INDIANAPOLIS — For media interviews at the NFL Combine, the hierarchy is such that the top prospects are reserved a podium to address questions. Lesser-valued players are assigned to small tables in the corner of the conference hall.
While projected first-rounders Dalvin Cook of Florida State and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford stood a few feet away facing a horde of cameras and microphones, West Virginia’s Rushel Shell was seated and answering questions from a handful of reporters.
“Right now, I’m the underdog,” Shell said. “Coming out of high school, I was the top dog. The page has flipped.”
Finishing up his high school career at Hopewell where he set the Pennsylvania career rushing record, Shell never could have expected such a precipitous drop.
But after never topping 800 rushing yards in a season during a college career that included one year at Pitt, a messy transfer to UCLA and an eventual landing spot at West Virginia for three seasons, Shell is thankful for a chance to compete at the NFL Combine.
“I still haven’t played my best football yet,” Shell said. “I want to show them I have a lot to offer, and I’m willing to do whatever to be part of a team and help them win.”
Shell’s redshirt senior season featured back-to-back 100-yard games against Texas Tech and TCU, but a high-ankle sprain against Oklahoma State blunted that momentum. He played in only three of West Virginia’s final six games, getting 10 carries. In the Russell Athletic Bowl loss to Miami, Shell had six carries for zero yards.
Shell said Thursday he’s healthy and ready to improve his draft stock — he’s currently viewed as a late-round pick or undrafted free agent — with a strong combine showing.
“I made a lot of bad decisions in college,” Shell said. “I paid my dues. Now, it’s time for me to be able to display what I’ve really got.”
Shell said he took his skills for granted after he left Hopewell.
“Being that young and having that attention, you think you’re more than what you are,” he said. “I let that take me downhill. I’m mature, and I understand there are a thousand ‘me’s’ out there. You can see there are 33 ‘me’s’ here, a lot of guys who have the same dream and capability.
“I have to find a way to separate and show what I’ve got.”