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Knights in the Pros: Rutgers Football Pro Day recap

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Grant, Hamilton, Edwards, and Anderson stay on radar of NFL teams.

NFL: Combine
Turay attended the combine and was joined by teammates Friday.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

After the first two spring practices for the current Rutgers Football squad, the out of eligibility Knights of the gridiron showcased their physical abilities in front of NFL scouts inside the New York Jets practice bubble (not at Rutgers) on Friday morning.

Let’s take a look at who participated, how they did, and who improved their chances of collecting an NFL (or CFL or AFL) paycheck.

QB: Kyle Bolin

Bolin was in action spinning the rock after no Rutgers quarterbacks participated in pro day last year. Though his season did not leave many expecting any real shot at the next level, he was quick and threw the ball around. Most notably, he raised over $6,000 for Eric LeGrand’s charity, demonstrating leadership he brought to the team as a graduate transfer from Louisville last fall. TRENDING EVEN.

RB: Gus Edwards, Robert Martin, Josh Hicks

Edwards: The Miami (FL) transfer turned heads as he faced stiff competition in Hicks and Martin, keeping it going as the team’s lead back all season. The staff marveled at Gus’s speed for such a big back which was not always evident, but enough to break away on a 75 yard touchdown against Purdue. He measured in at 229 pounds with a respectable 4.52 40 yard dash, which would have been 6th at the combine. His other numbers were middle of the pack at worst, but nothing jumps out. For teams looking for ball carriers to take some hits in practice, Gus should have a shot for an NFL tryout and potential rookie camp invite. TRENDING UP.

Hicks: Though never even really a starter and even having had to play defense as a sophomore, it comes as no surprise to many defenders that Hicks ran a 4.51 second 40 yard dash. His broad jump (10’ 5”) would have placed 4th at the NFL combine which is impressive considering he only measured 5’8”. He’d probably be trending up if it weren’t for a poor showing in the 20 yard shuttle. It’s a long way from where he grew up in Florida but the CFL might be a good fit. TRENDING EVEN.

Martin: Martin had a nice career, but failed to impress in the 40, as he ran a 4.66. There is no certain number a guy has to run (Anquan Boldin ran slow and he turned out fine), but for a running back that is on the fringe of acceptable. He did put up 19 bench reps (would have been 8th at combine) and at 5’11”, 210 lb. has prototypical size. His other skills in running events, especially a 4.07 20 yard shuttle which would have tied for best at the combine, show why he was so effective at cutting back once already on the move. His overall body of work may get him an NFL tryout. TRENDING EVEN.

WR: Janarion Grant, Damon Mitchell, Nixon Provillon

Grant: The program’s all-time leader in return touchdowns was limited in his redshirt senior season, but still led the team in receptions. He did run the 40 yard dash and clocked in at a 4.57 despite unofficial reports of a 4.3. None of his other running performances were better than Robert Martin, though 22 bench reps when he weighed in at 177 lb. was solid and would have been second at the combine. His 60 yard shuttle wasn’t bad, but Janarion really needed to show elite burst to have a shot at an NFL contract. We know he’s electric with the ball in his hands, but the decreased number of kickoffs in the NFL today will hurt him. One headline that he starred, may have been a little much. TRENDING DOWN.

Mitchell: Honestly, people outside the team probably had no idea what kind of numbers Duwop would put up. Having never played the same position for two contiguous years at Arkansas or Rutgers, he never had a chance to be fully comfortable in any one spot. 6’1”, 213 lbs., he elected not to run the 40, but did do well in the 3 cone (6.94) and 20 yard shuttle (4.13) which explains his special teams prowess. Already having earned two degrees, he doesn’t need the NFL, but as a such a versatile player could end up in another football league for sure. TRENDING EVEN.

Provillon: It’s always nice to see walk-ons get to make a public impression after often serving as unsung heroes throughout their careers. Nixon has good size (6’2”, 211 lb.) but lacked the foot speed and quickness to play on game day. TRENDING EVEN.

