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Opinion: Ole Miss Rebel players could make a big splash in the 2017 NFL Draft April 27

Collin Rivera
Oxford Stories

On April 3, the Ole Miss football players declared for the NFL Draft filed in at 9 a.m. to prepare for their big pro day. It was time to demonstrate their skills for NFL scouts.

I covered the event the entire day to see just how the Ole Miss Rebels compared to last year’s draft class.

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NFL scouts watch Ole Miss players participate in the broad jump drill. Photo by Collin Rivera.

One of the big name players who participated in this pro day was tight end, Evan Engram. Engram was one of the last remaining players from the star-studded 2013 recruiting class, but it was time for him to begin a new chapter in his football career.

Engram has been regarded as one of the best tight ends in this draft class, along with Alabama’s O. J. Howard and Miami’s David Njoku. Engram’s work ethic impressed me most at pro day. Many colleges didn’t expect Engram to be an elite player. Now he is projected anywhere from a 1st round pick to a 3rd round pick.

This didn’t come solely from pure, raw talent. This came from  the hard work Engram has put into his collegiate career. After pro day, he hinted at the Chicago Bears, the L.A. Rams, and the Carolina Panthers.

I expect Engram to be an early- to mid-2nd round pick, and it’s not because I don’t think he’s 1st-round talent. Many 1st round teams don’t need a receiving tight end. The only teams that do are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans and Chicago Bears. Unfortunately for Engram, the Chicago Bears hold the number three overall pick in the draft, and Engram is not worth that valued pick.

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Jets scout measures Ole Miss players broad jump. Photo by Collin Rivera.

I think a possibility could be the Buccaneers and Titans because of their situation. Both sit near the end of the 1st round and need another offensive weapon for their young franchise quarterbacks.

The Buccaneers are very shallow in the tight end position, but the downside for Engram is they seem to be looking at O.J. Howard and David Njoku. The Titans, I believe, would be a strong fit, because he would learn from their top tight end Delanie Walker and would help remove the double team off of Walker during games.

Either way for Engram, it will be a very good night for him, and he will fit in any offensive scheme, no matter how deep that team is in the tight end position.

Another standout player from pro day was defensive back Derrick Jones. Jones has been expected to be a mid- to late-round draft pick, and I think he could be one of the biggest steals in the draft. Jones brings athleticism and play-making ability.

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From left, Ole Miss players Akeem Judd and Quincy Adeboyejo catch footballs in warm ups. Photo by Collin Rivera.

Jones was one of the underrated defensive backs for the Ole Miss Rebels this past season, because most of the secondary were getting torched by multiple teams, but he still holds promise. In his pro day, many NFL scouts were impressed with his vertical jump, his broad jump, and his 40 yard dash.

So why does any of this matter? They’re just drills aren’t they?

These drills matter because it can help Jones stand out from the crowd that are at other pro days and the NFL Combine. I think he would fit best in various NFL teams. I expect him to be a 4th round pick, but he is 2nd round potential talent. I could see him being strong on a team like the Seattle Seahawks, the Pittsburgh Steelers, or the New England Patriots.

The last standout from the pro day was defensive back Tony Conner. Like Jones, it was his athleticism NFL scouts noticed, but he brings more than athleticism.

Conner’s ability to read plays in live game action stands out. He can recognize various plays and adjust his coverage in a split second. That kind of play recognition cannot be taught, so I expect Conner to be a 4th to 5th round pick.

I don’t have him higher because his play-making isn’t where it needs to be, but that can be easily be taught by the NFL team that drafts him.

These Ole Miss Rebels expect to have a big night at Draft Night April 27. And who knows? They could be the next big stars in the NFL.

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