The 2018 NFL campaign was probably the most fruitful season for the offensive pioneers of the NFL Regional Combine.
For starters, the offensive players accounted for 13 touchdowns in 2017. This season, the once unknown gems collectively crossed the goal line 30 times. As for total yards, the RC performers produced 2,793 yards in 2017, which they amassed 5,427 yards – clearly the most ever for both categories.
These numbers are significant because, if not for the RC platform, these stats would have not been accounted for by individuals who once were counted out, especially for the history books.
Amazing how much production can be obtained when individuals are given the big “O,” in opportunity.
Check out what the big “O” created for the NFL Regional Combine offensive standouts in the 2018 NFL season.
If the RC had a history book, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens impacted the discovery platform like no other player who ventured through the process–Largely due to the level of difficulty for quarterbacks to throw to unfamiliar targets. Mullens faced this situation in 2017, but he owed the moment just like he did this season.
When 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went down for the season due to an ACL injury in his left knee in Week 3, backup signal caller C.J. Beathard stepped in and Mullens was promoted to the active roster.
After five weeks of poor performances (which was expected), Mullens took over, and took control of his career.
Mullens became the 49ers’ starter in Week 9 against the Oakland Raiders when he set the NFL on fire as he completed 72.7 percent of his passes (16 for 22) for 262 yards and three touchdowns. Mullens displayed tremendous promise and earned the respect from many around the league.
“He (Mullens) was really good against us. He hung in the pocket well, completed a bunch of passes, was real accurate with the football,” said Carroll. “Handled the stuff that we threw at him, he did a very good job against us.”
“Nick has shown that he can play quarterback in this league,” voiced 49ers teammate, cornerback Richard Shanahan. “He did a very good job in this game playing within himself, playing in a tight pocket. He made some really good throws with people around him.”
Mullens was the first quarterback from the RC platform to start an NFL game. He recorded 2,277 passing yards off 174 completions out of 274 attempts, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, which six of these turnovers bounced off his receivers’ hands.
Several questions: will the 49ers keep him on their roster? Garoppolo maybe the franchise quarterback, but can he stay healthy? Is Beathard reliable? Mullens would be a great fit in New England. Either way, Mullens is clearly NFL quality.
“I think I can play in the league, that’s for sure,” said Mullens voiced earlier in the season. “I believe that.
Quarterback Alex McGough was signed off the Seahawks practice squad by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Watch out for this development. McGough is talented, and this will be interesting.
Mullens is not in the NFL history book yet, but Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen is.
Thielen became the first player in NFL history to receive at 100 yards in the first eight games to start a season, eclipsing the long-standing record set by former wide receiver Charley Hennigan (Houston Oilers, now Tennessee Titans) in 1961 of receiving 100-plus yards in the first seven games to start a season.
Thielen compiled season career-highs in receptions (113), receiving yards (1,373) and touchdowns (nine), and finished in the top ten in those major categories. He is the first skill player from the NFL Regional Combine to achieve these feats. Thielen is the also the first player from the RC to be voted by the peers as one of the top 100 players, placed as the 36th best in the NFL in 2017.
For two straight seasons, Thielen has been an All-Pro (second-team). He owned the 2018 season and more will be expected from him moving forward.
“Adam has great heart, the biggest heart there is, and he’s a tough kid,” said Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, according to Sporting News. “He doesn’t think there’s a ball he can’t catch, even in practice he lays out for tough catches. He’s always talking about how he can get better. He’s a heckuva football player and I’m glad he’s on our team.”
The Oakland Raiders had a season to forget, but wide receiver Seth Roberts managed to have a career year. The third receiver is normally targeted as a third option and he made the best of it.
Roberts compiled 45 receptions for 494 yards, the most he had in a season. He crossed the goal line twice, but his biggest play of the year came against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 14 when he split two defenders in safeties Morgan Burnett and Terrell Edmunds for 33 yards.
Roberts’ play led to a touchdown for the eventual win which started the Steelers downfall in ultimately missing the playoffs.
Cole finished the season with 38 receptions for 491 yards and a touchdown.
Atlanta Falcons deep threat wide receiver in Marvin Hall was implemented in the passing game more this season as he received 10 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown, which went for 47 yards against the New York Giants in Week Seven.
