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2021 NFL Draft Recap: Four Conference USA Players Selected

Conference USA saw four players selected in the 2021 NFL draft.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 11 UTEP at North Texas Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2021 NFL Draft saw four Conference USA players selected with Marshall, Louisiana Tech, North Texas and UAB each having one player selected.

Bulldogs’ defensive tackle Milton Williams was the first to go off the board as he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the third round (73rd overall). Williams’ selection makes him the sixth defensive lineman from Conference USA to be drafted among the top-100 picks since 2016. Three of those selections (Williams, Jaylon Ferguson, Vernon Butler) are former Bulldogs.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Louisiana Tech at Texas
Milton Williams (right) was the first C-USA player off the board.
Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 6-foot-3, 284-pound junior racked up 104 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 4 sacks in two seasons as a starter in Ruston. Williams’ draft stock rose in large part to his Pro Day performance in March. He hit 34 reps on the bench press, ran the 40-yard-dash in 4.6 seconds, had a 38.5-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-1 broad jump.

Williams’ selection also gives Skip Holtz’ program its 11th player drafted over the previous six drafts.

The next C-USA selection was UAB linebacker Jordan Smith, who was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fourth round as the 121st pick in the draft. In his two seasons with the Blazers, Smith excelled as rush end and outside linebacker in Bill Clark’s 3-4 scheme.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Central Arkansas at UAB
Jordan Smith becomes the first Blazer drafted since J.J. Nelson in 2015.
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

He amassed 23.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks over his time in C-USA after beginning his collegiate career at Florida. Smith becomes the first UAB player selected in the NFL draft since 2015 when receiver J.J. Nelson was taken in the fifth round by the Arizona Cardinals.

Eight selections after Smith, North Texas’ 17-year drought of not having a player selected in the draft came to an end when receiver Jaelon Darden was taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Jaelon Darden hauled in a ton of passes for Seth Littrell during his time in Denton.
Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The dynamic wideout hauled in 74 receptions for 1,190 yards and 19 touchdowns in only nine games for the Mean Green. Over his four-year career, Darden caught 230 passes and 38 touchdowns. The 5-9, 174-pounder also served as a returner during his collegiate career, totaling 609 total return yards and a punt return touchdown.

Marshall tackle Josh Ball was the fourth and final C-USA player off the board, going to the Dallas Cowboys with the 138th selection overall in round four. Ball began his career at Florida State, before arriving in Huntington in 2019.

He was a rotational player in 2019, appearing in all 13 games with one start, before earning a full-time starting role this past season for the Thundering Herd. The redshirt senior was named to C-USA’s All-Conference First Team in 2020.