Draft Knight: Rutgers Football at the 2014 NFL Draft

Jeff Zelevansky

Rumors, analysis and projections on RU's 2014 draft class.

The Football Oasis known as the NFL Draft, nestled amidst a vast wasteland of offseason, is finally upon us. Let's take a look at which soon-to-be-alumni could hear their names called in the upcoming selection meeting - or shortly thereafter.

[editor's note: Read through to the bottom for a pretty cool OTB comment contest!]

The Great Knight Hope

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While in years past, Rutgers has sent waves of players to the NFL Draft, this year's class features one main prospect that stands head and shoulders above the rest...plus, he'll probably get picked way earlier than anyone else.

Brandon Coleman

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Position: Wide Receiver
Height: 6' 6"
Weight: 225 lbs
40 Yard Dash: 4.56 sec
20 Yard Shuttle: 4.51 sec
Vertical Jump: 32.5"
Bench: 21 Reps

It looks like the Knights' hopes of seeing a Rutgers player taken early in the draft is going to fall to the big man himself. While Coleman never was the All-Universe receiver we hoped he could be, he had a great career on the banks, making huge plays, steadying the receiving corps, and fighting through double teams and injuries to leave his mark as one of the best all-around receivers in Rutgers football history.

Whatever team drafts Brandon is going to get a tough, high-character player who is a natural leader and a talented athlete.

NFL Comparison

Riley Cooper
Goes tough over the middle. Will make big plays down the sidelines. Not a burner, but deceptively fast, with enough raw speed to take it to the house from anywhere on the field. Good blocker who leaves it all on the field and earns the respect of his teammates.

What They're Saying

There is more press coverage of Coleman's NFL candidacy than you can shake a first down marker at, but the consensus seems to be a secret that Scarlet Knights fans have known for years. Coleman is a big, physical receiver who can catch, block and run routes like a boss.

In particular, I love Why Brandon Coleman is the Big WR Bargain of the 2014 NFL Draft by Chris Trapasso of Bleacher Report. It's an awesome article that's definitely worth a read, but he puts it all together right here:

"Furthermore, the draft philosophy, or should I say, draft aspiration, that centers around "value" basically focuses on the idea to pass on a prospect if you can draft a similar prospect later-it's all about cost-effectiveness.

So, if a team either doesn't pick early enough to draft Evans or Benjamin, Coleman may very well turn out to be a tremendous value pick."

He goes on to compare Coleman's numbers to projected early pick Kelvin Benajmin and they're almost exactly the same. You can bet NFL scouts are cognizant of that fact.

Rumor Mill

Visit to the Eagles - They love big receivers. They need a deep threat to replace Desean Jackson. 6'6" QB throwing to a 6' 6" wideout? I'm seeing something here.

Visits from the Panthers and Jets - Both need receivers, bad. Bad enough to fly to the bucolic hills of New Jersey...or drive a few minutes if you're the Jets (you know, because they're from New Jersey, despite the name ‘n all).

Visit to the Saints and Redskins (link above) - Could be smoke, could be fire.

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Staff Projections

Ray Ransom: Round 2, Pick 22 to the Philadelphia Eagles
Big people beat up little people. Brandon Coleman is 6'6" and led all WRs at the combine in the bench press. Also, he eats nicklebacks for brunch and washes them down with bottomless mimosas.

rvc73: Round 3 Big man but does he have a consistent enough body of work to show people what he can really do?

Andy Egan: Round 3, Pick 4 to the Atlanta Falcons
Falcons add to their embarrassment of riches at WR by taking the big wideout early in the third.

Kevin Recio: Round 3, Pick 19 to the Cleveland Browns
Newly signed wideout Andrew Hawkins will help Josh Gordon get looks from the QB, but they still need a big-play threat. Enter Brandon Coleman.

The Athletes

The second tier of Rutgers Draft Prospects offer blazing speed, brute strength and/or tantalizing upside. All it takes is for one coach to fall in love with their considerable athleticism (hello Oakland Raiders!) and they're off to The Bigs.

Jeremy Deering

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Position: S/KR/PR/WR/RB/QB 
Height: 6' 1"
Weight: 209 lbs
40 Yard Dash: 4.33 sec
20 Yard Shuttle: 4.43 sec
Vertical Jump: 33.5"
Bench: 18 Reps

In 20+ years of following football, I've never seen a player play as many positions as Deering, much less play them at such a high level. Elite athleticism, a great team-first attitude and a ton of upside on defense and special teams are the key factors that Deering brings to the table. His lack of positional stability in college is the risk. Will an NFL team be willing to take a leap for the lanky safety?

