Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin (This content was originally published in our newsletter)
The first of many? Jimmy Moreland didn’t enter the 2018-19 JMU season as the team’s best pro prospect at defensive back. Rashad Robinson was projected as a Day 2 pick before a season-ending injury in summer camp. Instead, Moreland became the No. 1 cornerback and took advantage of his opportunity to earn a selection in the NFL Draft. Expect more Dukes to get drafted in the next few years. Let’s dig a little deeper into that possibility.
JMU’s 2020 NFL Draft prospects
Dimitri Holloway, linebacker, 6’1″, 215 lbs
Holloway is an athletic, undersized linebacker. He’s productive, disruptive and speedy. He’s someone that projects well on special teams.
- Production – He posted 127 tackles and 11 tackles for loss last season after missing the 2017 campaign with an injury. He recorded 53 tackles in 2016. If he gets near 100 tackles in 2019, the two-year production of 2018 and 2019 will jump out at scouts.
- Athleticism – Holloway roams sideline-to-sideline about as well as any FCS linebacker, and he’s shown the ability to pop running backs despite being a bit undersized.
- Leadership – He’s well respected by his teammates and has been a captain for games. Expect his leadership to be on display this season.
- Size – Some teams will be turned off by his weight. Some NFL teams prefer larger linebackers, even if they aren’t quite as fast. Other teams will look for bigger linebackers with similar speed. They do exist.
- Injury – If Holloway gets banged up this season, his injury history may give some teams pause.
- Interceptions and sacks – Holloway has just two career sacks and zero interceptions. NFL teams may want to see more production in those two areas this season.
I’m speculating, and Pro Day/Combine test results will change every player’s mark, but I think Holloway signs an undrafted free agent deal. He has the potential to sneak into the draft if he has a productive season and gets closer to 225-230 lbs when training for the draft.
Ron’Dell Carter, defensive end, 6’3″, 273 lbs
A defensive leader, Carter is an absolute beast along the defensive line. He’s versatile and can play defensive end or tackle within JMU’s defense, but projects as a defensive end/EDGE guy at the NFL level.
- Production – Carter feasted on CAA competition last season, tallying 58 tackles and 7.5 sacks.
- Talent – Originally a player for Rutgers, the transfer was viewed as a Power 5 caliber talent coming out of high school. He’s shown that ability at the FCS level.
- Leadership – He’s considered by many to be the heart and soul of the JMU defense.
- Size – I worry about measurables like arm length with Carter. NFL teams love to judge defensive ends based off length and size, and Carter isn’t the same type of dominant 6’6″ lengthy freak that some teams covet.
I love Carter, but do think his measurables might hurt him in the eyes of scouts. Regardless, I think he’s an elite FCS player with the potential to dominate games and draw headlines. He’ll benefit from JMU’s stellar defensive line and new defensive coordinator Corey Hetherman, who prioritizes sacks.
I think Carter projects well as an edge rusher. He’s an angry finisher with position versatility. Carter goes in rounds 6-7 or signs an undrafted free agent deal. I’m leaning toward Carter going undrafted, but a big year could quickly send him up draft boards.
Riley Stapleton, wide receiver, 6’5″, 226 lbs
Stapleton has a big frame that allows him to crush smaller corners in jump-ball situations. He doesn’t create a ton of separation on routes and relies on his size to make plays.
- Size – He has the build of an NFL WR — or TE if he puts on 20-30 lbs. He has similar abilities to former JMU wide receiver Daniel Brown, who transitioned to tight end in the NFL. He’s shown the ability to use his size well, which makes him an enticing red-zone threat.
- Production – He hasn’t been perfect, but he has 104 catches for 1,325 yards and 12 TDs over the past two seasons. It’s not quite what you want from an FCS receiver, but he has some good production in a run-first scheme.
- Versatility – He can be a big-bodied WR or a TE at the next level.
- Blocking – He’s a solid blocker in the running game because of his size.
- Speed – He doesn’t blow by many, if any, FCS corners. He’s certainly not going to run by NFL corners.
- Consistency – Some games he looks like Randy Moss. In other games you forget he’s on the field.
