The first word almost always associated with Justin Gilbert: fast.
So it is again as the NFL Draft finally arrives for the former Oklahoma State star. And this time, it’s with a twist, as Gilbert carries an amended tag into Thursday’s first round: fast-riser.
A panel of ESPN analysts recently included Gilbert on a short list of candidates who could be charging up draft boards and into the top 10 when the first round goes down Thursday night. Already a consensus pick as the draft’s top corner prospect and a lock for the first round, Gilbert’s decision to return for a senior season grows wiser all the time.
By now, Gilbert’s story of struggle in 2012 is well-documented around these parts. Following a breakout sophomore season, he slumped as a junior, losing focus and losing motivation for the job at hand.
“I relaxed a little bit,” Gilbert said. “I thought I could just get by on talent.”
Gilbert had the talent, but he entered games lacking preparation, essentially glossing over scouting reports and film sessions on his way to Saturdays. Coupled with a lack of competition — whether on the depth chart or from receivers in practice — Gilbert admits he failed to push himself in practices.
The result was telling. And humbling.
After ranking No. 14 nationally with five interceptions in his strong 2011 season, Gilbert failed to intercept a single pass in his encore. Worse, he was beaten for big plays in big games. And after a preseason filled with hype and expectation, he ended the year with but a hint of recognition — second-team All-Big 12 kick returner.
“Obviously, I didn’t have the season I wanted,” he said. “Embarrassing. I was humbled.”
Still, Gilbert flirted with the idea of declaring early for the draft, believing he could restore some of his reputation through the combine and individual workouts. But would it be enough to erase his season of struggle and calm concerns?
So Gilbert flirted, yet stuck with OSU, banking instead on a renewed work ethic.
“I turned things around as soon as that junior season was over with,” he said.
Gilbert returned to dominance as a senior, locking down his side of the field, intercepting seven passes and defending many more. He emerged as a Thorpe Award finalist, earned First Team All-Big 12 — at defensive back — and picked up First Team All-America honors as well.
And he kept impressing, wowing at the combine, running a 4.37 in the 40-yard dash — yeah, he’s fast — and doing well with other measurables as well as his on-field work.