NFL Comparison

Mohammad Sanu
Remember when the Scarlet Knights ran the wildcat? Outside of a little heft, these two were hard to tell apart, as they chewed up yards in bruising chunks, could throw the ball with surprising velocity, and broke tackles like mac trucks. Sanu starting his career at Safety before becoming a receiver in the pros. Can Deering follow the inverse path to the NFL?

What They're Saying

A couple sites have covered Deering and he's evolved into a chic sleeper pick. It's not hard to see why, with the dearth of 6' 1" safeties with 4.3 speed in the draft or elsewhere. Most sites have Deering going late or as a UDFA, with a team stashing him on the practice squad for a year as he learns the ropes.

To put that in perspective, only 7 players out of 335 ran in the 4.3s at the combine.

Rumor Mill

As mentioned above, Deering worked out for the Jets alongside Coleman. Perhaps the New Jersey Reaction Engines are looking for a Safety/Kick Returner to jump start their special teams?

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Staff Projections

Andy Egan: Round 4, Pick 4 to the New York Jets Jets bolster a suspect secondary by taking Deering in the fourth, much earlier than expected.  They figure their experience with Tebow prepares them for guy without a true position but some athletic ability.  It worked out really well last time.

Kevin Recio: Round 5, Pick 35 to the Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens need some young blood to bolster their their secondary, and the freakish athleticism of Jeremy Deering is too enticing to pass up.

Ray Ransom: Round 6, Pick 14 to the Miami Dolphins
They need safety depth. Also they need guys who aren't jerks. Deering fills both roles admirably.

Quron Pratt

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Position: Wide Receiver 
Height: 6' 0"
Weight: 195 lbs
40 Yard Dash: 4.43 sec
20 Yard Shuttle: 4.50 sec
Vertical Jump: 34.5"
Bench: 14 Reps

Heady, steady and a class act, Quron Pratt personifies Rutgers football. A surprising athlete with a solid all-around game, but no exceptional physical qualities. He can run crisp routes, catch with the best of them, and play special teams, but we'll see how highly NFL coaches value hustle when we see where Pratt goes.

NFL Comparison

Desean Jackson
While he lacks the all-world quickness, Pratt's strong hands and multifaceted talents could put him down a similar career path. While one would never mistake Pratt's solid athleticism for Jackson's, neither would one mistake Jackson's leadership, attitude and work ethic with Pratt's.

What They're Saying

A couple local sources reported on Pratt's impressive Pro Day, which may have opened eyes for scouts in attendance to check out Brandon Coleman. Most sites seem to be generally positive on Pratt, without any major negatives other than lack of elite size or athleticism.

Rumor Mill

Looks like the Eagles also checked out Pratt when meeting with Coleman. He's built like newly departed Desean Jackson, so maybe the Eagles are looking for a replacement miracle worker?

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Staff Projections and comments

Andy Egan: Round 6, Pick 31 to the Denver Broncos
The Broncos take a late round flyer on Pratt as a potential replacement for Eric Decker, and an additional weapon for Peyton.

Ray Ransom: Round 7, Pick 29 to the New England Patriots
Legit 4.4 speed and tons of experience and success playing ST. Smart, NE-type player.

Kevin Recio: UDFA to the Carolina Panthers
Carolina lost their three leading receivers from 2013 and will be looking to add some depth to the position. The experienced Pratt will get a good look.

Marcus Thompson

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Position: DE/OLB/FB 
Height: 6' 2"
Weight: 250 lbs
40 Yard Dash: 4.57 sec
20 Yard Shuttle: 4.33 sec
Vertical Jump: 33.5"
Bench: 27 Reps

Raw athleticism personified, Thompson brings quickness, a mean streak and steady play. While probably not big enough to play 4-3 DE in the pros, his smooth athleticism and natural pass-rushing ability could map well to a 3-4 Rush End.

NFL Comparison

Lamar Woodley
Short and stout for the defensive end position with great athleticism and a high motor. Both player use their lower center of gravity and powerful core to rip their way to the QB or back.

What They're Saying

Some local coverage for Thompson. After his impressive pro day performance, it looks like the scouts may have him on their radar.

Rumor Mill

Looks like the Giants brought in the talented pass rusher after his impressive showing at Rutgers' pro day. Interestingly, they may be looking at Thompson as a RB or FB, his original position coming to Rutgers. It's pretty enticing to imagine someone with Thompson's aggression and athleticism unleashed on hapless linebackers and terrified safeties.

The Dolphins and Jets have also invited Thompson for visits.

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Staff Projections

Andy Egan: Round 7, Pick 12 to the Detroit Lions
The Lions add to their stout pass rush by picking up Thompson in the last round, valuing the big man's potential upside.

Ray Ransom: Round 7, Pick 18 to the New York Jets
Ray athleticism and great leadership. Goes hard every snap, brings incredible aggression and plays with a chip on his shoulder. Rex Ryan type of guy.