- Character – Stapleton’s offseason is going to be surrounded by questions about his standing on the team. A legal issue hurts his NFL chances, and might see him face a suspension.
I don’t see Stapleton getting drafted due to the recent news of his legal troubles. I consider him a potential undrafted free agent given his size and body control.
Rashad Robinson, cornerback, 5’11”, 185 lbs
An athletic corner with good ball skills and solid tackling ability, Robinson is one of JMU’s most complete NFL prospects.
- Production – He had 51 tackles and seven interceptions in 2017. He’s one of the best corners in the FCS.
- Explosive plays – Robinson is always near the ball. Whether it’s recovering fumbles or making interceptions, he finds ways to impact the game. He’s also dynamic on interception returns.
- Injury – He missed the entire 2018 season with a foot injury. He’ll need to show he’s the same player he was before the injury.
- Size – He’s bigger than Jimmy Moreland, but Robinson is still listed at under 6′ on the depth chart. Some teams prefer adding corners that are 6′ tall and 200+ lbs.
Assuming he’s healthy, I like Robinson to fall in rounds 4-6 in the 2020 NFL Draft. He’s athletic, productive and consistent. He’s made plays since his freshman season, and he’s experienced. I think he’ll shine during the 2019-20 season. He has the potential to move into the first 2-3 rounds of the draft if he tests well.
Landan Word, linebacker, 6’5″, 224 lbs
Word is a physical linebacker with tremendous size. He’s big, physical and competitive. He’s often overlooked because he hasn’t played many snaps in a JMU uniform, but he’s one of the best linebackers at the FCS level.
- Size – At 6’5″ and 224 lbs, NFL teams will be excited about Word’s build. He has a frame that could easily add 15-20 lbs and make him a 240-pound linebacker at the next level.
- Production – In seven games last year, Word tallied 56 tackles, six tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
- Talent – Word made some good plays at Virginia, a Power 5 school, before transferring to JMU. He was a three-star recruit coming out of high school.
- Family history – Not sure how much it matters, but his father was an elite running back at Virginia. It speaks to Word’s athleticism a bit.
- Production – It’s a pro and a con for me. When he’s on the field, he’s great. He just hasn’t been on the field enough to draw much attention from scouts or media members so far in his JMU career.
- Too many mouths to feed – It’s tough to rack up big numbers because of how many talented players JMU has on its defense. Holloway, safeties and defensive linemen all eat into Word’s ability to post the mind-boggling stats he needs to attract attention.
- Speed – He’s a solid athlete and possesses great size, but he’s not nearly the speedster Holloway is. His speed testing might not blow scouts away, but look for him to do well with strength testing.
I’m really high on Word. I loved him last season, but he missed the first half of the year with injuries. He could’ve had 100 tackles on the season if not for the injury.
I wanted to make a really hot take and say that Word gets drafted in the 2020 NFL Draft, but I can’t do it. I think he’s going to excel in Hetherman’s scheme and rack up 100 tackles and 5-10 sacks. He’ll likely force a few turnovers and potentially finish the year as an All-CAA player. He’s flying way under the radar, and his size makes him an interesting EDGE/LB hybrid for a lot of teams. Keep an eye on Word.
I don’t have Word getting drafted because he’s yet to reach 100 career tackles at JMU. Why does this matter? It shouldn’t, but I just don’t think he’s on anyone’s draft board. He’s athletic and has NFL size, but the production doesn’t match those attributes. I’m worried that if former Delaware linebacker and Penn State transfer Troy Reeder didn’t get attention after monstrous college seasons, another big CAA linebacker like Word is going to be an undrafted free agent as well. (Reeder signed with the Rams.) I’m worried Word won’t get enough headlines to earn legitimate looks from teams during the draft process.
John Daka, EDGE, 6’3″, 222 lbs
Daka is extremely small for a defensive lineman, but he’s strong for his size and is a fantastic pass rusher. He’s remarkably athletic and is arguably one of the five best pass rushers in the entire FCS. He translates to the EDGE or OLB position at the next level.
- Athleticism – He’s stupid fast off the edge, and he isn’t gentle when he meets the quarterback in the backfield. He’s not getting sacks by tripping players up, he’s grabbing quarterbacks and slamming them to the turf. His sacks are no-doubt sacks.
