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Can the Colts discover a hidden gem with Indiana-native Austin Booker?

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By: Thomas Butler-Guerrero

Kansas Jayhawks defensive lineman Austin Booker (9) celebrates after a sack in the fourth quarter of a Big 12 football game between the Kansas State Wildcats and Kansas Jayhawks on Nov 18, 2023 at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, KS. | Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“It’s great being back at the crib,” Booker said. “It’s a full circle moment. I am just happy to be able to put on for Indianapolis.”

INDIANAPOLIS – Austin Booker was training at X3 Performance and Physical Therapy in Fort Myers, Fla. when he received an invite to the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

The Indiana-native was the first prospect in his group to toe the line during Thursday’s workout at Lucas Oil Stadium and posted an official 4.79, 40-yard dash time. His 10-foot broad jump ranked tied for tenth among all edge rushers who participated at the combine.

The 6-foot-4, 245-pound edge rusher has an explosive first step to penetrate at the snap, which gains substantial outside leverage on film. Booker uses heavy hands to keep opposing linemen off-balance and disengage blockers to defend the run. With an 81.3-foot wingspan, Booker can impact throwing lanes by deflecting pass attempts or forcing opposing quarterbacks to change their throwing angle. Booker mentioned his “power and speed” are aspects of his game that will best translate in the league.

Booker led perennial Indiana powerhouse Center Grove to a Class 6A state title in 2020 and concluded his senior campaign with a victory at Lucas Oil Stadium. Fast-forward three years and three months later, Booker was among the first group of prospects to take the podium and speak to reporters on Wednesday at the Indiana Convention Center.

“It’s great being back at the crib,” Booker said. “It’s a full circle moment. I am just happy to be able to put on for Indianapolis.”

After spending two seasons riding the sidelines at Minnesota from 2021 to 2022, Booker hit the transfer portal and found a new home at Kansas. In 12 games, he finished with 56 tackles, eight sacks and two forced fumbles. Booker earned First Team All-Big 12 honors and was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in 2023. Despite his decision to declare for the 2024 NFL Draft and sit out of the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, Booker skyrocketed up draft boards at the 2023 Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

According to Pro Football Focus, Booker earned an 82.2 defensive grade in 2023, which ranked 26th among edge rushers who played at least 450 snaps. He tallied 35 defensive stops and his 80.6 pass rush grade ranked among the top-50 edge rushers who played at least 400 snaps.

After recognizing scouts may find concern in his slim frame for a defensive lineman, Booker put on an extra five pounds of muscle to prepare for the combine. At Kansas, he displayed versatility while being used to drop back in coverage to cover the hook/curl and the flat. Professional coaches may recognize his ability to chase down ball carriers and close the distance to chase open-field tackles, thus ultimately developing him into an outside linebacker.

“What do I like more than anything? I love length,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said on ‘First Draft’ last week when referring to Booker. “Long arms. Being able to utilize that ability to basically deflect passes away becomes a factor. Not let an offensive tackle get into your body. The way he disengages against the run, he seals the edge there, he’s still getting better. He’s just scratched the surface of what he can be in the National Football League.”

“Austin Booker, a guy that could be a little overlooked early because he was kind of a one-year wonder. You would’ve liked to see another year at the collegiate level to build on that, but he didn’t have it. So, maybe he drops down just a little bit further than he really should. I really like Austin Booker in that third, fourth-round area.”

Originally posted on Stampede Blue – All Posts