By: Barry Barnes, Founder
A major component of the NFL for the past several years has been transformed into an invitational for only one hundred athletes. The 2018 NFL Regional Combine will continue to showcase solid standouts and discover worthy unknown gems, but it will fall short.
While the NFL Regional Combine Invitational is wonderful for a select few, there are many other skilled players throughout the nation. These players are at the mercy of the scouting process, a process that has failed countless NFL hopefuls for decades. The NFL Regional Combine in its previous form provided a solution to that dilemma and offered both opportunity and closure for thousands.
But not this year.
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Check out some of the gems the NFL may miss out on for the upcoming season and beyond.
For the 2017 NFL season, there were 90 Division II players in the league, including practice squad rosters. The Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals were the only two teams without a Division II elite.
The Los Angeles Chargers, Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets had the most with five players each.
The defensive backs dominate with 18 players on rosters. Among those D-II elites are Brandon Carr of the Baltimore Ravens (Grand Valley State), Malcolm Butler of the New England Patriots (West Alabama) and Brent Grimes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Shippensburg).
Grimes was one of the lower division talents who inked huge deals. He signed a four-year, $32 million contract ($16 million guaranteed) with the Miami Dolphins in 2014 and in 2016, signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the Bucs.
Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams scored big when he signed a five-year, $54 million contract ($27.5 million guaranteed) in 2017.
For the pioneers of the RC, five players made it happen: Arizona Cardinals’ cornerback C.J. Goodwin, Pittsburgh Steelers’ cornerback Dashaun Phillips, Oakland Raiders’ linebacker Tyrell Adams, Green Bay Packers’ cornerback Donatello Brown and Indianapolis Colts’ cornerback Kenny Moore II, who started five games last season as a rookie.
Who most likely would have been a NFL rookie for the 2018 campaign if the RC had not become an invitational only and the previous format of the RC had remained intact?
We will never know. Even so, there is still a chance for some fortunate unknowns across the nation.
Let’s review some of those “unknown” talents whom we may still see this season (and should), if they come under the radar of the NFL scouts.
Ryan Weber – Malone. Weber is a hunter. The fundamentally sound linebacker was nominated for the Cliff Harris award, an honor that is bestowed on the nation’s top defensive player for Division-II and III programs. Weber may lack the size, standing 5-11, 205-pounds, but he makes up for the missing couple of inches with his instincts, strength and leadership.
Weber led the nation in average tackles at 14.8 per game. The linebacker from Butler, Ohio registered 118 tackles in eight games. In three games, Weber had at least 19 tackles.
La’More Wise – Slippery Rock. Wise is a tackling machine, and in 11 contests, he registered 125 tackles as he averaged 11.4 per outing. What was most impressive? Of those 125 tackles, 89 were solos. Wise does not have the best hands, but he managed to get an interception and returned it for 54 yards against Missouri Southern.
Osband Thompson – Tuskegee. Like Wise, Thompson is a legitimate run stopper. With his 131 tackles, he had 84 solo stops, which was second-best in the nation. Thompson was a member of the first team lineup for the 2017 American Football Coaches Association All-America Team. The 6-0, 205-pound Florida native was the only player from an Historically Black College and University (HBCU) who made the list.
Basil Jackson – Tarleton State. Jackson was another menace on the field with 122 collisions in 10 games.
Dennis Gardeck – Sioux Falls. Gardeck may not be among the nation’s top tackles, however, he can get to the quarterback. He led the nation among linebackers in sacks with 14, and 13 were all by his lonesome.
Marcus Martin – Slippery Rock. Clearly, nothing slipped past Martin in the trenches as he got penetration and stuffed quarterbacks 15.5 times last season. Martin has an engine that does not stop, even at practice.
“It’s frustrating,” stated Slippery Rock quarterback Tanner Garry, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “There are times (in practice) where you almost want to tell him, ‘Hey, man, give me this play to try to get the ball off.’ His motor is always going.”
Martin set two records for D-II football as he tallied 50 career sacks and 83 tackles for loss. The accomplished defensive lineman won the Gene Upshaw Division II Lineman of the Year award. Martin’s skill set can easily translate to the NFL.
“One thing I’ve definitely gotten better at is football IQ: understanding offenses and being able to predict things before they happen and being able to read backfields,” reported Martin.
Myles Humphrey – Sheppard. Humphrey is always in attack mode. He can play with hands in the dirt, but he is at his best standing and has the leverage to beat offensive linemen into the inside with his speed and power. In 11 games, Humphrey had 59 tackles and 20.5 were for losses. The 6-2, 245-pound edge rushes compiled 13 sacks (12 solos).
Bryce Broome – Minot State. Broome is a sure-open field tackler who is not afraid of contact. In 11 games, the 6-0, 200-pound defensive back amassed 112 tackles as he averaged 10.2 per showdown.
Andrew Benson – Assumption. With his big frame of 6-2, 205-pounds, Benson can blanket a field. He is instinctive and quick to the ball. Benson has decent speed, and for a reactive position, he is fundamentally sound with patience and balance. Benson posted 74 tackles last season, but had nine interceptions as passes underestimated his ability to cover.
*Note: Charvarius Ward – Middle Tennessee State. Middle Tennessee State is not a Division-II program. Nevertheless, many of their talents are often overlooked, like Tennessee Titans defensive backs Kevin Byard, Sammy Seamster and offensive lineman Josh Walker and Chicago Bears running back Benny Cunningham to name a few.
Ward transferred from Hinds Junior College in January of 2016, and he made an instant impact on the team and the coaching staff.
In two collegiate seasons at MTSU, Ward recorded 69 tackles, 18 passes defensed, two interceptions and a sack. Ward’s measurables are telling as he stands 6-0, 200-pounds with 10-inch hands, 32-inch arms with a 76 inch wingspan. Ward possesses solid speed and his athleticism is among the nation’s best.
Ward may not get drafted, but his skill set should translate to the next level compared to the other Blue Raiders before him.
Also worth noting is Division-III’s Curt Williams of Kenyon College. Williams finished his senior campaign with 143 tackles (70 solos).
Let’s wait and see.