It has been talked about for months and the talk has only increased in recent days concerning the NFL Draft, where players might be selected and by which team. It appears a foregone conclusion Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence will be the No. 1 overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Alabama will have several players selected over the three days and seven rounds.
After Lawrence’s selection, it’s anyone’s guess who goes where and when — and there have been a lot of guesses concerning those factors heading into Thursday’s first round of picks.
There are some players with local ties — Florida wide receiver-kick returner Kadarius Toney, Central Florida wide receiver Marlon Williams, South Alabama linebacker Riley Cole and South Alabama wide receiver-kick returner Kawaan Baker — who have a special interest in the draft; they hope to hear their names called as selections by an NFL team.
Toney is considered the top prospect of the group, being projected as a likely first-round selection. Williams, Cole and Baker are considered late-round prospects. While it is a day each of the players has dreamed of for some time, it can also be a trying time as they wait to see if they will be selected. And if selected, what are the chances of making the roster?
The 2020 season was a breakout year for Toney, Williams and Cole, while Baker, who had a good career at South Alabama, enhanced his draft prospects with a strong showing at the school’s Pro Day workout. While Toney is considered the only lock of the group to be selected in the draft, the others have made cases for consideration.
A valuable skill set is Toney’s greatest asset heading into the draft. His versatility — he can be used as a receiver, kick returner and even a ball carrier on reverses or in a wildcat formation — make him attractive. Scouts have also noted his body control, balance and explosiveness. Look for him to be picked in the first round.
Williams is considered an elite competitor, which adds to his draft stock. Scouts have noted he has good hands and the ability to create space and make the contested catch. He is a big-play threat who will likely be a late-round pick.
Cole is projected as a solid, special teams player who may best fit as a rotational linebacker. He is at his best as a linebacker on the edge and he has a good ability to read offenses and find the football. Some teams have also expressed an interest in using him at fullback for his blocking and pass-catching ability — he was a tight end in high school — out of the backfield. He will likely be a late-round selection or sign as an undrafted free agent.
It was expected Baker’s best route to the NFL was as an undrafted free agent, and that may still be the case. But he had a strong Pro Day outing at South Alabama, demonstrating good speed, good hands, excellent balance and mobility, and also turning in a solid vertical leap measurement and strength in the weight room. His versatility may lead a team to take a chance on him with a late draft pick.
The NFL Draft begins at 7 p.m. Thursday and will be televised by ESPN and the NFL Network. It will continue at 6 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday.
Kadarius Toney, WR/KR, Florida, 6-0, 193: In 38 games with the Gators, Toney produced 2,641 all-purpose yards, including 120 catches for 1,590 yards and 12 touchdowns and 580 rushing yards for two touchdowns. Last season, a breakout year, he led Florida with 70 catches, 984 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also had 161 rushing yards on 19 carries. He was ninth in the SEC with 122.8 all-purpose yards per game. At Blount, he threw for 2,894 yards and 32 TDs as a senior, while also rushing for 894 yards and 15 more scores. In his junior year, he passed for 3,604 yards and 37 TDs and rushed for 896 yards and 16 TDs. His explosiveness and versatility are expected to make him a first-round selection in Thursday’s NFL Draft. He could be used as a wide receiver, punt and kickoff returner, ball carrier on sweeps and reverses, or in the wildcat formation, where he could also be used as a passer. Speed and explosiveness are in his favor.
Marlon Williams, WR, UCF, 6-0, 175: The Golden Knights’ leading receiver last season, Williams proved himself a valuable commodity by virtue of his strength as a pass-catcher in traffic and his pass-catching skills in general. Last season was a big one for Williams at UCF as he led the team with 71 catches, 1,039 yards and 10 TDs, all coming in just eight games. For his career, Williams produced 157 catches and 2,260 yards. He ranks tied for ninth in school history for career catches and 10th in receiving yards. His 19 career receiving TDs ranks ninth in school history. He was a third-team All-America pick by Pro Football Focus last season and he led the American Athletic Conference and was third in the nation with 8.9 receptions per game. At McGill-Toolen, he hauled in 47 catches for 990 yards as a senior while also collecting seven rushing touchdowns for the Yellow Jackets’ offense out of the oft-used wildcat formation.
Riley Cole, LB, South Alabama, 6-3, 225: A first-team All-Sun Belt Conference selection last season, Cole was the leader of the Jaguars’ defensive unit, not only in tackles but also in a leadership role. He was used on the outside and inside during his career with the Jags, but NFL scouts suggest he will be most effective as an edge player at the next level. Last season he collected 96 total tackles, 54 of which were solo stops. He also produced 6.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks, two quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. In his South Alabama career, Cole made 215 total tackles. He played five seasons with the Jags, but during his true freshman season and two seasons later, he played just four games each year, sidelined by season-ending injuries. The Oneonta native originally committed to Alabama, which pulled its offer late. He also received scholarship offers from Oklahoma, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest.
Kawaan Baker, WR/KR, South Alabama, 6-1, 215: The owner of a great nickname during his time at South Alabama — “Kawaan Baker the Touchdown Maker” — Baker did just that, scoring 27 touchdowns in his Jaguar career. Last season he produced career highs in catches (51), receiving yards (659) and receiving touchdowns (eight), tying for the team lead with Jalen Tolbert in the latter category. His ability to shake and in some cases outrun defenders made him a big-play threat. Last season he also had 11 carries for 42 yards and 16 kickoff returns for 265 yards. He tied for second on the team with 48 points scored and was second in all-purpose yards with 965. He even had a pair of solo tackles. For his career, Baker had 126 receptions for 1,829 yards and 16 TDs, while also carrying the ball 92 times for 376 yards and 11 TDs. He finished his career with the Jags with 218 offensive plays, good for 2,205 yards and 27 touchdowns.
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