Whenever Jeff Okudah matched up 1-on-1 with Ohio State wide receiver Terry McLaurin in practice last season, McLaurin met with the young cornerback afterwards, pointing out where he excelled and where he was exploitable.
When Buckeyes wideout Chris Olave caught his first-career touchdown against rival Michigan in November, McLaurin was the first player to celebrate with him in the end zone.
And two weeks earlier, when longtime coach Urban Meyer addressed the media after a win over Michigan State, McLaurin quickly became a topic of conversation -- but not for his leadership or selflessness or, you know, play at wide receiver. Instead, Meyer gushed about McLaurin's punt return coverage.
"He might have taken over the title as the best [gunner] I've ever had."
Make no mistake: the Washington Redskins used a third-round pick on McLaurin primary because of his ability as a wide receiver and specifically as a big-play option on the outside. After all, he led the Buckeyes with 20.0 yards per catch and scored 11 touchdowns, six of which came on receptions of at least 30 yards.
But the Redskins also noticed the overarching impact he had at Ohio State, and they're excited to see how his persona manifests itself at the professional level.
"You’re talking about an all-around player, and that’s why we liked him so much," head coach Jay Gruden said during his post-draft press conference Friday night. "He’s a guy that’s been great in the locker room; he’s been a captain, a leader and sets the standard as far as work ethic is concerned."
McLaurin believes he's in a "perfect situation" with the Redskins and looks forward to reuniting with Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, whom the organization drafted with the 15th-overall pick in the first round Thursday. McLaurin served as one of Haskins' favorite targets last season, finishing fourth on the team in receptions (35), third in receiving yards (701) and second in touchdowns. "We really complemented each other well," McLaurin told reporters shortly after his selection.
Gruden witnessed their connection at the Buckeyes' Pro Day in March, when McLaurin's talent, ambition, and unselfish nature were on full display. McLaurin ran "every route like it was his last route," Gruden said, bolting up and down the field with the elite speed he showcased at the NFL Combine, when he ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash -- the seventh-fastest among all prospects.
When his former teammate, second-round pick Parris Campbell, stumbled and was shaken up during one of his first routes, McLaurin took extra reps so that Haskins could continue his throwing session uninterrupted.
"Dwayne has a lot of confidence in him, and [McLaurin] has a lot of confidence in Dwayne," Gruden said. "It’s a good natural fit."
McLaurin describes himself as a deep threat at wide receiver and a playmaker whenever he's called upon, whether that be on offense or special teams. In that sense, he likens his game to former Redskins wide receiver DaSean Jackson, a three-time Pro Bowler best known for his long touchdown catches and immense success as a punt return.
McLaurin also prides himself on being physical, a trait that extends beyond just breaking tackles. He relishes flattening defenders for his teammates just as much as -- if not more than -- using those blocks to create big plays. As a gunner, he's capable of bringing down punt returners and pinning opponents deep inside their own territory.
At his post-draft press conference Friday night, Gruden said McLaurin was the team's No. 1 special teams prospect.
"I just believe that it gives me versatility," McLaurin said. "I believe it just adds value for an organization going through this process. I take pride in any time that I am on the field. Special teams or offense, no matter what I am going to give it my all. That’s the kind of approach I take to the game."
As for McLaurin the wide receiver, Gruden believes his blend of speed and toughness will add another dimension to a group hindered by injuries and inconsistency a year ago.
"He is a very smart, intelligent player and works extremely hard, so he is going to be a guy that learns all three [wide receiver positions]. He'll be able to move around and provide us with depth at every position, obviously provide us with some juice, eventually be a starter without a doubt once he gets in here," Gruden said. "Obviously, he already has a great rapport with Dwayne [Haskins], so it is a natural pick for us."