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 original form provided a solution to that dilemma and offered both opportunity and closure for thousands.
But not this year.
RELATED ARTICLE: The Combine Report: Revamping The NFL Regional Combine For 2018, What Does It Mean?
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 offense is well represented by 15 wide receivers from the lower division. Among them are Kansas City Chiefs’ star receiver Tyreek Hill, Green Bay Packers’ Jeff Janis and Arizona Cardinals’ dual threats in John Brown and Brittan Golden.
Fifteen of the ninety NFLers who ventured through the RC, including Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein and Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen, became first-time Pro Bowlers. Wide receiver Keelan Cole led the Jacksonville Jaguars in receiving yards last season as a rookie with 746.
As far as big pay days for D-II talents, Thielen inked a three-year deal worth $27 million, with $11 million guaranteed; while Seth Roberts agreed to a three-year $12 million deal, with $6.45 million guaranteed.
Unfortunately, no quarterback from D-II donned an NFL jersey. Hopefully, the quarterback position can be filled this year by a D-II threat along with the rest of the skill positions, starting with some of these playmakers.
Luis Perez – Texas A&M Commerce. Perez won the 2017 Harlon Hill Trophy, Division II’s Player of the Year award. The 6-3, 225-pound field general threw for 4,999 yards and 46 touchdowns. Despite his 11 interceptions, Perez completed 70.6 percent of his passes as he averaged 33.3 yards per outing.
Perez passes the eye test with his size and strong arm. He is not a burner by any means, but his pocket awareness, patience, distribution of the ball and accuracy spell solid NFL potential.
Connor Jessop – Shepherd. Jessop has blossomed into the quarterback position each year at Shepherd. The 2017 Mountain East Conference Player of the Year racked up 3,532 passing yards, averaging 328.4 passing yards per outing. He completed 65 percent of his passes and added 355 rushing yards with six rushing scores.
Jessop accounted for 270 points to lead the nation and his 40 touchdowns were the second highest. The 6-5, 210-pound quarterback from Ashland, VA was picked off nine times, but averaged three passing touchdowns per game.
Tanner Garry – Slippery Rock. The sixth-year senior came into his own after beating out two sophomore quarterbacks for the starting job. Garry finished his final campaign at Slippery Rock with 3,522 passing yards as he averaged 320.2 yards per contest with 32 touchdowns. Garry stands 6-2, 210-pounds.
Chris Streveler – South Dakota. Streveler is probably the best quarterback in the country no one has heard about. He was NCAA’s best dual threat signal caller. Extremely competitive, Streveler is accurate with a strong arm, great feet, balance and patience.
Streveler is doable after being sacked 23 times. However, in the midst of pressure and breakdowns, some self-afflicted, Streveler threw for 4,134 passing yards and 32 touchdowns and rushed for 720 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Is Streveler a victim for doing too much? To be a signal caller in the NFL, a quarterback must be willing to sacrifice and leave everything on the field. Streveler is not victim of doing too much, but is aggressive in everything he does.
Trenton Cannon – Virginia State. How Cannon got overlooked for Division-I consideration is a head scratcher. He is a combination of great hands, explosiveness, speed and power. This powerhouse from one of the Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) had 1,638 rushing yards, averaged 7.7 per carry and 17 scores. Cannon also registered 21 catches for 225 yards and three touchdowns.
While Chicago Bears’ Tarik Cohen was the first HBCU running back drafted in nearly 20 years, the 5-11, 180-pound Cannon could easily start a trend.
Daouda Sylla – Findley. The Harlon Hill nominee had 243 carries for 1,554 yards and recorded 19 touchdowns. Not bad for a player who played in the backfield for two seasons. As a sophomore, Sylla finished that season with 57 tackles, including a forced fumble and a sack. He is a legitimate special teams contributor.
Kamal Cass – Eastern New Mexico. Cass finished in the top 10 for rushing with 1,443 off 279 carries – all in 10 games.
*Note: Division-III’s John Smith of Husson had 340 rushes for 2,242 yards and 31 touchdowns in 12 games.
J. T. Luper – Central Oklahoma. Double or triple team him, Luper will still catch the ball. If Luper has to out jump or out run defenders, he will catch the ball. Luper, at 5-9 and 180-pounds, led D-II in receiving yards with 1,593. He was the only D-II player with more than a 100 receptions (110) and hauled in 12 touchdowns.
Luper is a terror on special teams and has a background in track and field. According to a school official, he has bounced back in a mighty way.
“Definitely no character, emotional, humility flaws. Awesome teammate, and obviously a hell of a wideout,” according to a source. “Just had one poor semester in the classroom that cost him (Luper). And for the record, he very easily could’ve checked it in after becoming ineligible.”
“But he came back faster and stronger this season. Kid is a stud! He’s one of the leaders on that offense no doubt. Not someone who will rah rah you to death, but he speaks up when necessary.”
Keshaun Taylor – Mars Hill. Indianapolis Colts tackle Denzelle Good and Tennessee Titans defensive end Johnny Maxey Jr are two Mars Hill standouts who journeyed through the RC and found some success in the NFL. Taylor probably would have taken a similar path with his 1,281 receiving yards output compiled off 64 catches. He led the South Atlantic Conference in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns (12).
To round out the receivers, Marcus Johnson of Slippery Rock finished with 1,241 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns off 72 receptions, while Jalen Tolliver of Arkansas-Monticello racked up 1,109 receiving yards off 67 receptions and tied for first in touchdowns with 16.
*Note: Division-III’s Sam Mentkowski of Wisconsin-Oshkosh finished his senior campaign with 1,477 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns off 67 receptions and Nick Holcomb of Wisconsin-La Crosse registered 80 catches for 1,401 yards and 20 touchdowns.
More talent is out there.