(Credit: Photo by JC Ruiz)
By Rajiv Bais
In a loaded tight end class where there may be as many as three selected in the first round, David Njoku could not be luckier. With a 4.64 second forty-yard dash, 37.5" vertical jump, 6.97-second three-cone drill, and 11'1" broad jump, he may have established himself as one of the most attractive prospects at his position.
Except, we have seen the same attractiveness of similar prospects and been let down by their NFL performances, especially after they have come from Njoku’s alma mater, the University of Miami.
South Florida is known to produce college football and the NFL’s greatest talent and the home of NFL superstars like Khalil Mack, Patrick Peterson, Joey Bosa, and Antonio Brown. But after former and current Hurricanes coaches Al Golden, Larry Scott, and Mark Richt went 45-31 since 2010, the scouting community believes that “The U” gets one of the lowest returns in the high talent it recruits.
As a result, teams fall into this delusion that they can turn around the players that have underachieved in Coral Gables, but when trying to prove that theory, teams are now getting the same return in those athletes the way the Hurricanes have.
Since the beginning of this decade, Miami has only produced three first-round picks, all of which have underperformed, and players drafted in Round 2 have not fared much better. According to the Pro Football Reference, only two players drafted in the first two rounds in this past decade have been primary starters and none in either round have been Pro Bowlers.
Teams are already trying to make up for their Hurricane mistakes by signing their potential replacements in free agency. The Indianapolis Colts have already signed Kamar Aiken as the projected third-string receiver as their 2015 Miami first rounder Philip Dorsett has failed to achieve even that spot. The Oakland Raiders have signed tight end Jared Cook as an upgrade over their former Hurricane, Larry Warford, and the New York Giants are thinking about replacing disappointment Ereck Flowers and moving him from left tackle to guard.
In fairness to Njoku, he may be a better player than any under Golden as Richt was his coach and has proof behind his years of success at Georgia. Still, with him having more years under Golden than Richt, teams may have to pass him over the way they did to previous draftees with poor affiliations.
Teams rightfully passed over Matt Barkley because he was a USC quarterback like past USC failures, Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez. The same can apply to Florida State alum Marvin “Snoop” Minnis after teams saw fellow ex-Seminole Peter Warrick underachieve and Baylor alum Cyril Richardson after his fellow ex-Baylor Bears offensive linemen underachieved.
Still, teams still fear passing over talent regardless of school because of the fear of being the one who passed over a potential superstar. Teams passed up Aaron Rodgers due to his affiliation to a coach not known for making great quarterbacks, Jeff Tedford, and Derek Carr due to his relation to his failed brother, former no. 1 overall pick, David Carr, and both are currently two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.
At times, however, players need to be passed up so that they have the drive to prove others wrong, and Rodgers and Carr play with such a drive. No coach or general manager can control that drive, and thus it would be better for teams to pass up controversial players so that that drive for them can be created. When draft spot almost never determines a player’s career fate, it would be wise for teams to see what situation works for each player and eventually decide when the player is worthy of selection or not.
Now, Njoku could end the streak of bad Hurricanes the way Jameis Winston ended the streak of bad FSU quarterbacks, and that will only be known once he wears an NFL jersey.
Right now, he looks like a player worth passing up due to past Miami failures. Plus, with the loaded tight end class leading to possibly comparable players later, teams could fill this position need at different times or get him at a bargain with an even better-drafted player to complement him.