The Southern Miss football program had two players drafted in the NFL Draft on April 30. Former wide receiver Michael Thomas and former cornerback Kalan Reed were drafted with the 206th and 253rd pick by the Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee Titans, respectively.
But these USM headliners were not the only Golden Eagles to be given a chance to showcase their skills in the NFL. Former Golden Eagles running back Jalen Richard signed a free agent tender with the Oakland Raiders. Also, former offensive linemen, Rashod Hill and Norman Price, were signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars and San Francisco 49ers, respectively.
Seeing five Golden Eagles get their shots in the league speaks volumes to the talent down in Hattiesburg. But as most people may realize if they look closely, not every undrafted free agent that signs a contract will be on the team by the beginning of the season. In addition, not every player drafted will get playing time in their rookie year.
So the question can be asked. Which former Golden Eagle will receive the most playing time, granted that they make the team?
The prospect with the most uphill battle to climb will in all likelihood Jalen Richard. The running back was a bruiser at Southern Miss while he played and ran for 1,113 yards on 185 attempts last season. Richard’s game consists of running through contact, not so much running away from defenders in the open field.
The problem with that is Richard has a slightly small from for the NFL. Richard is listed at five-feet eight inches, and also coming in at 210 pounds. He may be too small for his type of playing style in the league where linebackers and safeties are the same weight and will pack a bigger punch in a bigger frame.
The next Golden Eagle may not even make the field this season, although you would not think that if you were to watch his highlights against Louisiana Tech and Washington.
Mike Thomas, in my opinion, may catch 10 passes this year. With Jared Goff coming in to be the proverbial “face of the franchise” in Los Angeles, the organization and the fans will be looking for immediate production from the current No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
What that means for Thomas is that he will most likely not see the field. This does not mean that he will not make the practice squad or even the 53-man roster on any given Sunday, but he will most likely be relegated to the practice squad.
On the Rams roster currently, there is a plethora number of receivers — 12 to be exact. This is before including fourth round draft pick Pharaoh Cooper of South Carolina and Thomas.
Not to say that Thomas will not be able to crack the roster. But he has one of the most difficult chances on paper to get significant playing time. He will not be the fastest or the tallest receiver heading into training camp. He may not even have the most sure hands on the roster either.
Thomas will be on the roster in 2016. But to think of him getting significant playing time, let alone starting for the team, will be a long shot in his rookie season.
Norman Price is facing a decent shot at making the roster in San Francisco. Although not drafted, Price is currently dealing with a roster that has more shallow depth at offensive tackle position. There are only six offensive tackles currently on the roster. With long arms and a sturdy frame, Price may come as a surprise to some on the West Coast.
Although he may not see the field this season, it is not beyond the realm of comprehension that Price could be a staple on the practice squad.
The aforementioned “Mr. Irrelevant” will quickly have his name recognized in NFL circles sooner than later.
Kalan Reed will come into training camp as one of 10 cornerbacks on the roster. He will not be able to shut down receivers on his first day due to a lack of technique on some plays last year. But, what Reed has is unconventional athleticism and an “it” factor that some players just do not have.
Looking back at the play Reed
made against Texas State on fourth- and-goal from the two yard line is exactly the plays that he will have to make to get noticed. Reed will have to show all of the little things it will take to get time on the field. I think he will prove that. Maybe not this year, but in the years to come as he gets bigger and smarter on the field.
Rashod Hill has a solid chance to make the roster in Jacksonville primarily due to depth issues. There are only seven offensive tackles listed on the active roster after the draft, so Hill will get his chance to showcase his skills on the field. Without much depth in front of him, he may get at least a spot on the practice squad in Jacksonville.
Hill was one of the more sturdier players on the Golden Eagles roster last season. He rarely missed games during his career, but occasionally had an untimely injury every so often. If Hill can avoid the injury bug altogether in his rookie showing, he may warrant playing time early in his career.