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Davenport, Kpassagnon Only Two Of Possible NFL Draftees Lehigh Faced Last Year

One of the more interesting aspects of covering Lehigh football for so long is the fact that you end up seeing future NFL players on their rise to the big show.

In fact, two players who squared off against the Mountain Hawks in particular have an excellent chance of being drafted on Day 2 or Day 3 of the NFL draft.

But those not the only Lehigh football opponents that will be hoping to get a phone call from an NFL team this Friday or Saturday.

Though few Patriot League, Ivy League or even CAA players enter their football programs with the NFL as their main goal, every football player that matriculates to these schools still harbor the dream of dominating their league and as a result get an opportunity to pursue their NFL dream.

And it is true that NFL scouts come to FCS football games to look for talent that might have been overlooked.  Many years ago I was in Hofstra's press box, watching the Pride take on New Hampshire, with NFL scouts from the Colts and Saints there to watch WR Marques Colston play.  The Saints decision to pursue Colston may very well have come from that game in Hempstead, New York.


In this year's draft, the one player that Lehigh fans might be most familiar with is Bucknell OL Julie'n Davenport, who is angling to be Bucknell's first NFL draftee in the last 48 years.

A 6'7, 315 lb tackle that was a cornerstone of the Bison offensive line, Davenport has been wowing NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl and in individual workouts.

It's very rare for a Patriot League player to have the type of dimensions that NFL scouts crave for an offensive tackle, but Davenport, always an opponent that caused me worry as a fan of Lehigh, definitely fits that bill.

Davenport started from his very first game as a freshman, playing in all 44 games, and paved the way for the Bison from becoming Patriot League also-rans to Patriot League title contenders, along the way paving the way for several Bison 1,000 yard rushers.

I met Julie'n very briefly back on Patriot League Media Day back in 2015, and I was always impressed with him as a person as well as a massive offensive line talent.  What I recall about him most is that he never really stopped getting bigger.  He was always tall, and always strong, but he really put his work in as he developed physically.

"The thing that jumps out about him is just how long he is as an offensive tackle," Eagles executive Joe Douglas said at the Senior Bowl. "You see in pass [protection], you see his ability to slide, mirror guys, use his length to ride defenders up field."

I've seen some really good Patriot League offensive linemen, like Lehigh OL Will Rackley.  But though Rackley had great qualities and measurables that better translated to becoming an NFL guard, I see Davenport with the chance of becoming a regular starting NFL tackle, at 6'7 and terrific length (36 1/2 inches) and wingspan (87 1/2 inches) among the offensive lineman in this year's draft draft.

Another talented player that could be drafted relatively early is Villanova DE Tapoh Kpassagnon.

"Kpassagnon has the measurables that make NFL scouts drool," I wrote for my Villanova game breakdown this year.  "Who doesn't want a 6'7, 290 lb defensive lineman on their team?  Not only did he notch 2 tackles for loss last weekend, which is a testament to the speed he has as a large defensive end, he also blocked a Pitt field goal attempt as well, a testament to Kpassagnon's enormous wingspan."

Against Lehigh last year, Kpassagnon had a very solid evening, with 2 1/2 tackles for loss and a sack of QB Nick Shafnisky that forced a punt.  He showed strong ability against Lehigh's solid offensive line, and on a couple of occasions got involved running down RB Dom Bragalone from behind, something that's not that easy to do from the defensive line.

NFL scouts' love affair for Kpassagnon has not abated since the end of the FCS season, using descriptors like "sculpted like a Greek God" that make me, frankly, roll my eyes.   But the fact remains that Kpassagnon seems likely to be drafted in Round 2 or 3 of the NFL draft, there's a real possibility that he might be the first FCS player taken off the draft board, if Eastern Washington WR Cooper Kupp or William and Mary OL Jerry Ugowke don't go before him.  The team that drafts Kpassagnon will probably be very happy campers, who shouldn't sleep on Kpassagnon's ability to block kicks.

***

Though Davenport and Kpassagnon might be the biggest names in the draft and NFL free-agent signing period, they are hardly the only players that might end up on an NFL roster.

From Lehigh, QB Nick Shafnisky and LB/DB Laquan Lambert have been working hard for a chance to make an NFL camp, either as a late-round pick or as a free agent after the draft.

(You can read about my full interview with Shaf at this link.)

From this great Brown and White piece by Zion Olojede, Laquan's path towards a pro career wasn't even on his radar until convinced by strength and conditioning coaches Eric Markovcy and Dominic Carlineo that Lambert had the physical tools and ability to pursue a pro career.

"I came to the realization that I was granted God-given abilities,” he said. “I would be selling myself short if I didn’t at least give my childhood dream a chance.”

Lambert caught the eyes of the Washington Redskins in a regional combine, where, out of more than 100 athletes pursuing their dream, he got a write-up in RedskinsWire as a player that really stood out.

"The NFL is an extremely competitive market obviously," the piece said.  "But with his skills, body type and attitude, he could be an asset in Washington and would likely fit into the Redskins scheme nicely."

****

If there was one more player from this year's pool of players that could get drafted and have also faced Lehigh, I think New Hampshire S Casey DeAndrade would be top of that list.

DeAndreade only had one football scholarship out of high school, according to this HERO sports article, but he rapidly developed into a special teams maven and great hybrid linebacker/defensive back and all-CAA player.

Against Lehigh in the FCS playoffs, his great football instincts were in play, pulling down a tipped QB Brad Mayes pass for an instinctual interception.

Listed at 5'11, DeAndrade has excellent speed (a 4.45 40 yard dash, according to HERO sports) and has very strong cover skills, too.  He's a guy, to me, that fits in extremely well in terms of either a special teams tackler, or even return man.

Another player that didn't play Lehigh this season but did two years ago is James Madison RB Khalid Abdullah, who had his first multi-rushing touchdown game against the Mountain Hawks in 2016.

Abdullah, a 5'10, 220 lb back, will be a real find for a team looking for a rusher and would slot in nicely with a stable of running backs.  To me, Abdullah would be a terrific late-round pickup for the Eagles who desperately need backs like him.

Other players that I think have a great chance to make an NFL traning camp are Villanova LB Austin Calitro, Fordham TE Phazahn Odom, and New Hampshire RB Dalton Crossan.  All three showcased their talents against Lehigh and all have had very solid performances.

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