“To go to the next level, you have to be special, and I look for those special qualities in those players, those qualities that I think will translate to the NFL.”-Ron Jaworski
When an athlete chooses to pursue a life and a career in sports, that choice comes with a toll. As I know all too well, a career in sports isn’t easy, especially with the transitions. The journey from high school sports to college to the pros isn’t easy physically, mentally and even spiritually. The NFL is a different arena with a new set of rules; some athletes are born ready and some athletes may be overwhelmed.
This past weekend, six of Ole Miss’ finest former football players represented the Rebels in Indianapolis for the 2016 NFL Combine. Each one of these players hope to translate what they accomplished for the Rebels into the NFL Draft on April 26.
At no surprise, the Rebels were Laquon Treadwell, Laremy Tunsil, Robert Nkemdiche, C.J. Johnson, Cody Core and Fahn Cooper. During their time at Ole Miss, each of the players brought a spark to the team as they helped build the Rebels’ football program to new levels. One of my favorite moments at the NFL Combine is watching these Rebels show their dedication and evolution all in a few moments. I could see how they grew from amateur to professional, ready to play ball with the best.
The SEC is not an easy football conference, but any athlete who successfully sees their journey though can go a long way in the NFL.
During the Combine week, the invited players arrived in three different groups ready to undergo medical exams and the Wonderlic Test that measures cognitive ability. The players are then measured, weighed and timed for speed, tested for strength and evaluated in agility drills.
Going into the Combine, there were a lot of buzz about these six Rebels. Here’s a snapshot:
Tunsil is undoubtedly everyone’s dream catch and the highest-rated player heading into the NFL Draft. He is one of the few athletes who can transition into pro football. If the Tennessee Titans are smart, they will snatch him at No. 1 to help their offensive line. Despite being unable to play at beginning of last season for the Rebels, Tunsil quickly showed that he is a game-changer upon his return to the football field – especially at the Sugar Bowl.
Cooper will be a great player that teams will look to evolve into a stronger right tackle, but he also has the ability to adapt to other spots on the offensive line. This is a talent that many NFL teams are desperately looking to fill. Cooper’s experience will improve his draft stock. The NFL teams may focus on his technical skills to see where he can fit best.
What comes first to mind while describing Treadwell’s abilities is “phenomenal.” His quickness, ability to catch and make plays undoubtedly speak for themselves. Although Treadwell chose to not run the 40 at the Combine, he can make up for that at the Ole Miss Pro Day to continue to be on the radar for the NFL Draft.
Core presents dominating size, but still has much development needed on his route running and making plays. He is an impressive athlete and he can adapt quickly, but the question is how quickly can he adapt in the NFL. Regardless, he is a player who can provide much-needed and strong depth to NFL teams.
No one could question Nkemdiche’s incredible athletic skills and his vitality to critical football plays. His skills will leave NFL teams wanting more. However, the real question is Nkemdiche’s behavior and character. NFL teams may be concerned if he is worth the investment despite his adventures off-field. These days, the NFL teams aren’t looking for liabilities. Only time will tell if Nkemdiche is ready to mature into a NFL-caliber star player.
Johnson has the heart and talent. He is an athlete that NFL teams can coach into a strong fit. Although C.J.’s stature is small for a defensive end, but I’ll say to look for Johnson to sign on as a developmental and adaptable player ready to make great plays happen for the right coaches and teams.
In the end, not all the athletes who were the best in college will be first in the pros. But be certain these Rebels all have something special that can take them far in the NFL stadiums.
Hotty Toddy y’all!
Lee Ann Herring-Olvedo is a HottyToddy.com contributor, veteran SEC sports journalist and Brown University graduate. She loves good cigars, good games and a smooth glass of bourbon — not necessarily in that order. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.