By: Barry Barnes, Founder
In the NFL, every achievement is earned and no one knows that better than the athletes who toil through the NFL Regional Combine. Donning an NFL team jersey does not represent excellence alone. True excellence comes when something of note is accomplished while that jersey is being worn.
Out of the 71 standouts from the RC, 42 active players continuously demonstrate their hunger week in and week out.
Of the 71, 30 play on the defensive side of the ball and 15 are actually laying wood and staying filthy.
At one point in the careers of these once NFL hopefuls, they filled minor roles. All of them are taking advantage of their opportunities, but some are achieving excellence as a part of an aggressive game plan.
Defensive backs lead the way with eight and defensive fronts finish out the rest of the active stoppers with seven. A couple of defensive talents went down due to injuries after displaying some crediable effort like New York Giants rookie linebacker Nigel Harris and Los Angeles Rams safety Cody Davis.
Before signing with the Giants, Harris was flying to the ball and recorded 11 tackles. Despite finding early success, including earning a start in Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chargers wanted to make a move to beef up their linebacker core and signed Josh Keyes. Harris was waived on October 16, but was told once he cleared waivers, he would sign to the practice squad.
Then, this happened.
“I was headed back upstairs (at the Chargers’ facility) to go fill out the paperwork, and they said, ‘Yeah, we’ve got to wait until 1:01,'” Harris stated, according to nj.com. “They called the NFL office to make sure, and then they came in and told me, ‘Well, it looks like the Giants came and got you. There you go.'”
“The Giants called me a few minutes later and said, ‘We’ve got a flight for you here in the next couple of hours,’ so I had to ride home real quick,” reported Harris. “When they first told me, a bunch of stuff just went crazy in my head. What am I about to do right now, what’s next, because I’ve never been through this.”
“I packed a suitcase, shoes, airport right across the street, hopped on that plane. I’m just grateful for the opportunity.”
Harris racked up another tackle in Week 9 against the Rams before injuring his ribs, which caused him to miss the rest of the season. Having attended the Houston-held NFL Regional Combine trials, he will be a special talent in the league.
While Harris was making a name for himself, Davis was working towards a stellar season until he sustained a thigh injury in Week 6. Davis led the Rams safeties in snaps played, and out of the 77 qualifiers, Pro Football Focus listed him as the 14th best safety in coverage.
Davis was laying scoring threats out as he started to become a defensive force in the back end. The RC veteran from the 2012 session registered 19 season tackles, six defense passes and an interception. Davis’ interception came against the Seattle Seahawks in a highly intense matchup in Week 5.
Towards the end of the first quarter with 3:21 remaining, the Seahawks looked to pull a trick out their hat. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson took the ball from center and threw a swing pass to wide receiver Tanner McEvoy to the left of the field. To create space and time, McEvoy dropped back and rolled to his right to throw deep across the field to J.D. McKissic.
Davis was never fooled. Anticipating the pass, he took off towards McKissic and jumped high in front of the ball to make his first interception of the season. Davis went out of bounds and was quickly mobbed by his excited teammates.
Considering the excellence of the Rams’ season, Davis will hit the field before the regular season ends. He is a testimony to how solid the RC defensive backs are.
Atlanta Falcons defensive backs Kemal Ishmael and C. J. Goodwin are aggressive and fearless. Ishmael’s numbers are down this season as head coach Dan Quinn moves him around. The seventh-round from Central Florida has 22 season tackles, while Goodwin has eight.
The Indianapolis Colts have their own impressive defensive backs in rookie Kenny Moore II and Chris Milton. Moore played sparingly during the beginning of the season. In the Colts’ last two matchups, Moore registered nine tackles, while Milton compiled eight.
Defensive back Chris Banjo brought his unique talents to the New Orleans Saints from the Green Bay Packers and found a new home. Banjo recorded eight tackles, including a forced fumble.
In Week 13 against the Carolina Panthers with 9:07 remaining in regulation, the Saints punted the ball deep from their endzone. Panthers receiver Kaelin Clay fielded the ball and took a couple of jab steps. Banjo missed Clay the first time, but never quit on the play. When Clay attempted to make another move, Banjo blasted him from the back and caused the fumble.
That is how you finish, Banjo.
Washington Redskins Quinton Dunbar had his moment in the spotlight when Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman missed several games due to injury (ribs). Dunbar is having a career year with 26 tackles, seven defense passes and an interception against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week Seven.
Safety Robert Golden is the “Swiss army knife} of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He can do it all, including throwing the ball. In Week Seven against the Cincinnati Bengals with 6:53 remaining in the game, the Steelers lined up in punt formation. Golden received a direct snap from the Steelers’ 40 yards and threw 44 yards deep down the right side to Steelers wide receiver Darius Heyward-Bey, resulting in a field goal.
Thus far, Golden has 16 stops this season, including an interception.
Golden is not the only defensive player from the RC trials who can pull off some special tricks. In Week 11, Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill became the emergency kicker against the Dallas Cowboys as he kicked the ball off five times. And he knocked off at least 12 heads, including forcing a fumble.
Coming on strong lately for the New York Jets is linebacker Julian Stanford. A hybrid defender, Stanford is blessed with athleticism and speed. He racked up 16 tackles.
Rams linebacker Carlos Thompson was promoted to the active roster in Week 13 and earned his first tackle in the 2017 season.
Defensive ends Benson Mayowa (Dallas Cowboys) and Roy Robertson-Harris (Chicago Bears) is taking advantage of each opportunity. Mayowa has 16 tackles, Harris tallied six this season.
Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Jatavis Brown is the cream of the defensive crop from the RC. Brown’s production has dropped a bit as the Chargers moved some pieces around during the course of the season, but the second-year man from Akron and the Houston-held RC session amassed 64 tackles.
The 2017 NFL campaign is drawing close to the end, but there is still a lot of football left and it is still not too late for these defensive RC talents to get their hands on someone.