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Tracking NFL Draft while ditching chores

by Rick Fires | May 2, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

The rain cleared out and the sun shined Saturday, which presented a perfect opportunity for me to mow the yard, clean out the shop, and haul our recyclables to the recycling center.

All good reasons why I decide to stay inside and watch Rounds 4-7 of the NFL draft.

MARVELOUS MEL

Draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr., long ago became a caricature unto himself, a type of tax man who appears once a year to annoy the masses with his know-it-all attitude.

Yet, there’s no one I’d rather have on set on the final day of the NFL draft than Kiper, Jr. While others scramble around for information, Kiper, Jr. spits out facts on obscure players like a rapper spits out rhymes.

Kiper, Jr., who’s been a draft analyst since 1984, deserves credit for helping turn something mundane into a three-day event for hardcore pro football fans.

UCA BEAR GOES FIRST

Former Razorbacks are almost always first to go in the NFL draft from Arkansas, but the honor in 2021 goes to Central Arkansas cornerback Robert Rochell.

Rochell became the first player from a college in Arkansas to go in the draft when he was selected in the fourth round (pick 130) by the Los Angeles Rams. Rochell became the highest player even selected for the draft in school history, topping Larry Hart, who was selected in the fifth round (pick No. 143) in 2010.

Rochell was raised in poverty in Shreveport, La., after his father was killed in a drive-by shooting when he was a boy. The Division I schools passed on Rochell until UCA gave him a chance to up and play cornerback for the Bears.

His rise from obscurity to being an NFL draft pick is one of the reasons I enjoy watching the final rounds.

HOG CALLED

Jonathan Marshall became the first former Arkansas player off the board in the 2021 draft when he was selected by the New York Jets in the sixth round with the 207th overall pick.

Marshall’s selection is a reminder that pro scouts like athletes who play multiple sports in high school. Marshall, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and over 300 pounds, played basketball for four years in Shepherd, Texas, where he scored over 1,100 points and grabbed 800 rebounds. Other players selected in the sixth round include stars such as Terrell Davis, Antonio Brown, and a Brady named Tom.

Good company, for sure.

SWEATIN’ IT OUT

Former Fort Smith Northside cornerback Trey Norwood finally heard his name called by the Pittsburgh Steelers with 245th pick in the seventh round.

Norwood returned from an injury in 2019 to lead Oklahoma with five interceptions, including his pick-six against Florida quarterback Kyle Trask in the Cotton Bowl. Nor-wood’s former teammate, Kiondre Thomas, had a productive season at Kansas State, where he played as a graduate transfer from Minnesota, where he began his college career. But Thomas did not hear his named called Saturday.

Players who aren’t drafted should always be aware of Rod Smith, a former quarterback from Texarkana who went to Missouri State. Denver took a chance on Smith, who became a star and was eventually inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

A reminder, for sure, that coaches and general managers are often far, far down the rung from genius level.

MASSIVE CYCLONE

Dylan Soehner was signed late Saturday as a free agent by the New Orleans Saints.

But Dylan Soehner may be one of those rare athletes who does better in professional football than he did in college. Soehner was part of a three-man rotation at tight end for Iowa State, where he caught 18 passes for 205 yards as a senior for the Cyclones. But the former Prairie Grove standout is a fierce blocker who can blow defenders off the line of scrimmage with his powerful 6-foot-7, 270-pound frame.

Soehner can also play on special teams, which is quite useful to NFL coaches limited by 53-man rosters. Soehner could likely slide over and learn to play tackle, the position where most college coaches recruited him.

UNDER THE RADAR

“Under the radar” is what many draft analyst used to describe Arkansas State receiver Jonathan Adams, Jr., who’ll also likely have to go the free agent rout.

Adams does not possess top speed that NFL coaches covet in a receiver, but he still caught 79 passes for 1,111 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior for the Red Wolves. He’s former basketball player who uses his 6-foot-3 frame to shield off defender.

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