TE: Myles Nash, Tim Wright

Nash: Stranger things have happened, like to Dwight Clark. A two-way player as a senior, Myles measured in at 6’4”, 253 lbs. and only ran a 5.03 second 40 yard dash. (For reference, Turay was almost identical in height and weight and had a 4.66 at the NFL combine). To have had a shot, he probably needed to put on a Carlton Agudosi performance for a shot a the NFL. TRENDING EVEN.

Wright: Wright missed the 2016 NFL season before returning for 2017. Despite his production as a touchdown scoring hybrid WR/TE, it was not until late in NFL preseason that Detroit brought him back. After putting up solid preseason performance in limited practice time, Wright was let go by the Lions and did not catch on anywhere else. He was scheduled to participate in position drills, but I did not see any confirmation of it.

OL: Dorian Miller

Miller’s body of work as a three year starter and game tape are the biggest things he brings to the table which is common among offensive linemen anyway. At 6’1”, 295” he has NFL size for the interior line and would have played 10th in the 20 yard shuttle among linemen at the combine. Like Chris Muller last year, he could get an NFL tryout, but will be tough to catch on as his bench number (23) was not as high as some other OL. TRENDING SLIGHTLY DOWN.

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DL: Kemoko Turay, Darnell Davis, Sebastian Joseph, and ... Darius Hamilton?

Hamilton: Yes, the only three time captain in program history finally earned a clean bill of health. Darius checked in at 6’1, 283 lb., but none of his physical numbers were even close to eye-popping, though 23 in the bench is solid. The name, technique, and upside he showed earlier is what will have to get him a shot in the NFL. TRENDING EVEN.

Turay: Kemoko injured his hamstring at the NFL combine and was only able to do the bench press at pro day, coming in with 18 reps. That’s not great, but enough to likely solidify his selection in or near round 3 of the NFL Draft. TRENDING EVEN.

Davis: The former walk-on who became a starter as a junior and captain as a senior weighed in at 237 lbs. Holding up in the Big Ten along the defensive line at that weight is more impressive than any of the numbers he put up. This seems inline with why he was not a scholarship player from Day 1 but also a testament to the hard work and effort required to overcome the odds at every step of the way. TRENDING EVEN.

Joseph: Joseph turned some heads with a 4.93 second 40 yard dash which is super impressive for a defensive tackle at 299 lbs. 24 bench reps was less than some may have expected, but is still pretty good for a guy who couldn’t do the even during the season with a broken arm. His broad jump would have been 8th among all defensive linemen including smaller guys. He should end up in an NFL mini camp because they are always looking for linemen. TRENDING UP.

LB: Ross Douglas, Greg Jones

Douglas: The Michigan transfer filled in admirably as an undersized Big Ten linebacker. At 5’9”, 192 lbs. it’s crazy to think how Tyreek Maddox-Williams at 235+ manned the strong side linebacker spot before him. His numbers were pretty solid for a linebacker, but not above-average for a safety, his most likely position if his career continues. A truly versatile guy, I’d like to see him in Arena Football. Before 2007 when everyone but the QB played both ways, he probably would have been a lock for the indoor football league. TRENDING EVEN.

Jones: Like Hamilton, he earned a clean bill of health. His heart showed as 5’9” 198 lb. is what he measured at though he looked bigger than that on game day. A 4.83 40 is not enough for him to play safety in the NFL and as a result may have his best chance as a linebacker in another faster league. He has defied odds everywhere, so maybe Canada will give him a shot. TRENDING EVEN.

