monster in the middle” after he logged 11 sacks over his final two college seasons. Some have labeled him as a possible surprise first-round pick, and he’s universally projected to fall no lower than the second round after forgoing his senior season to turn pro.
Madubuike resembled a budding Randle with the Aggies, his viciousness making him the bane of skill players and equipment managers after he twisted off two quarterbacks’ helmets and pulled off a running back’s facemask.
“I’m quick, I’m powerful, I’m strong,” Madubuike said when asked what separated him from his counterparts. “I create pressure on the quarterback by the way I play.”
Louisiana State’s Joe Burrow, the Heisman Trophy winner, could give a testimonial to Madubuike’s hectoring ways after getting pursued and pulverized by the Aggie defender.
“I swallowed him up,” Madubuike said.
Randle isn’t the only NFL great whom Madubuike tries to mimic. He said he has twitch and quickness like the Rams’ Aaron Donald, strength and power to push the pocket like the Kansas City Chiefs’ Chris Jones and aggressive instincts like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Ndamukong Suh.
Madubuike touts his versatility as someone who could man any position on the defensive line, though the native of Dallas would prefer to fill his hometown Cowboys’ need for an interior defensive lineman.
“I’ve heard,” Madubuike said when apprised of the Cowboys’ hole at that position. “Hopefully, I’m lucky enough to get there.”