MOBILE, Ala. — The call Ed Eagan has been hoping he’d get finally came Wednesday night.
When the North team lost both Rutgers wide receiver Leonte Carroo and Massachusetts receiver Tajae Sharpe to ankle injuries on the second day of practice, Senior Bowl director Phil Savage immediately called in Eagan, the most prolific receiver in Northwestern State history, to fill out the roster.
Eagan drove into town Wednesday night and found himself practicing — so fast, in fact, he didn’t even have his Northwestern State helmet, which may arrive Friday, and had to don a generic, white helmet — in Ladd-Peebles Stadium under the direction of the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff on the field and offering a glimpse of his abilities to the hundreds of coaches and talent evaluators seated in the stands.
“It’s exciting,” Eagan said. “I’ve just got to stay calm. I didn’t get much sleep last night, I just got here and got right into it.”
Eagan was initially recruited out of Holy Cross as a cornerback after piling up 16 interceptions in three years, including a state-record five picks in one game as a junior against Clark while playing with a broken thumb.
Northwestern State decided to convert Eagan to receiver as a sophomore, and the Demons uncovered the best wideout in school history.
Eagan finished his Demons career with school records in receptions (177), receiving yards (2,228) and all-purpose yardage (5,651 yards), plus a first-team All-American nod in 2014. He owns 10 Northwestern State and two Southland Conference records as a receiver and return specialist
Now, he’s trying to take his football career to the NFL. Used mostly as an outside receiver at Northwestern State, the 5-foot-10 Eagan will likely play in the slot in the NFL, as well as handling returns.
The Senior Bowl took notice. After taking a look at Eagan’s video, Savage worked out the receiver last week, and after watching the Demon catch passes from former Alabama quarterback Jacob Coker, added Eagan to his list of potential injury replacements.
Now it’s up to Eagan to make the most of his opportunity. Eagan, who says he’s been clocked at 4.32 in the 40-yard dash, does not have an invite to the NFL scouting combine in February, but he’d like to earn one.
“It’d be huge,” Eagan said. “I’d love to be able to show what I can do at that level.”
Eagan, who will be the second straight Demon and third in the past 10 years to play in the Super Bowl, got off to a good start Thursday, displaying his trademark quickness on several punt returns and taking a tunnel screen to the end zone for a touchdown later in the practice.
And he hopes the eyes of the NFL took notice.
What lies beneath
Evaluating potential draft picks requires NFL teams to do much more than scout a player’s size, speed, athleticism and game tape.
The NFL is littered with players who failed to live up to their potential because of off-the-field issues.
“We also look at the makeup,” New Orleans Saints assistant general manager Jeff Ireland said. “What a player’s made of from the intangible side, that’s extremely important. As time goes on, and as you study the history of the league, you’re going to find that players that have the intangible qualities we’re looking for have a longer career.”
New Orleans has reemphasized the importance of finding players with the right kind of character over the course of the past year, cleaning out a locker room that grew toxic for the first time in Sean Payton’s tenure in 2014.
But a team can’t always take prospects with squeaky-clean records. Some players make a mistake or mistakes in college, learn from the incident or incidents and grow into the kind of stars an organization builds a team around.
Figuring out if a player has left his troubles behind is one of the toughest parts of the draft process.
“It starts way back in May,” Ireland said. “We start gathering information from the combine scouts, and then we attack it in the fall, get as much information from the sources we collect information from — that’d be coaches or trainers or whatever it may be. This time of the year, we talk to the kid individually, try to find out what was he thinking in that situation or what kind of kid he is and form our own opinion. ... There’s a lot of work that goes into character. We’re not just taking someone else’s opinion.”
Jeff Driskel and Kenneth Dixon teamed up again on Thursday, a talented Louisiana Tech backfield now playing together on the North roster at the Senior Bowl. Working in the red zone, Driskel hit Dixon with an option pitch for a touchdown.
And Dixon, the Bulldogs’ all-time rushing leader and second on the NCAA list in touchdowns, was just tacking on another highlight in a very good week. Dixon, who measures in at 5-foot-10, 215 pounds, has looked like the kind of versatile, pass-catching back who can help a team on third down right away.
“He hurt his ankle halfway through the season; he kind of played on one leg,” Bulldogs coach Skip Holtz said. “To see him out there running around, doing the things he’s doing, he looks healthy again. I think he’s got a lot of versatility as a running back.”
Driskel, like the other quarterbacks, has struggled, but Holtz believes he’ll be able to handle the difficulty of picking up an NFL playbook.
“To come in and throw for 4,000 yards after getting there in March,” Holtz said, “that speaks volumes to his mental makeup.”