Will IU run its draft streak to eight years?

There are two criteria recruits often use to judge college football programs.

How often do you win on Saturdays? And do you get athletes a chance to play on Sundays?

Indiana has upped its game on the Saturday part, following up a historic eight-win season with an even more remarkable six-win campaign in a pandemic-shortened slate. But this week’s NFL Draft will give IU’s program another test on the Sunday front, demonstrating whether professional teams want the Hoosiers’ talent. Most top recruits want a chance to play in the league.

It’s almost certain IU will have at least one player drafted, extending its streak to eight years in a row — the longest run of drafted players since the selection process reduced to seven rounds in 1994. IU safety Jamar Johnson is widely expected to be taken in the early to middle rounds.

But when and if Johnson is selected, and the streak extends to eight years, the question moves to another number: How many will be drafted?

On 10 occasions since 1994, IU has had multiple players drafted in the same year. But the last two years, it’s been single draftees for the Hoosiers, Wes Martin in 2019 (Redskins, 4th round) and Simon Stepaniak in 2020 (Packers, 6th round), both offensive linemen.

There are a handful of players who could pair with Johnson this time around. Senior receiver Whop Philyor and junior running back Stevie Scott were fellow NFL Combine invitees, despite a lack of a physical event in Indianapolis this year. Defensive tackle Jerome Johnson and center Harry Crider are two experienced front-line players who could help a team in the trenches.

Here are IU’s draft-eligible prospects and what they bring to the equation, as the Hoosier football program tries to push players to the next level.

Jamar Johnson, Safety

The 6-foot, 205-pound defensive back’s early entry into the NFL Draft was only surprising because the 2020 season was his first as a full-time starter.

But given his makeup, it’s not hard to understand why the NFL would return a second- or third-round grade when Johnson entered his name for consideration.

Playing his freshman and sophomore seasons as a hybrid “husky” in IU’s 4-2-5 scheme, Johnson flashed an ability to play the run, blitz the quarterback, and split out into the slot and cover. He moved back to free safety as a junior, tying for the team lead with four interceptions, proving his range on the backend.

He probably didn’t log his fastest 40-yard dash time at IU’s pro day, coming in at 4.58 seconds. But with a 35-inch vertical and a 4.41-second short shuttle — both good numbers — his athletic profile should translate to the NFL.

NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein called Johnson an “ascending” defensive back who offers the positional versatility needed in today’s game.

“His combination of vision, field awareness and instincts usually have him in the right place at the right time,” Zierlein wrote. “Johnson is willing as a tackler, but needs to clean up his technique and approach to bolster his run support for the next level. His high football IQ should aid his transition to pro football as a future starter with a strong upside.”

Pro Football Network called Johnson an “underrated” prospect and lists the Las Vegas Raiders, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, and Minnesota Vikings as possible suitors, though Johnson’s ability to play nickel corner does widen his range of landing spots.

Whop Philyor, Wide receiver

Philyor, like all seniors, had an opportunity to return to IU in 2021 due to the COVID-altered 2020 season, but he chose to go ahead and make the jump.

No one could blame him. The 5-10, 184-pound slot receiver finished ninth all-time in receiving yards at IU with 2,067. He was essentially a safety blanket for Michael Penix Jr. and Peyton Ramsey over the last two seasons, nabbing quick passes and making plays in space.

The only issue for Philyor is the NFL is loaded with players who can move in space. So the question is whether Philyor did enough at IU and during his pro day to distinguish himself.

According to draft pundits, Philyor is right on the borderline. Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline has Philyor ranked as the No. 266 prospect in the draft. Pro Football Focus has Philyor ranked at No. 258. Last year’s selection process had 255 picks.

So it’s hard to make a guarantee either way, and his 4.57 40-yard dash time at IU’s pro day didn’t paint a picture of a receiver who can blow the top off of defenses. But Philyor only needs one team to fall in love with his short-area quickness and his toughness after the catch.

Zierlein wrote for NFL.com, “I’m sure teams would like for him to carry a little more weight on his frame, but he’s certainly not lacking in toughness. Philyor is more than willing to work into the teeth of the defense underneath, but also has the acceleration to blow past unsuspecting off-man coverage and stretch the field from the slot.”

Pro Football Network listed Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Buffalo, and Green Bay as possible fits for Philyor.

Whether he gets drafted or not, it’s only the beginning of the road for Philyor. Late-round draft picks aren’t guaranteed a roster spot. Then again, he need only look to last April to see that an undrafted receiver can carve out a niche. IU’s Nick Westbrook didn’t get selected in last year’s draft, but he excelled on special teams and earned a spot on the Titans’ active roster during the 2020 season.

Stevie Scott III, Running back

Like Jamar Johnson, Scott decided to enter the draft after his junior season, which is not totally surprising. Tread on the tires is always a consideration for running backs seeking to play at the next level.

In three seasons at IU, the 6-2, 231-pound rusher carried the ball 562 times, which ranks seventh all-time in school history. Given the game of football has shifted away from the run, that’s a lot of wear over three years.

Scott had success, finishing fourth all-time at IU with 30 rushing touchdowns. The trouble is Scott’s projection to the NFL isn’t easy, because he has limitations. He’s a well-built back, plus an above-average pass protector, but he didn’t display a ton of wiggle at IU, or a second gear, which would make him a surefire draft pick.

