Before we delve in to the recent Pro Day performances of the Massachusetts Minutemen seniors, let me first introduce myself and the team I cover.
My name is Mike Traini, and for the last year I've been covering UMass for the Hustle Belt. With their recent move to become an NCAA independent, the team and I are now officially underdogs. Despite the change of scenery to a different blog, I look forward to bringing the same Minutemen coverage I had while at the Hustle Belt to all the readers of Underdog Dynasty.
For their first time as an independent, the Minutemen hosted their Pro Day on Thursday, March 24th. Several members of UMass' large 2015 senior class participated, as well as two members of their 2014 class - LB Stanley Andre and TE Jean Sifrin.
Also present were few players from smaller schools such as the University of New Hampshire and Springfield College, something the team did not allow under former coaching staff.
With the return of head coach Mark Whipple, UMass has welcomed seniors from other, smaller New England schools back to Pro Day, and it has been beneficial to football in the area.
The main attraction for this year was Tajae Sharpe, UMass' record-setting wideout who has had NFL scouts' interest since before last season even began.
Viewed as a mid-round prospect, teams have been drawn to Sharpe because of his catching skill and route running ability. But despite having pretty average size at 6’2’’ and 194 pounds and results that don't lie, multiple NFL scouts have raised questions about one pair of assets he owns: his hands.
Sharpe competed in both the East/West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl this season, as well as the NFL Combine. His hands have measured everywhere between 7.75" and 8.375" inches. Dan Malone of MassLive.com covered the scoop on Sharpe's hands well, and also mentioned that Sharpe and other draft hopefuls without giant hands actually took to having their hands massaged and stretched in order to make them larger.
Sharpe himself has had to talk a lot about it, and has brushed it off from the start, instead focusing on his numbers that matter, like catches, yards, and drops (or more accurately lack thereof).
Other than Sharpe, QB Blake Frohnapfel is probably the player most likely to be drafted, if at all. Frohnapfel has the size NFL scouts love at 6'5 1/2" and 230 lbs and is a very intelligent kid. That intellect allowed him to graduate from Marshall University in three years and gave him a chance to transfer to UMass as a grad student.
While he does have good physical measurables (see below), there are some issues with his game, notably his mechanics.
Having watched Frohnapfel every week for two years, I can tell you it takes him a long time to get the ball out. He also threw a lot of interceptions at some inopportune times, especially last season. He is definitely a developmental project at the next level but that doesn't mean teams won't be willing to work with him. According to a report on MLive.com on Thursday, the Detroit Lions met with Frohnapfel prior to the start of Pro Day:
Whether or not Frohnapfel gets any more attention from Detroit, I do think that some team will bring him into minicamp at the very least.
UMass has a handful of other guys that could potentially be looking at free-agent deals after the draft is over, including LB Jovan Santos-Knox, CB Randall Jette, RB Jamal Wilson, DB Joey Colton and WR Marken Michel.
Good performances on Pro Day could propel these more unheralded Minutemen into getting a tryout with an NFL team, and there is past precedent for that.
Back in 2010, UMass' Pro Day was well-attended for OG Vlad Ducasse, who would end up being a 2nd round pick of the New York Jets. But one player who went under the radar ended up attracting several scouts en route to a free agent contract with the Giants.
If the path of success for WR Victor Cruz is any indication, these overlooked players should see this as a chance to get a contract.
Make sure to check out the videos from pro day via UMass Athletics, and keep your eyes out for the Minutemen who could see themselves earn a spot in the league.