DB: Anthony Cioffi

Cioffi played well in preseason for the Raiders, but got a bad rap from fans after a completely LEGAL hit in the NFL preseason that injured an opponent. It surprised many when he did not remain on the Raiders practice squad, a team that was weaker at defensive back than any other position over previous years. He ran a 4.49 40 and even more impressive 6.62 in the 3 cone drill (would have been 3rd among safeties at the combine). TRENDING UP

Specialists: Ryan Anderson, David Bonagura, Andrew Harte

Anderson: Anderson was an All-American and by all accounts had a solid showing in the positional drills. He did not participate in the underwear olympics but having been a basketball player and wide receiver elsewhere in college, athleticism should not be a concern. There’s a good chance he becomes the first Rutgers punter in the NFL since Mike Barr. Of course punters don’t normally get drafted, but he should be in a try out somewhere. Outkicking coverage will be less of a problem with the speed of NFL gunners. He’s also a lefty which has at times been a huge asset. TRENDING UP.

Bonagura: The staring placekicker in 2016 faced much stiffer competition in 2017 when Harte and true freshman Justin Davidovicz arrived. Though he was edged by Harte, the Rutgers kicking game never needed a shake up so it’s unclear how he would have performed in a another year of action. TRENDING EVEN.

Harte: The Minnesota transfer edged Bonagura for the starting kicker position at the 11th hour. He wasn’t perfect, but there was no loss that you can blame squarely on him missing a kick or not having the range to even attempt one. There were no “wows” like Anderson may have gotten, but nothing terrible from what I saw either. TRENDING EVEN.

Conclusions

  1. No one really blew the scouts away out of nowhere. This may be disappointing on the individual level as only Sebastian Joseph really elevated his opportunity in a big way. If Hamilton could have moved around a little better or Grant was a little faster, they would have locked themselves up legitimate NFL looks. Gus Edwards had a solid showing but nothing to get him on draft radar.
  2. The first observation is a positive reflection on the current coaching staff. With only one elite athlete (Turay), the team was able to win a few games and get the most out of the physical skills of a number of players. This was good to see after last year when Patton and Agudosi performed so well making some fans wonder how Rutgers’s pass attack was not more potent in 2016. Then it came as no surprise that the passing game was even less effective in 2017 without Patton, now with the NFL’s Chargers. None of those players were recruited by this staff, so now that the Ash group comes through the ranks it will be interesting to see if they have better physical skills.
  3. Running backs will be missed. Edwards was a bruiser in one season but more so the four years of Martin and Hicks was solid if unspectacular. None of them went out and blew people away, but it was clearly evident how each player had some physical ability. When a defense was tired and these players could be part of a rotation to keep fresh legs, they had enough juice to get the job done. Of course if they got a little tired, running or cutting just a little slower lost that edge a tad. It may be a long time before Rutgers has four game changers who have shown it in conference games all in the running back room together at the same time.

What’s next?

Local Pro Days. NFL teams like the Jets and Giants ill host local pro days where some of these top performers could get another chance to impress scouts.

After that, April 26 begins the NFL draft. As soon as the draft concludes, eligible undrafted players can sign free agent contracts.

May 4-7 and possibly May 11-14, NFL teams can hold rookie mini camps.

Rutgers Pro Day flashback: 2009, when speed killed.

Many of the faces who burst on the scene as young guys during the 2006 magical season played out solid and spectacular careers. The key to the Schiano teams was speed, both locally and from Florida. Just look at the list of 40 times put up on Pro Day 2009:

WR Kenny Britt, 4.4; TE Kevin Brock, 4.65; DB Glen Lee, 4.49; Malast, 4.6; CB Jason McCourty, 4.32; LB Chris Quaye, 4.81; QB Mike Teel, 5.01; DT Pete Tverdov, 4.83; WR Tiquan Underwood, 4.34 and DE Jamal Westerman, 4.78. Safety Courtney Greene did not participate in the 40.

As a result, Rutgers set a then program record as five players were drafted, Britt (1st round), McCourty (6th), Teel (6th), Greene (7th), and Underwood (7th). More surprising was how Brock, Westerman, and Malast signed as free agents, playing their way into NFL games. Westerman has continued his time where he starred in the CFL the last few years. Eight players in one group in the NFL at one time is incredible considering most joined a program in 2005 that had only been to one bowl game in its history.

Chicago Bears v Cleveland Browns
A big pro day boosted Malast to an NFL contract.
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images