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Football: Cajuns coach Napier: NFL scouts ‘flip over every rock’

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, April 26, 2020

At least two undrafted Ragin’ Cajuns have found landing spots, according to UL, as cornerback Michael Jacquet III agreed to terms with the Philadelphia Eagles shortly after the 2020 NFL Draft concluded Saturday night and receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley did the same with the Cleveland Browns.

Earlier Saturday, UL All-American offensive lineman Kevin Dotson was selected in the fourth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers despite not attending the NFL Draft Combine and All-Sun Belt Conference running back Raymond Calais went in seventh round to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Dotson was the first non-Combine player picked and Calais was drafted out of a backfield that produced two other 800-plus yard rushers last season, Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas.

Calais did go to the Combine, but Dotson, Jacquet and Bradley all missed out on their canceled Pro Day at UL due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic plaguing the country.

More: Napier feels Cajuns Jacquet, Ralston have NFL shot

More: With no Pro Day, UL receiver Bradley hopes for the best

Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft choice Raymond Calais Jr. runs the ball for UL as Pittsburgh Steelers pick Kevin Dotson (75, left) blocks on the back side during a game last season at Coastal Carolina.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft choice Raymond Calais Jr. runs the ball for UL as Pittsburgh Steelers pick Kevin Dotson (75, left) blocks on the back side during a game last season at Coastal Carolina. (Photo: Josh Bell, jbell@thesunnews.com)

Moral of the story?

Not everyone has to shine as bright as Robert Hunt – the Cajuns’ All-Sun Belt offensive lineman went Friday night in the second round, 39th overall, to the Miami Dolphins – to get their shot at the NFL.

Show that you may have what it takes to help a team at the next level, in other words, and the NFL scouts will notice.


Even if you’re playing at a Group of Five school – in a league perceived by many to not be nearly as competitive as a Power 5 conference like, say, the SEC, which produced a whopping 63 picks this year – NFL eyes are watching.

Even if it’s a conference whose teams seem to play as many games on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights as they do on Saturdays in the fall.

Even if it’s the Sun Belt, which often does get nearly as much respect as it feels it deserves.

More: Pittsburgh drafts UL’s Dotson, Tampa Bay takes Calais

More: Ragin’ Cajuns offensive lineman Hunt taken in NFL Draft

“These guys flip over every rock,” UL head coach Billy Napier said of the scouts. “It’s very analytical.

“Certainly the NFL rosters, the draft, the Pro Bowl are evidence that nowadays it doesn’t matter where you play or where you come from.”

According to an ESPN graphic posted during the draft, in fact, 65 percent of NFL rosters are comprised of players picked after the third round or who went undrafted.

Four other Sun Belt players in addition to Hunt, Dotson and Calais were drafted last week, three of the after the third round: Appalachian State running back Darrynton Evans (third round, Tennessee) and outside linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither (fourth round, Cincinnati), and Georgia Southern cornerback Kindle Vildor (fifth round, Chicago) and kicker Tyler Bass (sixth round, Buffalo).

The seven total from the SBC is five more than from the MAC.

More: NFL use in eye of the beholder for UL’s Hunt, Dotson

Related: Cajuns offensive lineman Hunt a big target in NFL Draft

Several other players from Sun Belt schools agreed to undrafted free agent deals, Arkansas State receivers Omar Bayless – the league’s 2019 Player of the Year – and Kirk Merritt among them.

Bayless reportedly agreed to sign with Carolina, with a $100,000 guarantee according to the Houston Chronicle, and Merritt with Miami.

Other include Georgia Southern defensive back Donald Rutledge (Indianapolis), Georgia State offensive tackle Hunter Atkinson (Atlanta), South Alabama Jeffery Whatley (Cleveland), Texas State center Aaron Brewer (Tennessee), Texas State linebacker Frankie Griffin (Green Bay), Troy cornerback Will Sunderland Jr. (Green Bay), Appalachian State linebacker Jordan Fehr (Minnesota) and Appalachian State safety Josh Fehr.

Now that so many have opportunity, it’s all about cashing in.

Napier has said he feels Bradley will make an NFL roster, and he’s said he thinks a team will be willing to give Jacquet – who played just two seasons at cornerback after making the move from receiver – a chance to develop.

For those drafted – like Hunt, Dotson and Calais – the odds are better.

Related: UL’s Calais on the fast track heading into 2020 NFL Draft

More: What they’re saying about top UL NFL Draft prospects

But even for someone like fourth-rounder Dotson, this is just the beginning.

He has plenty of experience playing out-of-conference against bigger-name opponents – including against Mississippi State last season, at Mississippi State and Alabama in 2018, at Texas A&M and Ole Miss in 2017 and against Boise State and at Georgia as a redshirt freshman in 2016.

Those games produced work that helped Dotson get noticed.

“He’s got lots of film,” Napier said of Dotson. “He’s been a very steady, consistent player. … He played really well in big games.”

“He’s played against the best of the best,” Dotson’s high school coach, Paul Distefano, added with reference to the trip to then-No. 1 Alabama, “and he’s moving people around.”

Pittsburgh coaches, in particular, were impressed.

“He’s a people mover,” Steelers offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett said after the pick was made, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I really like that this guy can move.

“He does all the type of stuff we’re looking for when you’re looking at that old-school run-game stuff. This guy can do it. That’s what stood out when we watched this guy.”

Related: Dad raised Cajuns NFL Draft prospect Dotson right way

The Steelers’ gain, in this case, is, however, the Cajuns’ loss.

The same can be said, as far as UL offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Rob Sale is concerned, of Hunt and the Dolphins.

“They did a good job of leaving their fingerprints on this program,” Sale, a former offensive line coach at schools including Georgia and Arizona State, said of UL’s top two 2020 picks.

“Those two guys, in all the places I’ve been – those two know how to practice. What you do in practice is what you’re gonna do on Saturday – or whatever day we play now.”

More: Reaction to Ragin’ Cajuns selected in the 2020 NFL Draft