When the NFL mock drafts began heating up after the Super Bowl, three former UL Ragin’ Cajuns were in at least some of the early guesses.
That group included offensive linemen Robert Hunt and Kevin Dotson, as well as speedster Raymond Calais. Hunt and Calais were invited to the NFL combine, and Dotson was a first-team All-American.
Then there’s another group of Cajun Field alumni hoping to get a call from an NFL club, either late on Saturday’s third day of the draft or shortly thereafter as undrafted free agents.
After months of waiting through the most unusual offseason in NFL history, NFL draft weekend is finally here for at least a trio of UL Ragin’ …
“What value the teams decide for each individual player, that’s up to each organization and is certainly relative to the pool of players that are available,” UL coach Billy Napier said. “It’s always a little bit unpredictable, especially given the conditions. This year, in particular, is going to be completely different than years in the past.”
That may work against a few of UL’s top prospects this weekend. Many draft analysts have declared the 2020 draft possibly the deepest crop of wide receivers ever.
That means one of UL’s all-time best receivers, Ja’Marcus Bradley, may fall farther than he might have in past seasons.
“I think Ja’Marcus is going to have his opportunity to make a team whether he gets drafted or if he’s a free agent,” Napier said. “Just my opinion: If you’re third-round or free agent, they don’t care. You’re going to arrive there and it’s going to be about doing a job for the organization and the team.”
The Ackerman, Mississippi, former high school quarterback is coming off a stellar senior season with 906 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns. Bradley finished his career with 160 receptions for 2,359 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Some longtime Lafayette residents may not know his name or have ever met Ray Sutley personally.
“He’s 6-foot, 199 pounds and ran a sub-4.5 40 at his pro day,” said Napier, a receivers coach at Alabama for four seasons. “He’s got all the things that you would look for. He can make a contested catch; he can separate. I think he’s got special-teams value. He’s tough; he’s durable. I think he’s a pro, and I think he’s going to make somebody’s team.
“I’ve coached at least a dozen NFL receivers myself, and I think he’ll make a team. That would be my prediction.”
Another potential late-round pick is cornerback Michael Jacquet.
The 6-2, 201-pounder came to UL to play wide receiver as a quarterback at Central High School in Beaumont, Texas.
Upon Napier’s arrival two years ago, Jacquet moved to cornerback.
It’s not that the reality of the coronavirus hasn’t negatively impacted Raymond Calais during his pursuit of getting picked in the NFL draft.
“He’s a guy that certainly has room to improve,” Napier said of Jacquet. “Ultimately, they may see a guy that’s worth investing in, betting on the product they’ll have at the end. He’s one of those guys that may creep up there and a team may take.
“All it takes is one. It just takes one team that sees something that they really believe can translate to the next level. He has those things. He has measurables and all the predictors of future performance.”
As a junior, Jacquet had 48 tackles, two interceptions and nine pass breakups in 14 games, followed by 45 tackles, two interceptions and five breakups in 13 games as a senior.
“I thought the improvement and the leap he made this year has primed him,” Napier said. “He’s one of those guys who’s going to be at training camp, and he’s going to have every opportunity once he arrives.”
A third prospect could be fullback-turned-tight-end Nick Ralston, who played his senior season at UL after transferring from Arizona State.
Like many NFL prospects hoping to get drafted next month, former UL right tackle Robert Hunt is trying to navigate his preparation for that bi…
“He has lots of film and being very productive,” Napier said. “He’s a unique player. There’s not a lot of players that do what he does. I think he potentially has an opportunity there as a fullback or a core special-teams player.
“He’s got a certain level of toughness and certain level of discipline. He was a guy who had a certain impact on our team just with his presence, his maturity, his attitude, his work ethic.”
Overall, Napier thinks UL’s senior class may have been hampered by lack of personal contact with NFL team officials because of the coronavirus.
“I think that the more exposure and the more access would have had to our group, the more impressive they would have been,” Napier said. “I think they would live up to the hype and sometimes I think they would walk out of here being more impressed. I think that was the consensus we got from the scouts that came through here throughout the season.”
There are plenty of things former UL All-American right guard Kevin Dotson could be agonizing over these days.