Who says talent can’t be found in the NFL Regional Combine? Although the platform is not regarded highly in the media, the pioneers from the annual workouts come through year in and year out.
Week Two in this new NFL season has provided us yet again with examples of those players who were once counted out, but who are now being counted on.
Three seasons ago, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made one of the most spectacular plays in all of sports, and perhaps the greatest catch of all-time in the NFL when he caught a pass one-handed while falling backwards into the endzone against the Dallas Cowboys.
Against the reigning AFC Champion New England Patriots, Division II’s standout from Kentucky Wesleyan, now Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Keelan Cole duplicated a one-handed catch that could challenge Beckham’s.
With 4:30 remaining in the first quarter, the Jaguars faced a first-and-15 from their 24-yard line. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles received the snap from shotgun formation and threw deep down the left side of the field to Cole. While being covered by Patriots cornerback Eric Rowe, the NFL Regional Combine pioneer reached up with his right hand, snagged the ball out the air, cradled the ball and took a couple of steps before flipping out of bounds.
Cole’s catch erupted TIAA Bank Stadium and lit up the football world.
“I was just glad to get the first down for the team,” said Cole humbly, according to USAToday.com. “That’s all I was thinking about at the time… Really, all I was supposed to do was to run straight. Blake was just going to throw the ball, and I was just going to catch it. It sounds real simple, but that’s what it was.”
“That’s one of my strengths—my speed, and then getting open,” he continued. “It’s something we used on that play. Blake (Bortles) threw the ball, and I made a play. That’s all it really was. Tried to make a catch on my one-on-one and took advantage of it.”
Three plays later, Bortles went to Cole again, loving the matchup against Rowe. From the Patriots 24-yard line, Bortles threw down the left side line and Cole caught the pass over Rowe for the score.
Cole was targeted eight times and caught seven of the passes for a game-high 116 yards. Though Cole’s breathtaking catch was an instant classic and the catch of the year thus far. The Jaguars needed Cole to come through on a couple of third-down situations early in the third quarter.
It is one thing to play in the NFL, but to potentially be remembered throughout NFL History for an amazing play is something else.
“Well, it’s always good to achieve something you’ve always wanted to achieve,” voiced Cole. “It was always a dream for me to be in the NFL, and it’s great to have it happen, knowing what the chances are to make it. I’m just blessed to be a part of this team, part of the organization, and we’re gonna keep going.”
“I don’t feel any pressure. the only thing I feel is that I’m playing football with a great group of guys, my brothers,” he continued. “I’m just glad to be able to go to practice with them every day and just get better. To get better as men, honestly. This is more than a game, and I’m just glad to be a part of the NFL—to come out, make plays, and get a win.”
Thielen is on fire, and he is clutch. For the second week in a row, Thielen led the Vikings in receiving yards and the Pro Bowler receiver came through when it counted.
Thielen converted two third down plays, but his big nab for six yards was huge with :42 seconds remaining. On the next play, it was stuff of legend in the mixing.
In shotgun formation, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins took the snap and threw to the right side of the field toward the goal line against double coverage. The sure-handed Thielen caught the pass between two Green Bay Packers defenders to haul in the 22-yard touchdown pass with :36 seconds left in regulation.
The difficulty of the catch was something Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer recognized.
“Yes it’s hard, especially when you’re running with your back from the quarterback, which a lot of the times you are,” stated Zimmer. “That is something a lot of the good receivers do. It was a great play, great throw, great catch. Kirk got hit pretty close to the knee, even though that is not illegal, either. He made a great throw and Thielen made a great catch.”
The Vikings went on to force overtime, which ultimately ended in a tie.
Thielen finished with 12 receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown.
OAKLAND RAIDERS VS. DENVER BRONCOS
The Raiders needed to create some breathing room from the Broncos and wide receiver Seth Roberts’ name was called.
With 5:31 left in the third quarter, the Raiders faced second-and-9 from the Broncos 20-yard line. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr found his familiar clutch receiver in Roberts deep over the middle and drilled the ball between two Broncos defenders to the veteran RC receiver.
Just when the Raiders looked like they were pulling away, the Broncos quietly started chipping away at the lead with their clutch performing kicker Brandon McManus.
McManus nailed a 39-yard field goal with 2:47 left in the third to make the contest 19-10.
The Broncos went on answer with a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, and as time was drawing near to the end, the Broncos’ offense put the game on McManus’ leg. He continues to not disappoint as he kicked the game-winning field goal for 36-yards.
In a week when there were 19 field goals missed, McManus’ field goal was a breath of fresh air.
“Anytime you have a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, it feels pretty awesome,” said Broncos quarterback Case Keenum. “Last week was fun. This week was a lot of fun. They’re all special. And this is an incredible start.”
-Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Jatavis Brown blasted Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen for an eight yard loss with 1:55 remaining in the contest. He finished with two tackles.
-Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Marvin Hall caught a huge 30-yard pass before the half with :40 seconds left, which helped lead to a touchdown, a lead that they never surrendered.