Hall has proven himself as a return man as well. He returned 26 kickoff returns for 616 yards, registering 17 for 20-plus yards and three for 40 or more.
Several pass catchers got into the endzone for the first time in their careers.
Giants tight end Scott Simonson got into the mix this season as he started four games. He recorded nine catches for 86 yards and his first career touchdown, which came against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 16.
Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan caught a deep pass down the middle of the field from quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Week 11 against the Seahawks for 53 yards and a touchdown. He finished with four receptions for 77 yards.
Houston Texans rookie wide receiver Vyncint Smith has shown promise as he is learning the game. He came through on a huge 35 yard touchdown pass to force overtime against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 16. The Texans still came out on the losing end, but that was Smith’s moment and he took advantage of it.
“Vynce is a speed guy that can run,” said Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. “He’s been working hard all season. His time was going to come and his opportunity came, and took advantage of it.
Smith finished his rookie campaign with five receptions for 91 yards and a touchdown.
Cincinnati Bengals tight end Matt Lengel registered his second touchdown of his career. Against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 11, Lengel caught a four yard pass for a score. He finished the season three catches for 17 yards and touchdown.
Giants rookie wide receiver Jawill Davis from Bethune-Cookman had a decent year. Davis hauled in four passes for 40 yards. however, he was heavily involved in the return game. The speedster had seven kickoff returns for 171 yards, including six spanning for 20-plus yards, and returned 12 punt returns for 89 yards.
Jacksonville Jaguars fullback Tommy Bohanan had only one carry for the season, but caught six passes for 41 yards.
Denver Broncos tight end Brian Parker caught five passes for 33 yards, Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Alan Cross had two catches for nine yards and Vikings wide receiver Brandon Zylstra had a catch for 23 yards.
The offensive linemen who journeyed through the RC platform continue to strive in the league, led by Steelers two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Villanueva helps anchor one of the best offense lines in the NFL as the Steelers pile up touchdowns. This season, Villanueva crossed the goal line for a score for the first time in his career.
In Week 12 against the Broncos, Villanueva scored on a fake field goal attempt with :03 left in the first half. Villanueva was reported eligible and when the Steelers snapped the ball, he came off the block. The 6-9, 320-pound tackle sprinted into the endzone where kicker Chris Boswell found him open for a two-yard touchdown.
Villanueva’s natural position is of a tight end as he has good hands, and, for a moment, he felt like Patriots star Rob Gronkowski.
“I’m not sure if I was the number one option, you’ll have to ask the boss,” said Villanueva, according 247sports.com. “All Chris (Boswell) had to do was throw it up. I’m 6’10 and I was wide open. I guess I could have been the next Rob Gronkowski, but I ended up playing tackle.
“I think it’s just one of those plays you rehearse in practice and hope it gets called during a game because it showcases a bunch of different players and take some of the pressure off of the offense.”
Los Angeles Rams kicking specialists in kicker Greg Zuerlein and punter Johnny Hekker helped kicked their squad into Super Bowl LIII to face the Patriots. The Rams came up short, but these kickers performed masterfully. Zuerlein came through in the clutch for the Rams in the NFC Conference title game when he kicked the game into overtime and nailed a 57-yard field goal to get to the Super Bowl.
In Super Bowl LIII, the Rams were in a defensive battle against the Patriots. Clearly, Zuerlein and Hekker were needed as field positioning was at its importance. Zuerlein nailed one out of two field goal attempts. Hekker, who had nine punts and landed five inside the 20, set a Super Bowl record of 65 yards.
Zuerlein accounted for 211 points this season for the Rams as he made 27 out of 31 field goal attempts and nailed 35 out of 36 extra point attempts.
Zuerlein and Hekker are truly trailblazers for the RC platform as the kicking specialists traveled their path to the NFL.
Both Tavecchio and McManus came through on game-winning field goals this season.
Tavecchio was a perfect five for five in field goal attempts, and eight for eight extra points. McManus amassed 95 points in making 20 out of 25 field field attempts and nailing all his extra point attempts (35).
The offensive pioneers of the RC are clearing a path for greatness for many unknowns, and proving year in and year out that talent is truly out there. All they need is a platform and a chance – And that is why the NFL Regional Combine has value.