Arden Key doesn’t sound like a player concerned by the perception that millions of guaranteed dollars are seemingly slipping through his fingers.
Key spoke to local reporters at LSU Pro Day Wednesday and addressed his infamous “leave of absence” last spring and subsequent injury-plagued junior season.
The edge rusher acknowledged that he’s read reports of his stock plummeting from first-round lock to a day-two pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but through either delusion, unflappable self-confidence or bad advice, he remains adamant that his talent and game film speaks for itself.
“How do you go from almost being the No. 1 pick to a third-round pick? I don’t understand it still to this day,” Key said. “The talent is still there. Watch the Ole Miss game or the Alabama game. You saw the sophomore Arden Key start to come back. I missed spring. I missed summer. Name me a player who missed that much time and came back his same self. I can’t. My sophomore year I balled out just because I was working.”
Key dropped down to 238 pounds for his workout at LSU, which is considerably less than he weighed at any point last season, but the explosiveness that made him an All-American pass rusher didn’t show up in any measurable way.
He was officially clocked at 4.85 and 4.87 seconds in his two 40-yard dash attempts, both of which would’ve ranked near the bottom for edge rushers who ran at the 2018 NFL Combine. For context, Devin Voorhies, Donnie Alexander and Colin Jeter all posted faster times at LSU Pro Day.
His stated goal was to run somewhere in the 4.6-4.7 second range, but he downplayed the importance as it relates to his speed on the field and claimed that some NFL scouts actually clocked him at a more favorable time than LSU.
“I felt great,” Key said. “I felt like I was in shape. I showed them speed, flexibility, power, flipping the hips, athleticism; I showed them the sophomore Arden Key.”
The sophomore Arden Key set an LSU record with 12 sacks and was one of the nation’s most lethal pass rushers coming off the edge. Plagued by injuries and a lack of conditioning, the junior version never played to that level.
Key admits now that he came back too soon after offseason shoulder surgery. He estimated that he felt 75-85 percent of his old self by the Ole Miss and Alabama games, but another crop of injuries late in the season prevented him from getting all the way back.
“I shouldn’t have come back as early as I did,” Key said. “I should have waited until the Florida game to come back and be in shape, so maybe that’s what happened early in the season.”
There’s certainly evidence to support that claim, but it doesn’t answer the far more pertinent question during this run up to the draft: what precipitated the leave of absence and subsequent weight gain in the first place?
Key insisted that he told NFL personnel the whole truth about what kept him away from football last offseason, though he declined to make any comment when asked what that truth is.
“It wasn’t difficult,” Key said. “I told them the truth and that was that. A lot of the scouts viewed me differently before meeting me, and when I told them the full, honest truth and took responsibility for things, they look at me in a whole different light.”
Will he ever feel comfortable enough to speak that truth publicly? “I will one day,” Key responded.
The pre-draft interest from teams including the New Orleans Saints has been “crazy” and persistent, according to Key, who said scouts have been receptive to his side once he’s gotten a chance to tell it.
His confidence has swelled since a host of meetings with NFL teams at the Combine in Indianapolis that he said dispelled some of the prevailing media narrative about his draft stock. He added that he doesn’t regret not being more forthright and getting out in front of the questions earlier in the process.
As for the teams that don’t take the time to hear his side of the story, well, Key isn’t too concerned about them, either.
“Whoever does pick me up, if they need a pass rusher, I’m a problem solver,” he said. “And those who didn’t pick me up and pass me over, shame on them.”
Perhaps one day Key will once again be the game-wrecking pass rusher who had scouts foaming at the mouth and opposing tackles shaking in their cleats.
But at this point, when and if that time will come remains just one more unanswered question surrounding one of the great enigmas of the 2018 Draft.