He tends to need runway to get going upfield, and it takes him time to get there. At IU’s pro day, Scott ran a 4.66-second 40-yard dash at 225 pounds.

With that said, Pro Football Network has Scott as the No. 312 prospect on the board. NFL.com also considers him a priority free agent with a chance to make a roster.

“He possesses an impressive combination of vision, power and feel for blocking development as a short-yardage runner who’s able to finish drives for touchdowns,” Zierlein wrote. “He needs a clear point of entry as an early down runner so he can get it moving downhill quickly. His short-yardage talent is appealing, but maybe not appealing enough to keep him on a roster.”

If a team needs a short-yardage back who won’t leave a quarterback hanging in pass protection, Scott could be an option. But as football becomes more and more pass-first, backs like Scott aren’t typically high on draft boards.

The rest

While it’s unlikely anyone beyond Johnson, Philyor, or Scott gets their name called, another Hoosier could be on a team’s draft radar.

Jerome Johnson, IU’s fifth-year defensive tackle, is coming off a first-team All-Big Ten season. Pro Football Network says the 6-3, 304-pounder has a “terrific first step” but “comes with average measurables and does not play with leverage.” He’s down the board, according to draft experts, but it’s not out of the question a team likes his athletic ability and upside in the trenches.

Harry Crider, the Hoosiers’ center, probably wasn’t on the draft radar coming into the year, but he did blast out 31 reps of 225 pounds during IU’s pro day. He also has the versatility of playing both guard and center, which could make him attractive to a team in need of interior line help.

The star of the bench press for IU, though, was defensive tackle Jovan Swann. The former Stanford grad transfer lifted the bar 34 times at the Hoosiers’ pro day. That would have been more than any defensive lineman at the combine in 2020. Could that number pop on a team’s scouting report? It’s still a long shot, but who knows.

The least likely to hear his name called is punter Haydon Whitehead. It’s exceedingly rare that NFL teams use draft capital on specialists, and there are only 32 of those jobs available in the league. There are no backup punters.

If Whitehead is drafted, however, there will be pandemonium back in Melbourne, Australia, because the 25-year-old Whitehead only started playing American football after he fell just short of going pro as a rugby player back home. Would make a cool story, but not likely.

8 comments

  1. “There are two criteria recruits often use to judge college football programs. How often do you win on Saturdays? And do you get athletes a chance to play on Sundays?”

    That’s obviously true, but I’d say that the next key criteria is the atmosphere on game day. And that’s why the Hoosier Nation needs to fill Memorial Stadium with enthusiastic fans for every home FB game. Once the COVID restrictions are lifted, the Hoosier Nation will be out of excuses. TA has built a winning FB program. The talent on the field is exciting and better than it’s ever been. Ticket prices are the lowest in the Big Ten. And Bloomington is a great place to be in the fall. The Hoosier Nation will get the FB program it deserves.

  2. Wins
    Idaho
    Western KY
    Michigan State
    Maryland
    Rutgers
    Minnesota
    Purdue

    Bonus Wins (how many of these games does IU win)
    Iowa
    Cincinnati
    Ohio State
    Penn State
    Michigan

  3. IU should have multiple players drafted this year. Next season could have several drafted depending on who comes out – it isn’t out of the question IU could have 4 or more drafted following 2021.

  4. I think it says something for IU FB that Northwestern had two players selected in the first round of the Draft and that IU beat the stuffing out of them in the 2019 season.

    And if you wonder about the gap between Alabama and the best FB team in the Big Ten, just compare the number of Alabama players drafted in the first round to the number of OSU players taken in round 1. By the time this year’s draft is over, Alabama could have 12 players drafted. That makes recruiting pretty easy. Then you compare Alabama’s FB budget to any other school in the country, perhaps with the exception of Clemson, and it’s no wonder they’re the best FB program in the nation. Alabama FB is like a Fortune 500 Corporation.

    1. As things continue to break positively for Coach Allen’s vision for IUFB they’ll be stepping over each other to step up. I don’t think that trend is to far away.

    2. V13, rich alums are part of the solution, but most of it is selling out 100,000+ seat stadiums for every home game at ticket prices that are much higher than IU’s! It’s also the tens of millions of dollars fans spend each year on concessions, parking, and school-logo paraphernalia such as hats, t-shirts, sweaters, etc. I went to a University of TN – Alabama game in Knoxville five or six years ago. Hours before kickoff, just after we had breakfast, we went to a retail store in Knoxville that sold nothing but Tennessee paraphernalia. It was packed to the gills with Vols fans were spending hundreds of dollars each on everything you could imagine. Quite a contrast to what you’d experience in Bloomington on a FB Saturday!

      And let’s not forget the millions of dollars that SEC schools get each year from so many SEC school’s participating in big bowl games and the National Championship playoffs.

      I read somewhere a few years back that Alabama had something like 32 FB “analysts” on it payroll. Those weren’t assistant coaches, those were analysts! How many analysis’s does IU FB employ? The article stated that their High School FB-player tracking database is something that would make the CIA envious.

      TA has the program pointed in the right direction, but we have a long way to go.

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