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Football: Napier feels Cajuns Jacquet, Ralston have NFL shot

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, April 26, 2020

For those Ragin’ Cajuns not among UL’s highest-rated NFL Draft prospects — as offensive linemen Robert Hunt and Kevin Dotson along with running back/kicker returner Raymond Calais Jr. are — hope reigns eternal.

And as UL coach Billy Napier sees it, several Cajuns — cornerback Michael Jacquet III, receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley and tight end Nick Ralston among them — are among those who should all get a shot as the ongoing three-day draft that opened Thursday night unfolds and undrafted free agent signings happen shortly afterward.

Jacquet and Bradley both are former high school quarterbacks — from Texas and Mississippi, respectively — while Ralston was a high school running back in Texas before playing first at Arizona State then at UL as a graduate transfer last season.

The 6-foot-2, 201-pound Jacquet began at UL as a receiver, then moved to corner after Napier and his coaching staff replaced that of seven-season Cajuns head coach Mark Hudspeth after the end of the 2017 season.

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

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

Jacquet had four different position coaches during his Cajun career — current Baylor receivers coach Jorge Munoz at receiver in 2015 and ’17, current UL tight ends coach Michael Desormeaux at receiver in 2016, current Houston cornerbacks coach at corner in 2018 and current UL cornerbacks coach LaMar Morgan last season.

“I think Jacquet, he’s one of the guys that probably is really intriguing to those teams because he made the position change two years ago,” Napier said.

“(He has) the height, the length, the verified speed. And then certainly (he was) much more polished and much more productive this year (in the 2019 season).

“So,” Napier added, “he’s a guy that maybe has room to improve and ultimately they may see a guy that’s worth investing in — betting (on) the product they’ll have in the end.”

It’s tremendous upside, in coaching parlance.

Related: Cajuns’ Michael Jacquet III growing into roles as defensive back, team leader

“He’s one of those guys that can creep up there and a team may take him,” Napier said of the Beaumont Central High product who, after picking off four passes over the past two seasons combined, played in last January’s NFLPA Collegiate Bowl at the Rose Bowl in California.

“All it takes is one, right? It just takes one team that maybe sees something that they really believe can translate to the next level.

“He has those things. He has the measurables,” Napier added. “All these predictors of future performance, he’s got it. What he doesn’t have is significant development and experience.”

But, at least this instance, inexperience may prove to be a positive.

“He’s one of those guys that’s gonna be in a training camp and he’s gonna have every opportunity to prove himself once he arrives,” Napier said.

Ditto for Bradley, Napier figures.

“I think Ja’Marcus is one of those guys who has steadily improved over the last two years we’ve been around him,” he said of the longtime Cajuns receiver from Choktaw County High.

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

More: Receivers Ja’Marcus Bradley, Bam Jackson ready to take Cajuns to next level

Bradley — who played at the 2020 East-West Shrine Bowl in St. Petersburg, Florida — finished his UL career with 160 catches for 2,359 yards and 23 touchdowns, including a career-high 60 receptions for a career-best 906 yards and 10 TDs as a senior in 2019.

“He’s got all the things you look for in terms of ‘can make a contested catch, can separate,’” Napier said. “I think he has special teams value. He’s tough, he’s durable.”

Then there’s Ralston, who played at Arizona State in 2017 when the offensive coordinator there was none other than Napier.

He stepped right into a big role with the Cajuns right away.

Related: Quiet and shy was all a front for Cajuns tight end Nick Ralston

“Nick Ralston would be a guy that … has lots of film being very productive,” Napier said, “and it’s a unique player relative to there’s not a lot of players out there that do what he does.

“I think he’s a guy that potentially has an opportunity there (in the NFL) as a fullback or a special teams-type player.”

A full-time starter in his lone season at UL, which went 11-3 with a LendingTree Bowl win over Miami (Ohio) in 2019, he had four touchdowns grabs among his 15 catches as a Cajun.

But after rushing for nearly 6,000 yards and 94 TDs in three seasons at Argyle High near Fort Worth, it’s Ralston’s strength and blocking ability that should buy him a shot at the next level.

After his Cajun career ended, he famously posted a video Twitter showing him working out by pulling an 18-wheeler.  

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s done that in the past, knowing him,” Napier said of the full rig semi-trailer training.

“Nick’s what you want on your team. He’s got a certain level of toughness, a certain level of discipline.”

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

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

A certain level of leadership ability too.

“He was a guy who made an impact on our team just from a presence standpoint — his maturity, his attitude, his worth ethic,” Napier said. “He’s a very durable and consistent practice player.

“He really did a great job building relationships with the players from the minute he got here.”