- Production – Daka exploded onto the scene last season with 17 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. He came into the season with a lot of hype and delivered. I imagine he’ll generate similar hype this season, especially in the team’s aggressive new defensive scheme.
- Speed – His testing in the 40-yard dash is going to be fun to watch. Daka has a burst off the edge that most EDGE rushers at the FCS level just don’t have.
- Size – Word is heavier and taller than Daka, which shows just how small Daka is for an EDGE. He’s likely to play outside linebacker/EDGE at the next level, but teams might want to opt for players weighing in at closer to 250 lbs.
- Competing against the best – CAA offensive linemen aren’t the same as NFL offensive linemen. Will his speed and strength for his size translate to the next level, or will he get overpowered?
I love Daka, and NFL teams love EDGE rushers. Of his 10 sacks, 7.5 came in the final five games of the season. He’s getting better at understanding how to use his speed to make plays on the quarterback. Given the new scheme and his overall athleticism, I think Daka wows a few NFL teams. He reminds me of a slender, more athletic version of Andrew Ankrah.
I believe Daka gets drafted in rounds 5-7 because of how much NFL teams value edge rushers in today’s game. He’s not on many boards right now, but he’s an athletic freak with the ability to take games over. He’s a specialist, and I think a team takes a shot at him late in the draft because of his potential as a pass rusher.
He’s a project, as his pass rushing moves are a little raw, but he’s the kind of guy that could develop into a quality pass rusher in the NFL. I think Daka is going to make a few plays this season that really turn heads. He has a reputation of being a beast among JMU fans and local media members, and I think that hype grows and gets him known in NFL circles. If the Dukes make a deep postseason run, he’ll have a chance to flash on national TV. Daka sneaks into the late rounds with a 12+ sack season.
JMU’s 2021 NFL Draft Prospects
We’ll just do a quick blurb for these prospects, as so much can change between now and the 2021 NFL Draft.
Mike Greene, defensive tackle, 6’3″, 297 lbs
Greene possesses great size for an FCS player, and he’s expected to make a big leap forward this season. As other JMU players make a name for the university in the NFL, I think scouts take a closer look at Greene. Some teams might prefer a heavier defensive tackle, but if Greene produces at 300-ish lbs, he’ll get evaluated heavily by scouts going into his senior season.
Liam Fornadel, offensive lineman, 6’4″, 307 lbs
I like Fornadel because he’s played meaningful snaps in his first two seasons. He’s JMU’s best offensive lineman, and he’s capable of gaining a good reputation heading into his senior season. He’s a mauler in the run game, which should be on full display with Cignetti’s run-heavy philosophy.
Percy Agyei-Obese, running back, 5’11”, 193 lbs
I’m all in on Agyei-Obese. I think he’s a better all-around back than Khalid Abdullah, Marcus Marshall, Trai Sharp and Cardon Johnson. If he produces the way I think he will over the next two years, I wouldn’t be stunned to see a team make a run at him in the late rounds.
D’Angelo Amos, safety, 6’1″, 186 lbs
If Amos wasn’t a punt returner, I probably wouldn’t have him listed, but he’s an elite punt returner. He’s a good safety, and his ability in the kicking game makes him a legitimate NFL prospect.
Wayne Davis, cornerback/linebacker, 6′, 190 lbs
The Ohio State transfer is physical, scrappy and athletic. He won’t be a linebacker in the NFL, but his versatility and willingness to tackle make him a great option at slot corner or even as a corner/safety hybrid type of player. I think he’s going to test well and rise up draft boards because he’s so versatile. If Robinson gets drafted in 2020, Davis could make it three years in a row that a JMU corner gets picked.
Jawon Hamilton, running back, 5’9″, 201 lbs
He’s a good kick returner and could act as a change-of-pace back at the next level. He was good at UCF, and all signs are pointing to him being great at JMU. I believe FBS transfers gain more attention from scouts because they were evaluated highly by top FBS programs coming out of high school. In my opinion, the FCS bias is real, so being a transfer helps the cause. As a UCF transfer, I think Hamilton turns some heads over the next two seasons.