Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
Being selected in the NFL Draft isn’t a common occurrence for JMU football players, but that trend can certainly change in coming years with the Dukes moving to the FBS. Even after completing its final FCS season, JMU boasts a few players who stand a chance of being drafted at this month’s NFL Draft.
In 2019 and 2020, the Dukes had players (Jimmy Moreland and Ben DiNucci) taken in the seventh round of their respective draft years. Entering this year’s draft, which lasts from April 28-30, the few Dukes with NFL aspirations will likely be late-round selections or undrafted free agents.
Following in DiNucci’s footsteps is Cole Johnson, who used a stellar fall season to go from a longtime backup to one of the best players at the FCS level. Given his height and recent performance, he’s drawn interest from NFL scouts.
Cole Johnson, QB
Johnson seems like JMU’s best bet to have a player picked in the 2022 NFL Draft, thanks in part to a solid showing at JMU’s Pro Day. An FCS scout tweeted after JMU’s Pro Day that the Colts and Chargers could be interested in his services.
I’m not sure the fit makes a ton of sense on either team, but it appears there’s at least NFL interest surrounding Johnson. If a pair of teams like him, there’s a good chance a few others may as well. The Cowboys determined that DiNucci was worthy of a seventh-round pick, and there’s no reason to believe a team couldn’t take a flier on Johnson.
After throwing for 3,779 yards, 41 touchdowns, and only four interceptions last season, it’s clear Johnson can make a variety of throws and lead an offense. The jump between the FCS and the NFL is massive, but the expectation isn’t really that Johnson become a starter. The hope with a late-round pick is that they can either eventually push for playing time or provide consistent services as a backup.
Given Johnson’s lengthy collegiate career and offensive knowledge — he played under multiple coaches and coordinators — he seems like a good guy to have around as a reserve.
Draft projection: Undrafted free agent. He’s in the mix to be a late-round pick, but seeing Johnson’s name flash across the screen during the draft would be a pleasant surprise for fans rather than an expected outcome.
Mike Greene, DL
Greene dominated at the FCS level, which is a must for a defensive lineman hoping to move to the NFL. He finished his career with 39 tackles for loss and 18 sacks, and he disrupted FCS offenses from both the defensive tackle and defensive end positions during his collegiate career.
Strength and production are two positives in Greene’s favor as he looks to land on an NFL roster. Greene posted 27 reps on the bench press at JMU’s Pro Day, which would’ve been among the best bench press performances at the NFL Combine, which features many of the best prospects in the draft.
Bench press isn’t everything, though, and there are likely valid questions about whether Greene’s production at the FCS level could translate in some capacity to the NFL. Teams often want massive — think 300 lbs or heavier — nose tackles or freakishly athletic and speedy defensive linemen who can stop the run and rush the passer. Greene checks in at closer to 280 lbs, making his agility and speed results at JMU’s Pro Day important. Dane Brugler’s draft guide says Greene’s 40 time checks in at over five seconds.
Draft projection: Undrafted free agent. I’m guessing Greene will have a line of suitors when teams start signing undrafted free agents.
Liam Fornadel, OL
Fornadel was mentioned as an NFL prospect early in his JMU career, given his blend of size and production. Late in his career, injuries often sidelined Fornadel and likely crushed his chances of being drafted.
I’d still expect a team to sign him as an undrafted free agent, though, given the potential. JMU has a history of offensive linemen finding success in the NFL, and if Fornadel can stay healthy, he’ll have chances to make practice squads and rosters in the coming years. His strength numbers at JMU’s Pro Day were impressive, as he recorded 24 reps on the bench press.
He played 50 games during his JMU career, competing at guard and tackle. He’s a versatile lineman who dominated FCS foes for much of his career. There could be a competitive market for his services if he goes undrafted.
Draft projection: Undrafted free agent
Ethan Ratke, K
Why are we including a section on a kicker who never made a field goal of 50 yards or longer in an NFL Draft story? Ethan Ratke made 86.3% of his field-goal attempts while at JMU, that’s why.
Ratke getting drafted would be a shock, but his accuracy makes him a prime candidate to earn a tryout with a team. Distance is the question Ratke needs to answer. Can he hit from 50+ consistently? Could he handle kickoffs reliably?
I’ve seen some JMU fans float the idea that an NFL team could use him as a short field-goal kicker, while also rostering someone who handles kickoffs and long field goals. While that strategy might make sense in college, it’s a waste of a roster spot in the NFL. Ratke needs to deliver on kickoffs and long field goals if he wants to make an NFL roster.
Draft projection: Undrafted free agent