Kevin Recio: Round 7, Pick 29 to the New England Patriots
Of course Belichick takes a Rutgers player. The Patriots will be looking to add depth to their pass rush in the draft, and Marcus Thompson will be overlooked for his height, leaving him to be picked late in the draft.

The Loveable Longshots

We love ‘em, we want to see them go pro, but these guys face a bit of an uphill climb, due to the incredibly competitive nature of the pro game. Keep an eye on the back end of the draft and the FA signings for these guys to fulfill their dream of playing in the bigs.

Antwan Lowery

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Position: G 
Height: 6' 4"
Weight: 329 lbs
40 Yard Dash: 5.55 sec
20 Yard Shuttle: 4.93 sec
Vertical Jump: 22.5"

He came to Rutgers as a massive athlete with upside and he leaves in the same state. Never able to truly hardness his raw talent, he had great moments for the Scarlet Knights, but remains a bit of an enigma. Will he be able to translate that upside into a successful pro career? We'll be rootin' for ya, big man!

Staff Projections

Andy Egan: Round 6, Pick 1 to the Houston Texans
The Texans need a big OG to keep number 1 pick Johnny Manziel upright, and Lowery fits the bill late in the draft.

Kevin Recio: Round 7, Pick 26 to the Saint Louis Rams
St. Louis lost two right guards from last season, so they nab Antwan Lowery with one of their four seventh round picks.

Ray Ransom: UDFA to the Oakland Raiders
The kind of raw athleticism and exiting upside the Raiders famously seek out.

rvc73: UDFA to the New England Patriots
Always liked his work ethic; Belichick might see his talent and potential.

Jamal Merrell

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Position: Outside Linebacker 
Height: 6' 4"
Weight: 230 lbs
40 Yard Dash: 4.64 sec
20 Yard Shuttle: 4.72 sec
Vertical Jump: 28"
Bench: 17 Reps

With his unfortunate spate of injuries, it's easy to forget how good Jamal Merrell has been and how long he's been good for. He's made huge plays his entire career at Rutgers and started very early on. Interceptions, fumbles, sacks; Merrell was everywhere. Like other Knights, he's a class act and brought tons of leadership.

Staff Projections

Ray Ransom: UDFA to the New England Patriots
The Pats love versatile, heady players and Jamal Merrell has the length, speed and hitting power to be a contributor on multiple levels of the defense, on special teams, and perhaps on offense, as he came to Rutgers as a Wide Receiver.

Andy Egan: UDFA to the New England Patriots
The Pats like the OLB as a free agent.  By NFL rules, they are required to sign multiple former Scarlet Knights every year, so this goes toward the quota.  See also, Tom Savage in the second round.

Jamil Merrell

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Position: DE/OLB
Height: 6' 4"
Weight: 252 lbs
40 Yard Dash: 4.78 sec
20 Yard Shuttle: 4.8 sec
Vertical Jump: 28.5"
Bench: 20 Reps

A steady, solid contributor and a stout presence on the defensive line, Merrell lacks elite athleticism, but brings great functional strength and extremely solid play to the defensive end position. Played tough through a lingering foot injury and showed signs late in the year of recapturing the form that netted him 5.5 sacks his junior year.

Staff Projections

Andy Egan: UDFA to the Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are looking for answers at DE after cutting DeMarcus Ware.

Kevin Recio: UDFA to the Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens take a flyer on the productive Merrell twin.

Ray Ransom: UDFA to the New England Patriots
I'd bet 5 bucks that both Merrells end up playing for Rutgers North.

Nick Marsh

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Position: K/P 
Height: 5' 11"
Weight: 198 lbs
40 Yard Dash: ?
20 Yard Shuttle: Nope
Vertical Jump: Dunno
Bench: Why?

Marsh brought stability and excellent production to the punting unit for his all-too-short stay on the banks. While he remains a long-shot, he got some traction via regional combines both as a punter and kicker. While he came to us late, he's a prototypical Rutgers player. Smart, professional and willing to go the extra mile. He's the type of athlete that can make a long career in the NFL or CFL from sheer dedication to his craft.

Staff Projections

Andy Egan: UDFA to the New York Giants
The G-Men signed that worthless QB from Cuse last year, even though they are rather set at the position, so why not another punter?

Ray Ransom: UDFA to the Chicago Bears
The Bears need ST help and Marsh has proven his ability to excel in cold-weather situations.

So, that's our preview! We'd love to hear your predictions for where you see Rutgers' top players ending up. So, we're hosting a little contest here in the comments!

Post your predictions and be sure to include your Twitter handle. Whoever comes closest will get a Follow Friday (#FF) callout from the On The Banks editors!

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