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Tulsa Draft Prospects Aim to Overcome “Small” Status to Achieve Big Dreams

Every year talented players get overlooked because they play for “smaller schools” or in “weaker conferences”. This year will be no different as four members of the Golden Hurricane offense will look to get their chance in the NFL.

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

In 2015, Keyarris Garrett led the entire NCAA in receiving with a solid 96 catches for 1,588 yards and eight touchdowns. Garrett had the speed and length with the ability to stretch out over defenders and come down with the catch. Many experts expected him to be drafted somewhere around the 3rd or 4th round. Although he did end up with the Carolina Panthers, Keyarris Garrett was not a part of the 31 receivers drafted in 2016. Many speculated he was passed on because of his injury history or that he was merely the product of the spread offense but a lot of his talent and achievements are almost overlooked because he played for Tulsa in the AAC, a “weaker” conference.

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Oklahoma Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

2017 brings four more offensive players from Tulsa looking to overcome their circumstances and make the jump from college to professional play: Dane Evans (QB), James Flanders (RB), Josh Atkinson (WR), and Keevan Lucas (WR). Lucas was the leading receiver for Tulsa and his speed and playmaking ability have already caught the attention of NFL scouts which led to his invitation to this year’s combine in Indianapolis, becoming the only Tulsa player to attend this year. Lucas also had some injury issues like Garrett and, although he is shorter, Keevan showed incredible speed and hands during his career in Tulsa. Since Keevan Lucas will have a shot to impress the scouts at the combine, I’m going to focus more on the other three players who will have to rely on highlights and an impressive pro day to get the attention of NFL teams.

Josh Atkinson was the #2 receiver in Tulsa’s high-powered offense in 2016. Atkinson had a pretty good junior season, racking up 76 catches for 1,071 yards and five touchdowns, credited largely to the season-ending knee injury Keevan Lucas sustained early in the season. Atkinson’s senior season was almost identical to his junior year, catching 78 passes for 1,058 yards and eight touchdowns even with a healthy Lucas catching 81 passes for 1,180 yards and 15 touchdowns opposite of him. Atkinson is currently ranked as the 117th best receiver coming out of college this year and is nowhere near expected to be drafted. Although Atkinson may be lowly ranked due to his “small school” status as many people overlook the fact that he was one of two receivers to have over 1,000 yards receiving in an offense that was not a pass-heavy type of offense. Tulsa was somewhat balanced on offense but relied heavily on their dynamic duo in the run game in D’Angelo Brewer and James Flanders (who just so happened to finish the season with 1,000 yards rushing, a piece).

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Tulsa Joey Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

James Flanders was the #1 rusher in a two man running back committee for Tulsa in 2016. Flanders is one of those players that had tremendous talent but not enough time to showcase that talent. After a promising sophomore season with Tulsa, Flanders missed most of his junior year due to injury and ended the season with 21 carries for 87 yards and no touchdowns in the three games he was able to play. Much like his teammates Keevan Lucas and Keyarris Garrett, the injury only fueled Flanders’ fire and he was determined to come back stronger and better than ever. Spoiler alert: he did. Flanders finished his senior year with 258 carries for 1,629 yards and 18 touchdowns, ranked 7th in the nation in rushing yards and touchdowns. As impressive as his numbers already are, it’s even more impressive to factor in the fact that he split his carries with D’Angelo Brewer who rushed for 1,425 yards and seven touchdowns on 264 carries. It seems like the NFL fluctuates every decade or so from being a dominant passing league to a dominant rushing league and, after this past season, it feels like Flanders may be entering the draft at the right time as the league seems poised to hit that dominant rushing era again.

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Houston Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Dane Evans has been consistently good in his time at Tulsa throwing for at least 3,000 yards in all three seasons as the starting quarterback for the Golden Hurricane. Evans’ junior season was without a doubt his best completing 305 out of 485 passes for 4,332 yards and 25 touchdowns with eight interceptions. Evans completed 259 out of 435 passes for 3,348 and 32 touchdowns with 12 interceptions in his senior season. Dane wasn’t known for his running ability but he was able to get some decent runs in a few games, including an 18 yard run for the game-winning touchdown in overtime against Fresno State and a 14 yard run for the game-winning touchdown against SMU. Evans gets knocked for being a west-coast type of quarterback and his success relied heavily on deep play-action passes but he has shown the ability to lead a team, even when they’re behind in a game, and do whatever it takes to get the victory. With the success that Kyle Shanahan had in Atlanta this season, the rest of the NFL (the copycat league) will more than likely look to emulate his offensive style which could lead to Dane Evans landing as a third string, or even a backup, for an offense trying to run the spread.

As much as I would love to be optimistic and say that each of these guys sneaks into the draft in a late round, I think, realistically, Keevan Lucas has the best chance and will still probably end up undrafted. While we may not hear their names called in April, I still believe that each of them will get the chance to represent Tulsa in the pros as undrafted free agents.