Leistikow: Finally healthy, C.J. Beathard showing his NFL worth

Chad Leistikow

The excitement is starting to pick up for C.J. Beathard.

With the NFL Draft less than 10 days away, the former Iowa quarterback is going through his final auditions for prospective teams.

And here’s the good news: He’s finally feeling healthy.

In fact, he has been for a few weeks. He even ran the 40-yard dash — the hamstring injury suffered during the Jan. 2 Outback Bowl now recovered — in 4.79 seconds at a recent workout with the Tennessee Titans — a childhood dream come true, auditioning for an NFL team in his hometown of Nashville.

C.J. Beathard of Iowa (15) stretches with teammates during the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., in late January. Beathard labored through a hamstring injury there that he suffered in the Outback Bowl.

“He’s much more athletic,” agent Bruce Tollner of Rep1 Sports said, “than some people give him credit for.”

Tollner is aware of what Beathard can do when he's healthy and aiming at a full complement of receivers — that didn’t happen often at Iowa during his 28 career starts.

As my interview with Tollner progressed, the game-changing, 57-yard run that Beathard uncorked at Iowa State as a junior came up, and I got to thinking later — that might have been the last time Beathard could fully show what he can do.

If you remember that game, Beathard — in just his third career start as a Hawkeye — led Iowa through adversity with his legs and his arm.

The adversity came in the form of early game-ending injuries to Iowa’s top defensive player, Drew Ott, and top running back, LeShun Daniels Jr.

Beathard’s runs of 57 and 44 yards in Ames helped keep Iowa tied or within a touchdown. And his arm — on a third-and-21, fourth-quarter, on-the-mark throw from his end zone for 48 yards to Matt VandeBerg — was a game-changer in the eventual 31-17 Iowa win.

It was the next week that the hip and groin injuries that led to offseason sports-hernia surgery cropped up, limiting his 2015 mobility. But he continued to play through the pain as Iowa marched to a 12-0 regular season.

In the NFL Draft, it's important to remember that much of what happens is based on projections. There's a confidence that, behind closed doors in workouts in Iowa City and across the country, Beathard has delivered a positive impression.

“A lot of people are excited about him," Tollner said, "and what he can do as a quarterback."

How does Beathard — who's been officially measured at a respectable 6-foot-2, 219 pounds — project as a pro?

Certainly, his 2016 numbers won’t wow them. Working within a run-first, run-second offense toward the end of the season, Beathard presided over a passing offense that ranked 118th out of 128 FBS teams.

After Iowa’s top two receiving threats, VandeBerg and George Kittle, were limited by injuries, Beathard became more of a game manager.

NFL teams won’t hold that against him.

“Football people are smart. They know how to evaluate a guy that has a ton of weapons. And they know how to evaluate a guy when they might be a little bit different the next year,” said Tollner, whose California-based agency represented last year’s No. 1 and No. 2 picks — both quarterbacks — in Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. “A lot of people saw it as a positive, in terms of, ‘How do you handle it? How do you deal with it? How do you work through it?’ They know, when adversity hits C.J. — they’ve seen how he responds. He knows how to respond like a winner and not make excuses and be accountable and continue to work toward the team goals.”

Depending on where you look, Beathard is projected to be a late-round pick or wind up as an undrafted free agent. Given the position he plays, his bloodlines (grandfather Bobby Beathard is an accomplished former NFL general manager) and his QB acumen, the odds seem promising that his name will be called during Rounds 4 through 7 on April 29.

“I’m confident I will (get drafted). That’s just me. I’m confident in that,” said Beathard — and if you know him, that optimism is not a surprise. “I’m not worried about it. I know I’ll get a shot at some point, whenever that is.”

This is not considered a great quarterback class like it will be in 2018. A good sign for the former Hawkeye would be if four quarterbacks go in the April 27 first round. That means other teams — there are 32, after all — in search of a developmental option at football’s most important position will be more inclined to choose a QB rather than hope and wait for free agency.

And in Beathard, teams know they’d be getting a mentally sharp prospect who was trained in Iowa’s pro-style scheme.

“The more coaches get to visit with him and put him up on the board and talk football,” Tollner said, “the more they’re going to like him. He’s obviously a football guy.”

While Beathard was invited to and participated in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, his physical limitations tamped down any public hype.

“Arguably, he shouldn’t have played in the Senior Bowl because he had the hamstring injury,” Tollner said. “But he’s a competitor, and we couldn’t hold him back from competing there.”

What a quarterback runs or jumps isn’t as narrative-changing as it is for receivers or defensive backs.

Yet on Iowa’s pro day on March 27, Beathard — then still not 100 percent — ran a 6.76 in one of the NFL’s speed-and-agility tests, the 3-cone drill. At the Combine, that would’ve ranked second to all quarterbacks and ahead of possible first-rounders Mitchell Trubisky (6.87), Patrick Mahomes II (6.88), DeShaun Watson (6.95) and DeShone Kizer (7.40).

That doesn't mean he's the next Tom Brady, famously the 199th pick of the 2000 NFL Draft.

But it also could be evidence of hidden promise.

Perhaps a guy that threw for just 1,929 yards in 13 games as a college senior becomes a sneaky, savvy late-round pick?

Pro Football Focus ranks him as the draft's No. 10 overall quarterback prospect.

Only once in the last 18 NFL Drafts has fewer than 10 quarterbacks been selected.

“All it takes is one team to fall in love with you for who you are and what you’ve done on the field and in these workouts,” Beathard said. “You’ve just got to be yourself.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.