The NEC may not have a long and illustrious history when it comes to the NFL Draft, but the talent within the Division I FCS conference has grown over the years and scouts and general managers alike are taking notice.
There are no Andrew Luck or Justin Blackmon-caliber prospects coming out of the Northeast Conference this season. In fact, it’s highly unlikely that a NEC player will hear his name called during the First Round of the 2012 NFL Draft, which will unfold on Thursday night.
When the later rounds roll around, however, the NEC has the type of hidden gems that GMs drool over.
In fact, there are probably still NFL executives wondering how they went all seven rounds of the 2006 draft without taking Miles Austin. (Glance at Austin’s NFL.com Profile)
A little-known receiver from Monmouth at the time, Austin signed an Undrafted Free Agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys and the rest is history. After working his way up the Dallas depth chart from return specialist to starting wide receiver, Austin has had two 1,000-yard seasons and has grabbed 28 touchdown passes.
In 2009 though, the Miami Dolphins didn’t pass on Monmouth tight end John Nalbone. The four-time all-NEC selection, who projected as an H-back at the pro level, has yet to join Austin in the Pro Bowl, but is still hanging around the lead and will have a chance to break through with the Seattle Seahawks this summer.
Through players like Austin and Nalbone, Monmouth, which founded its football program in 1994, is becoming known for its potential to produce NFL talent and all-NEC safety Jose Gumbs is looking to further that reputation.
As he explained in a story by Asbury Park Press columnist Steve Edelson, Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan knew he had something special when Gumbs arrived on campus in 2007.
“He was different,” said Callahan. “You knew right then his skillset was different than the others out there.” Read Edelson’s whole column here.
Physical measurable, speed, and upside all factor into a player’s draftability, but if teams are drafting based upon accomplishments at the collegiate level, then Gumbs is their guy. The Queens, NY native was Monmouth leading tackler in each of the last four seasons. He won t he NEC Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2008 and added the Defensive Player of the Year honor to his resume 12 months later.
Gumbs, however, isn’t the lone NEC player drawing scouts’ attention and Monmouth is the only NEC member with a history of producing NFL talent.
UAlbany, a program that has continually grown under the steadfast leadership of the legendary Bob Ford, saw defensive back Rashad Barksdale go to the Philadelphia Eagles during the 6th Round of the 2007 Draft and may see its quarterback don a NFL jersey by the end of this weekend.
Dan Di Lella, a 6-foot-5 signal caller who has made a meteoric rise over the past eight months, is looking to become the first ever NEC quarterback to receive that coveted phone call from a NFL team on Draft weekend.
Behind sophomore Buddy Leathley on the depth chart during summer camp, Di Lella stepped under center to relieve Leathley in Week 1 and remained on the field for what was a remarkable senior season. Di Lella, who has the size and arm strength NFL scouts look for, threw for an all-time program high 2,548 yards in leading the Great Danes to the 2011 Northeast Conference crown. The former Somerville (NJ) High School quarterback completed 25 touchdown passes compared to 10 interceptions this past fall.
Albany Times-Union reporter Mark Singelais sat down with Di Lella for a story that ran in Thursday’s morning’s paper. Read “From Backup QB to pro prospect.”
There are other NEC names, such as Duquesne’s Connor Dixon or Robert Morris’ Shadrae King, that may make their way onto NFL draft boards over the next few days.
Now, it’s time to wait and see if any of these hidden gems are given the chance to sparkle.
Here’s Jose Gumbs during work during Monmouth’s Pro Day…
Jose Gumbs’ Highlight Reel…
Watch Connor Dixon go for 175 yards and two scores vs. Saint Francis (PA)…
Exclusive NEC-TV Interview with Dallas Cowboy Miles Austin…
– Apr. 26, 2012 –