Since 2014, the Cajuns have seen 9 players called on Draft Day. The Mountaineers have rung up five. Even Texas State and ULM have seen two each go to the Show. In fact, the only Sun Belt program who has failed to place anyone in the NFL Draft since 2014 is the Arkansas State Red Wolves.
Immediately, people will point a rage finger at Blake Anderson. After all, the Red Wolves’ seven year NFL Draft Drought lines up perfectly with Anderson’s arrival in 2014 and the program’s last drafted player, Ryan Carrethers, who went in the 5th round to the San Diego Chargers. It’s hard to ignore this circumstantial evidence.
“Anderson just didn’t recruit NFL talent,” suggests Rex Steele, Intense Observer of College Sports. “Development may be an issue. But if you have size and speed, you don’t have to be developed to be drafted.”
Kara Richey of Workday Redzone on 953AM The Ticket thinks the problem might be two-or-three fold. “Equal parts lack of ideal NFL players (not from a talent perspective, but from a speed/size perspective), playing against SBC competition, and something something Blake Anderson’s fault,” said Richey.
Anderson did seem to attract talented-but-undersized/underspeed guys. Two time Sun Belt Player of the Year, Ja’Von Roland-Jones, was a seminal defensive end for the Red Wolves, yet the NFL talk was converting him to and outside linebacker. The same was assessed for Ronheen Bingham, the former Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year. Neither had the prototypical NFL size to be a defensive lineman.
Recent offensive Red Wolves stars also got dinged for physical deficiencies. 2019 Sun Belt Player of the Year Omar Bayless was knocked by NFL Combine scouts for having “small hands” and lacking the physicality to outwork cornerbacks. Last year’s Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year, Jonathan Adams, was charged with “lethargic feet” (i.e. “slow”) and the damning “small hands” tag. (Also, “attempts too many one-handed catches.”)
Bottomline: Anderson acquired great college talent, but perhaps not NFL talent.
“It’s baffling to me as good as the Belt has become as a G5 school that Arkansas State isn’t getting its share of their best guy getting picked,” laments Fox News political pundit Jay Bir. “Jonathan Adams wasn’t the fastest guy out there and has his flaws but not even a late-round flyer? William Bradley-King (transferred to Baylor) barely improved his stock seeking the showering of riches and hype of the P5.”
Bradley-King was a direct descendent of the Roland-Jones/Bingham line of Red Wolves defensive end royalty. After seeing both get ignored by the NFL, Bradley King transferred to Baylor where he managed 3.5 sacks and earned a 7th round pick from the Washington Football Team. NFL Combine Scouts tagged him with “below average athleticism.”
So maybe that’s it? Former A-State draftees like Carrethers, Demario Davis and Don Jones certainly had either the size, strength or speed to earn at least a cup of coffee in the NFL. Perhaps the Red Wolves are simply not meeting the tangibles necessary to go pro?
There must be other factors. We’ve heard grumbles of “bad agent advice” and “poor pro-day conditions” and yes, guys have been injured at terrible times (re: Roland-Jones). It also doesn’t help that the Sun Belt pinches its marketing pennies, going largely dark in the weeks leading up to the Draft. In fact, the only Draft strategy the Sun Belt seemed to have this year is running a sort of sad “Sun Belt NFL Draft Picks of the Past” campaign on Twitter.
Before the Draft, Sun Belt commissioner Keith Gill issued a statement which might as well have been written by artificial intelligence:
Can the Sun Belt be a little more “fired up?” Mike Aresco of the AAC went full-nut running with Power 6, and now the AAC practically is the Power 6. Would it hurt Keith Gill to jump onto Fox Sports and say, “The SEC is essentially the Sun Belt – JUST SADDER AND WEAKER!”
There are more forces at work against the Red Wolves going pro than just Blake Anderson and Keith Gill. For whatever reason, Arkansas State has not forged a proper alliance with the post-season institutions that bring visibility to Red Wolves players. Consider the schools confrontational relationship with Jim Nagy and the Senior Bowl – which deteriorated mightily since Bayless was snubbed. Perhaps we need the Senior Bowl, tho?
The Senior Bowl is mostly a P5 marketing tool, but considering A-State’s easy proximity to Mobile and its relationship to the Sun Belt, you’d think the Red Wolves would have a handshake deal with the Senior Bowl. But nope!
Whoever or whatever is at fault, it’s now Butch Jones’ problem to fix. But let’s be real. It’s not Jones’ job (nor was it Anderson’s) to get guys into the NFL. The job is to win games (oh yeah, and to make better men or something). But you have to believe that Jones’ focus on detail and drive to smash his critics’ teeth will result in better Combine evals and Pro Day scores.
Maybe we can at least try to match South Bama’s draft numbers.
Special Thanks goes to Rex Steele (@ThisIsRexSteele), Kara Richey (@Kara_Richey) and the powerful Jay Bir (@TheJayBir).
PHOTO CREDIT: Mine. Jealous? You should be.