The Charlotte 49ers produced multiple NFL draft picks for the first time in program history as two seniors turned their dreams to reality.
The 7-year-old program’s NFL presence more than doubled as Alex Highsmith and Cameron Clark were selected in the third and fourth rounds respectively, and while Benny LeMay didn’t hear his name called, he did sign with the Cleveland Browns as a UDFA.
Alex Highsmith went from being a walk-on at one of the youngest programs in the country to staking his claim in the NFL with one of the most storied franchises in history, the Pittsburgh Steelers. With two solidified edge rushers in TJ Watt and Bud Dupree to learn from, you can expect to see Alex in a special teams role or as a key reserve to start his NFL career.
“We don’t think this kid’s anywhere near his potential,” Steelers GM Kevin Colbert said about their third-round pick. “He’s not going to get a redshirt year.”
According to ESPN reporter, Brooke Pryor, Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin echoed Colbert’s comments, calling Highsmith a “technician”, and saying that he fully expects his development to continue at the NFL level. “We were really impressed by his resume, obviously the development of his skills over the course of his time at Charlotte.”
Highsmith joins former 49ers Nate Davis and Larry Ogunjobi as third-round picks as AP All-American’s name was called with the 102nd overall pick. Highsmith shattered the 49ers record book with 20 sacks over his four-year career, with 14 of those coming in the 2019 season under Will Healy. Switching to the 4-2-5 scheme put Alex’s pass-rushing skill set on display and drove him up draft boards throughout the season.
Adapting to the speed of the NFL, a new scheme, and a new position are a trio of tasks at hand for Highsmith. “I knew coming into this scheme, they run a 3-4, so I knew the position I was going to be (stand-up linebacker), so that’s a position that I feel like I can play because I played it freshman year in college,” Highsmith said. “I played hand-in-the-dirt defensive end the last three years, but I’m ready to step into that role.”
The 129th pick made history for the 49ers’ young program as Cameron Clark joined the New York Jets, marking the first time in program history that Charlotte produced multiple NFL talents.
Mel Kiper was extremely high on Clark and his ability to fight for a starting spot at various positions on the offensive line. Clark started a program-high 49 games during his career in the Queen City and has his work cut out for him protecting Sam Darnold and paving the way for Le’Veon Bell.
Clark is the sixth addition to the Jets offensive line this offseason as he joins their first-round pick, Mekhi Becton, in the trenches. Position change, like Highsmith, is a real possibility for Cameron as his game translates to the next level.
“I feel like I can play all five positions on the offensive line,” Cameron said. “But I feel like I’m a tackle in the NFL.”
Jets GM Joe Douglas, head coach Adam Gase, and offensive line coach Frank Pollack combined on a group zoom to make the pick, and Douglas had some good things to say about Clark.
“We want to welcome you to the Jets family,” Douglas said. “We think your toughness, your attitude, and your mentality are going to be a real asset here.”
Clark was team MVP of the Charlotte 49ers in 2017, and a team captain in both 2018 and 2019, so it is safe to say the Jets drafted a first-class player.
Benny LeMay became the only 49er to sign as an undrafted free agent, and the Cleveland Browns landed themselves a steal as the workhorse back fell past Mr. Irrelevant and right into the hands of “Believeland”.
LeMay departs from the Queen City as the second-highest rusher in program history with 3,232 yards, behind only Kalif Phillips. Benny secured the East-West Shrine Game MVP following an 80-yard, two-touchdown performance back in January. He will join a deep running back room headlined by the monstrous duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
I asked both Cam and Alex about what their ratings would be if an NCAA Football game was released, and with both players boasting 99 overalls, they will finally get to play as themselves upon the release of Madden 21.
The Charlotte 49ers have produced a third-round talent in three of the past four NFL drafts. There is a lot to be excited about after putting three new faces in the NFL and having the highest-rated recruiting class in program history on the way.