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Good Situations For Patriot League Players In Training Camps

(Photo Credit: Zennie62 blog from the San Francisco Chronicle)

Normally, Patriot League watchers don't pay a lot of attention to the NFL Draft, at least in regards to which rounds the "best of the best" Patriot League players might end up.  With this year's crop of players, however, there were three players (and, arguably, four) that had solid chances to be picked in the NFL draft - if things fell just right.
Unsurprisingly, things did fall just right for QB John Skelton, who saw the NFL's Arizona Cardinals trade up to the 5th round to grab the strong-armed Texan by way of the Bronx. 

For the rest of the Patriot League, the phone calls did not come on draft day itself.  They came shortly after Weber State WR Tim Toone was picked as the final college player in the NFL draft, and they all became free agents, able to pick their spots.  And all the big names: QB John Skelton, QB Dominic Randolph, and WR Pat Simonds - have great NFL opportunities this summer. (more)

Handicapping the NFL draft has become a year-round pastime, which makes picking where players will be drafted so damned difficult.  Before the draft, Skelton had been anointed the "next Joe Flacco" in some quarters, and berated for his "work ethic" in others (during the East/West Shirne game, a criticism I'm still trying to figure out).  Depending on the quarterbacks taken ahead of him, he could have been anywhere from a second round pick to a sixth-round pick.

In the first round - on Thursday during prime time, for the first time ever - Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford went first overall to the St. Louis Rams, and then every quarterback on the board would wait... and wait... and wait until Florida QB Tim Tebow - in a major surprise - would be taken late in the first round by the Denver Broncos.

By the end of the evening, Skelton's prospects as a second or third round draftee seemed pretty bleak.  At that point already, with Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen, Texas QB Colt McCoy and Appalachian State QB Armanti Edwards were still on the board, and with the Broncos reaching to get Tebow all of a sudden "spread option" quarterbacks like Edwards now seemed like they were in play at or above the level of more pure pocket passers like Skelton.  As Clausen continued to drop, I had already mentally dropped Skelton to a fifth round pick myself.

Skelton, evidently, agreed:

Skelton was concerned on Friday when he saw fellow QBs McCoy and Jimmy Clausen fall down the board. Neither went until the second day of the draft, and McCoy was late in the third round.

"I thought it might have the effect of pushing all the quarterbacks down," Skelton said. "It was a waiting game."
My prediction that Skelton would be the first Football Championship Subdivision player taken would be rapidly proved false, as UMass OL Vladimir Ducasse instead would be the FCS player taken in the second round by the New York Jets.  As Citadel WR Andre Roberts and QB Armanti Edwards would come off the board in Round three, it was a puzzle as to where Skelton might go.

But for Skelton, this story would definitely have a happy ending.

It would take until the fifth round Saturday afternoon, but not only would he be going to the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, a relatively short drive from his home town of El Paso, Texas, they'd trade up to "poach" him - unloading DB Bryan McFadden to trade up to get him with the 155th pick.  (That would be three spots behind the highest-ever Patriot League player picked in the NFL draft, when the Miami Dolphins picked Lehigh DE Rich Owens in the 5th round with the 152th pick in the 1995 draft.)

What happened on draft day for Skelton and his family?

On Friday night, John Skelton, the all-time leading passer in Fordham football history, gathered with 30 friends and family members in an upstairs room at the Old Homestead Steakhouse in Manhattan. He did not expect to be selected in the draft taking place 35 blocks north at Radio City Music Hall, but kept an eye on the choices. When he was not chosen, the group agreed to reconvene at his uncle's apartment off Union Square in the morning to resume its watch party.

"I'm not sure we slept at all," said his mother, Anna.

Skelton's call to the pro ranks came Saturday from a Cardinals scout. Told that the team was maneuvering to acquire a pick in the fifth round in order to poach him, Skelton waited on the line until the scout handed the phone off to Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt to welcome his new QB. "I'm sure the tenants all round us were wondering what the eruption was," said Skelton's father, also John, who coached him at Burges High back in El Paso, Tex.

Skelton goes into a great situation in Arizona, where QB Matt Leinart is the starter but the backup position is wide, wide open with QB Derek Anderson and QB Max Hall the other competitors for the role of backup.

Even better, though, is that Arizona is becoming known around FCS circles as being a fantastic incubator for making FCS talent into productive pro players, like RB Tim Hightower (Richmond), CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Tennessee State), and TE Ben Petrick (Delaware).  You may have know of a Northern Iowa alumnus you might have heard of: former Super Bowl MVP QB Kurt Warner, who just retired this year after what is certain to be a hall-of-fame career.

