The annual NFL combine concluded Monday with the defensive backs participating in drills to measure speed, agility, and strength. Two of those defensive backs played their college football at Rutgers: Saquan Hampton and Blessuan Austin. Like the rest of the participants, they hoped to raise their stock enough to hear their names called at the annual NFL Draft, scheduled for April 25-27 in Nashville this year.
It seemed every defensive coach during his time at Rutgers during both the Kyle Flood and Chris Ash eras was smitten with Hampton’s pro potential. Saquan was a starter for parts of four seasons, mostly at the free safety position but his career would likely have been considered a disappointment until the last half of the 2018 season. Saquan, a team captain, was the best player on the Rutgers defense and one of the best in the Big Ten during the later stretch of the season, singlehandedly shutting down Wisconsin’s air attack with two interceptions and another series of pass break ups. In the second half of that contest, the Badgers abandoned the pass entirely. He was all over the field in games against Northwestern, Penn State, and Michigan State as well but the Rutgers offense simply could not score enough points.
Saquan participated in interviews with NFL teams on Saturday (full schedule courtesy of our friends at Music City Miracles). Sunday he had the wonderlic (results kept secret) and media time plus the only physical drill of the day in the bench press. Hampton (6’1”, 206 lbs.) registered 14 reps which was in the top third of defensive backs (including safeties).
On Monday, Hampton ran a 4.48 40 yard dash, good for 8th amongst safeties. That speed is more than enough to show he can compete at the NFL level in coverage. He did the broad jump with a result of 125 inches, tied for 6th among safeties. Saquan elected not to do the 3 cone, 20 yard shuttle, 60 yard shuttle, or vertical jump.
Austin was a starter from game one of his true freshman campaign, partly out of necessity, in the beginning of the 2015 campaign. He did not disappoint and flashed ability to make plays in both his freshman and sophomore years. After representing RU at Big Ten media day as a junior, Austin suffered a torn ACL in the 4th game of the year at Nebraska. The injury was a huge blow as the Huskers regrouped and emerged with a come from behind win over the Scarlet Knights. Austin returned in 2018 and after registering a sack, was injured despite coming down with an interception in the season opening win over Texas State. After advice from his doctors, Austin elected to start preparing for the 2019 NFL Draft.
Blessuan was measured at 6’1”, 198 lbs, pretty much the prototypical NFL cornerback size these days with relatively long arms (32.5”). His eye popping hand size of 10” (trust me, scouts do care about this) explains one reason why he is so effective in jamming receivers at the line and securing interceptions.
Still recovering from injury, Austin elected to participate in the bench press only with a solid 15 reps, but will take a few more days to prepare for the speed and agility events at the upcoming Rutgers pro day on March 15. It’s unclear which he will participate in for sure, but Austin wants to show NFL scouts he will be a full go for 2019 training camp. With his game tape and measurables, he may not need to show much more to be a day 3 draft pick.
The two other members of the starting defensive backfield in 2018, Isaiah Wharton (East-West Shrine game) and Kiy Hester (NFLPA Collegiate Bowl) did not get invited to the combine, but participated in postseason all-star games. Wharton and Hester (health permitting) both could also end up on an NFL roster as undrafted free agents or at minimum earn a tryout. Both are expected to perform at the annual Rutgers Pro Day, where the players who have graduated the program showcase their skills in front of invited NFL scouts.
Rutgers Pro Day should also feature other former Scarlet Knights who have exhausted their eligibility. The list of participants has not been published yet, but should include some other pro hopefuls like Kevin Wilkins, Jon Bateky, Trevor Morris, Deonte Roberts, Tariq Cole, Jerome Washington, and Jon Hilliman. And even if they elect not to pursue a career in professional football, it should be a fun day for the Rutgers program.
Just a year ago, Janarion Grant and Gus Edwards showed their skills at Pro Day yet were not drafted. Grant ended up on the Ravens opening day roster and Gus was well, just “Gus the Bus” at the next level: