by Jack Rieger
For the second straight year, Nevada failed to have a player drafted by an NFL team. As a school and community that prides itself in having a competitive football team, Nevada not having at least one individual player drafted is discouraging to say the least.
To the people who are screaming, “That’s because coach Brian Polian can’t recruit!” this is the last recruiting class of former coach Chris Ault, so Polian isn’t to blame. Maybe it’s because Nevada is a smaller school that plays in an inferior conference and scouts may overlook potentially talented recruits. But YouTube and scouting websites like Scout.com and Rivals have made talent more apparent than ever before. Is it possible that Nevada didn’t have an individual graduating this year who was talented enough to be drafted?
In 2014, Joel Bitonio was drafted in the second round by the Cleveland Browns and is quickly becoming a foundational player. In 2013, Duke Williams and Khalid Wooten were drafted in the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively. The Wolf Pack had 10 players drafted from 2011 to 2014, but according to NFL general managers and scouts, who happen to be the most skilled talent evaluators in the country, Nevada didn’t have a player worthy of being selected on draft day this year.
Fortunately the draft isn’t the only path to an NFL locker room for college graduates. Undrafted free agents make up a significant portion of the training camp roster, and Nevada had three players signed a
Don Jackson – Green Bay Packers
Nevada’s best running back for two straight years in a run-heavy offense, Jackson was signed as an undrafted free agent on April 30. Jackson’s contract is for three years at $1.625 million, but only $5,000 is guaranteed and Jackson can be released at any time.
Jackson’s chances of making the Packers aren’t great considering NFL teams usually only carry four running backs and Green Bay is one of the few teams that values fullbacks. Jackson may have to stand out as a high-effort special teams player in order to earn a spot on one of the premier organizations in all of sports.
Ian Seau – Los Angeles Rams
Seau was the one Nevada player that had a realistic chance of being drafted, but his limitations as a run-stopper and his smaller frame probably scared teams away. He reached an agreement with the Los Angeles Rams on April 30 as an undrafted free agent.
Seau is an above-average pass rusher and should find a niche as a third-down specialist somewhere in the NFL. He’ll have a hard time finding a spot on the Rams, a team filled with athletic defensive players. The Rams also run a 4-3 defense, and defensive ends in a 4-3 need to be quick enough to pursue running backs on outside runs and athletic enough to chase down the ball carrier. Earning a roster spot on the new football team in LA will be a tall order for Seau.
Lenny Jones – San Francisco 49ers
The NFL team closest to the university reached an agreement with Lenny Jones after the draft, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Jones actually has more size than Seau and is a better run-stopper and all-around athlete. Jones was a tight end in high school and only converted to defensive end because he knew he could be an NFL lineman. Hasaan Henderson claims Jones has the second-best hands on the team.
Jones had seven sacks last season, 11.5 tackles for loss and was a team captain. At 6-foot-3 and 270 pounds, he has the size and athleticism to be a defensive end in a 3-4 defense. The 49ers took two defensive ends with high draft picks, including No. 7 overall pick Deforest Buckner, so Jones will be competing with several young players for a roster spot. Despite little talk about Jones during and after the draft, I think he has the best chance of any Nevada player to make a roster.
Jack Rieger can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @JackRieger.