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The football world may never again experience an NFL draft like the 2020 edition.
Ongoing quarantines to curb the spread of COVID-19 forcing an all-remote draft resulted in instantly iconic imagery. Some of the most memorable scenes are of the game’s most successful coaches looking very much like Joe Schmoe joining the fantasy league he’s played in with college friends for years.
It’s only fitting that in an all-digital draft, some prospects from the Colonial Athletic Association leveraged online connectivity into pro-football opportunities.
“Getting creative with the internet,” is how Maine standout wide receiver and newly minted Los Angeles Ram Earnest Edwards described the process. “Nowadays, the internet’s a strong resource for anybody, so just trying to send my film and tape to coaches.”
While hustling online to get noticed, which Edwards said bore some similarities to the high school recruiting process, the Black Bears All-American wasn’t going it alone. He credited friends “at some bigger programs” and his agency, DEC Management, for helping get his highlights in front of the right eyes.
Edwards said he pared his options for a potential free agency down to four or five, and talked with Rams brass during the draft. He said if he went unselected, he aimed to land in Los Angeles.
It wasn’t a long wait; Edwards’ signing became official shortly after Georgia’s Tae Crowder became Mr. Irrelevant 2020.
The still-ongoing undrafted free agent market was still humming late into Sunday, with some premier CAA talent not yet signed. Towson quarterback Tom Flacco, who gained national buzz in the weeks leading up to the draft, All-American defensive end Maurice Jackson and James Madison star linebacker Rashad Robinson closed the weekend out unsigned.
Because of the ongoing worldwide turmoil brought on by COVID-19, and the cancellation of pro days and travel restrictions for in-person meetings almost certainly impacted the draft standing of some of the Colonial’s best.
That all made for a waiver wire session that was every bit as enthralling as the draft itself.
Just six prospects from FCS programs were drafted, the fewest since the process went to seven rounds in 1993. The previous low was 12.
Two of the six came from the CAA, extending the Colonial’s remarkable run with multiple picks to 15 consecutive years. When even a global pandemic can’t slow the streak, it’s a testament to the talent coming out of the league.
The players responsible for continuing the streak: Rhode Island wide receiver Isaiah Coulter, who went to the Houston Texas in the fifth round; and James Madison quarterback Ben DiNucci, picked up by the Dallas Cowboys in the seventh.
DiNucci’s selection marked another significant milestone in the career of last season’s CAA Offensive Player of the Year.
He’ll rejoin the 2019 CAA Defensive Player of the Year and James Madison teammate Ron’Dell Carter, who signed with the Cowboys almost immediately after the draft concluded.
With the addition of Rhode Island wide receiver Aaron Parker — who impressed at the Combine in February — Dallas has a veritable CAA all-star squad in the works.
Parker and Carter rank among those who COVID-19 shutouts may well have cost the thrill of hearing their name called over the weekend. Still, as undrafted free agents, they’ll have a chance to wake up everyone who slept.
But with that being said I got my opportunity to play at the next level with @dallascowboys and I promise you they won’t regret all love to everybody who showed support— May 21st (@_____aaronn) April 25, 2020
Carter’s running mate on the historically dominant JMU defensive line, John Daka, is another possible case study. Immediately following the Dukes’ national championship showdown with North Dakota State in January, Daka said he planned to head to Florida for extensive individual prep; that was just two months before the shutdown.
However, Daka was not on the market long before signing with the Baltimore Ravens. The prolific pass-rusher’s pro journey begins at home: Daka is from nearby Upper Marlboro.
And then there are the scenarios like that of Edwards. A record-setting playmaker at Maine, now back home quarantining in Rochester, the East Coast product heads to Los Angeles for the first time.
“I’m just looking forward to being in L.A. in general,” Edwards said. “I’m just trying to enjoy the atmosphere, the weather.”
That will come in time, as the circumstances that made this an unprecedented draft prevent players from getting to business with their new teams.
Once football returns — hopefully, much sooner than later — where anyone was drafted, or not drafted, won’t matter. So much of the NFL journey is about opportunity and fit. A situation like Edwards’ landing in an organization credited with introducing elements of the college game’s spread passing attack to Sunday, and Edwards coming off a college career with 2,641 receiving yards, could be ideal.
“Their offense is pretty much similar to what we ran at Maine,” he said. In a couple weeks, they’ll send a playbook over. But they like to pass and spread the ball around, and that’s what I wanted.”
Fit is one part of the equation. Opportunity being the other, the CAA offers the NFL no shortage of potential to capitalize on their upcoming chances.
To all my UDFA! I was you two years ago! Everything you’re feeling, I felt and it’s okay to feel that! I’m in Year 3 now... So what, now what mentality?? Go get it! #8throundpick— Jeremy Reaves (@JR1ERA) April 26, 2020
DE Marcus Willoughby, Baltimore Ravens
DE Ron’Dell Carter, Dallas Cowboys
DE/LB John Daka, Baltimore Ravens
QB Ben DiNucci, Dallas Cowboys
WR Brandon Polk, Los Angeles Rams
TE Dylan Stapleton, Houston Texas
WR Earnest Edwards, Los Angeles Rams
CB Prince Smith Jr., Philadelphia Eagles
WR Isaiah Coulter, Houston Texans
WR Aaron Parker, Dallas Cowboys
OL Kyle Murphy, New York Giants
CB Gavin Heslop, Seattle Seahawks
WR Shane Leatherbury, Arizona Cardinals
Woke up an Arizona Cardinal. God is so good!! Time to get to work!— Shane Leatherbury (@leather__) April 26, 2020
WR Juwan Green, Atlanta Falcons
DE/LB Eli Mencer, Seattle Seahawks
CB Jarren Williams, Arizona Cardinals
William & Mary
DT Bill Murray, New England Patriots