Aside from their other FCS pick in the draft: (WR Andre Roberts (Citadel)), the Cards also brought in Southern WR Juamorris Stewart and South Dakota State OL Casey Knips as unrestricted free agents.

What do Cardinal fans think?  According to the Revenge of the Birds blog, he seems to have met with the approval of Tiny Bird Nation, grading a 79% approval rating and an overall grade of "B".  In addition, he "immediately" gets slotted as the third-string quarterback.

Talk about your great situations.


For the two other possible Patriot League draftees, their days were eerily similar.

Holy Cross QB Dominic Randolph had an outside chance of being drafted on the third day going into the draft.  But as Skelton's draft possibilities went from possible second rounder to fifth rounder, Randolph's chances suddenly went from possible late round draftee to free agent possibility.  And Colgate WR Pat Simonds, already considered a long shot to end up on the draft board, said instead he "might play golf" instead of watching the NFL draft.  (For good measure, Randolph "enjoyed the great weather" instead of remaining glued to the TV as well.)

Both, however, were priority free agents for NFL teams looking for talent to make their way onto rosters.  For Simonds, that was just fine with him:

“From a pride standpoint, you’d like to hear your name called during the draft,” Simonds said, “but I was advised prior to the draft that if it gets to the seventh round, you’re better off to be a free agent pick because then you get to pick your situation.”
Both Simonds and Randolph look like they picked some very nice situations to land in as well.  Evidently putting their Patriot League educations to good use, Randolph landed with the New York Giants and Simonds ended with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Randolph had a feeling that it might be the Giants that was going to call him:
Randolph performed well during Pro Days at Boston College and UMass, and had private workouts with the Giants and Cincinnati Bengals earlier this month.

“The Giants definitely showed interest,” Randolph said. “I felt confident when I left there.”

Randolph stayed in touch with the Giants over the last couple of weeks. He said he talked to a couple of other teams today, “but the Giants were the team I felt most comfortable with.”

“I'm definitely excited right now,” Randolph said tonight, “but I'm going to be getting to work and showing them what I can do on the next level. I'm looking forward to being part of a great organization.”
Randolph won't be expected to displace QB Eli Manning any time soon, but competing for the No. 2 and No. 3 quarterback spots between QB Jim "I Carry Manning's Clipboard - Any Manning" Sorgi, and QB Rhett "I'm Paid For Doing What, Exactly?" Bomar, just seems like the perfect situation for the Ohio native to compete for a spot, as neither backup position seems settled.

 As for Simonds, there were several teams interested in him, but the Eagles won out because:

"(The Eagles evaluated me) by workouts," said Simonds, who caught a school-record 14 touchdown passes for Colgate in his senior season. "They were at my pro-day (March 9 at Fordham) and they came to Colgate a couple of times."

On the surface, competing for a spot on the Eagles at wideout would seem to be a tall order - with WR DeSean Jackson and WR Jeremy Maclin on the roster, it's one of the few spots that the Eagles can say they've got depth.  (Even if part of that depth is WR Hank Baskett.)  But aside from his ability as a possession receiver as a counterpoint to Jackson and Maclin, or special teams play, where Simonds has shined before, an intriguing possibility is for Simonds to possibly be converted to tight end, where the 6'5 New York native could be competing with oft-injured TE Brent Celek and three guys that didn't catch a pass last year.  He would need to work on his blocking and put on some pounds, but overall it's not a bad spot for the Sindey native to be.

I like both of their situations.  It's hard to say if they'll make the opening-day rosters - so much needs to happen between now and September to make that estimation - but it's clear they're smart kids who have picked their situations well.  It wouldn't shock me to see Skelton - a lock for the opening day roster - and Randolph and Simonds on NFL rosters this fall.


They're not the only Patriot League players who will be in NFL camps:

OL Chris Poole (Holy Cross, tryout, NY Giants)
OL Andy Tyshovnytsky (Fordham, tryout, Indianapolis Colts)

In addition, I am hoping to hear about tryouts from LB Matt Cohen (Lehigh), LB Mark Leggerio (Lafayette), FS Isiejah Allen (Fordham), DT Ian Dell (Lafayette), RS A.J. Kizekai (Bucknell).  If they're not in NFL camps, they may very well be looking at Arena or CFL contracts.


Anonymous said…
For the record, Lehigh DE Rich owens was drafted by the Washington Redskins.

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