Every year, there are prospects that, for whatever reason, seem to slip through the cracks on every level but turn out to have a great professional career, even if all of the indications point to success along the way. Daurice Fountain, a wide receiver from the University of Northern Iowa, may be this year’s candidate. Although he was a three-star prospect in high school, Fountain did not receive any Division I-A offers, despite being recruited by some big-time schools, such as Michigan, Stanford, and Fountain’s hometown Wisconsin. After a monster senior season, in which he caught 66 passes for 943 yards and 12 touchdowns, Fountain earned an invite to the East-West Shrine Game. Fountain found success yet again, earning MVP honors for the East team. While he seemed like a shoo-in for more involvement in the major scouting events, Fountain was not asked to participate in the Senior Bowl, and the NFL did extend an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine. The story just does not add up for this 6’1 5/8”, 216 pound senior.
Turning to the tape, I saw that Fountain does a lot of things well. The trait that popped out to me the most is his awareness to get himself in the best possible place so that he can get the football and the defender can’t, as well as his ability to get the ball for his quarterback. Simply put, Fountain is the type of receiver a quarterback wants to throw to, because Fountain will help him look good. If the defense is in zone, Fountain is able to read the defense and put himself in the perfect spot to get the football. In UNI’s 2017 matchup against North Dakota State, the Bison show a three-deep zone look, with the linebackers spreading out underneath. Fountain recognizes this and runs to the back of the endzone, and stops in the perfect place that gives his quarterback a great window. The pass is high, but Fountain attacks the ball, extending to grab it at its highest point and get both feet inbounds.
Fountain shows this awareness in man coverage, too. On this deep corner route, he smoothly breaks out of his route to get a little separation on the defender. The quarterback fails to lead Fountain at all, instead throwing the pass high and behind him. Fountain adjusts to this errant throw, slowing his route and leaping into the air to catch the pass on what could have been an interception.
Fountain shows great body control for a receiver of his size. The quarterbacks at UNI did not make Fountain’s job easy, but Fountain consistently got the football for his guy. On this go route in the same North Dakota State matchup, Fountain gets past the corner and creates some separation for what should be an easy touchdown in the middle of the endzone. Instead, the quarterback underthrows the pass. Fountain works his way back to the ball, lets the corner run by him, and high points the ball to save his quarterback yet again.
Fountain has shown the ability to catch the ball in traffic, as well. Fountain is smothered on this play, with the cornerback matching him step for step. Still, Fountain finds a way to get the ball for his quarterback. Knowing the coverage is tight, Fountain turns himself completely around to square up to the pass, jumps while his momentum is still carrying him backward and down the sideline, snatches the ball out of midair, and has the coordination to still come down inbounds. This is an NFL-level catch.
In general, Fountain runs great routes and is able to get his separation from his quickness in and out of the routes. In the East-West Shrine Game, Fountain ran one particular slant route that was simply perfection. Coming off the line of scrimmage, Fountain shades slightly inside towards the middle of the field. This doesn’t give his route away, but puts him in the perfect position to get separation in his route, as the corner in man coverage is now lined up over Fountain’s outside shoulder. After taking a few steps downfield, Fountain cuts across the field into his slant without losing any speed. This separation allows him to catch the ball in space, and Fountain turns a quick pass into a big gain.
While Fountain is by no means a burner, he is able to consistently keep the separation he gets in his routes and can make defenders pay after the catch. Fountain has great vision in navigating the field, and he has sufficient enough speed to do something with that vision. On this crossing route, Fountain again gets separation from his defender and keeps that separation while running downfield. Even better, Fountain is able to use his blockers to his advantage, cutting outside and around his guy for extra yards rather than cut back inside and get tackled.
Fountain’s physicality is also a strength. Fountain consistently showed the ability to get off the line of scrimmage and beat the press, albeit against smaller and less-skilled corners in Division I-AA. Fountain was a willing and generally reliable blocker. Fountain’s strength is also an asset with the ball in his hands. On this play from the Shrine Game, Fountain catches a quick hitch route against a corner playing deep in man coverage. Fountain catches the ball with a wide stance, giving him a lower center of gravity and a great base. This is important, because Davontae Harris gets a running head start and hits Fountain right in the chest. Though considered a Day 3 pick, Harris’s scouting report on NFL.com says he “runs through targets with good force as [a] downhill tackler.” Fountain’s strength and wide base enables him to make a small cut back and to his left to get the momentum on his side, stays upright through the hard contact, and runs right past Harris while picking up ten extra yards.
Fountain also has the ability to contribute on special teams. Fountain has experience fielding kicks and punts, while his vision, functional speed, and efficient movements make him a threat to pick up good yardage.
Generally, this would be the point in the scouting report where I flash the negative tape to show why recruiters didn’t like Fountain coming out of high school, or why the NFL thinks he is not worthy of an invite to the Combine. However, I didn’t see much. Fountain does almost everything you want to see from a receiver. One negative that I can see in Fountain is his lack of explosiveness. While Fountain used his exceptional route running and short-area quickness to get separation, Fountain did not show the pure speed to burn by defenders. His longest catch in college was 67 yards against a defender that fell down with no help over the top. His second-longest catch was only 45 yards. For a wide receiver, speed will show up on tape easier than strength and quickness, which is one reason why his talent has gone overlooked at every level.
Naturally, there are also the concerns that Fountain competed against lesser talent in Division I-AA. Fountain will have to prove that he can continue to get separation in his routes, find the hole in the zone, attack the ball, and be a reliable pass-catcher when he’s facing defenders that are faster and more physical than those he faced in the Missouri Valley Conference. While generally seen as the cream of the crop conference-wise in Division I-AA, it still has the stigma of being a lower conference.
Fountain is likely going to be a Day 3 pick, maybe even the latter portion of Day 3. Scouts will worry about his speed and his ability to get separation against higher-level competition. However, after watching his tape, I can’t help but to think back to recently-retired and future Hall of Fame receiver Anquan Boldin. Boldin was able to go to Florida State, but had similar strengths and weaknesses as Fountain: He’s strong, smart, reliable, and everything you want out of a receiver, but he’s too slow. Boldin ran only a 4.72 40-yard dash at the Combine, and I feel that Fountain may put up a similar time during a pro day. If Fountain can bring his traits to the NFL level, Anquan Boldin is his ceiling. If his lack of speed turns into zero separation, he will likely be out of the league within a couple of years. Personally, I think somebody late in the draft is going to find themselves a steal in Daurice Fountain, and Fountain will make 31 other teams very sorry that they passed on him as often as they will in April.