As NFL teams pore over 2012 Tennessee Volunteers film to evaluate quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Paterson, you can be sure they are also taking a close look at the 2011 film. They likely want to see what Justin Hunter looked like prior to his knee injury and also want to evaluate Da’Rick Rogers against SEC competition as opposed to his play at Tennessee Tech this season. While Cordarrelle Patterson will be a top 20 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and Justin Hunter will either be a late first or second rounder, Rogers needs to prove to NFL teams that he is worthy of risking a second day pick on.
Even though his big production at Tennessee was limited to primarily the 2011 season, what he showed that year had NFL scouts believing he would be a first round pick after a big final season in 2012. However, things did not work out exactly as Da’Rick had planned when he was dismissed from the Tennessee football team a week before the start of the 2012 season due to repeated violations of team rules (Which Rogers confirmed were failed drug tests). Rogers found his way to Tennessee Tech where he played in every game and caught 61 passes for nearly 900 yards and then decided to leave school early to enter the Draft. For Rogers to be drafted close to where his on field play would warrant he needs to convince teams that the off-field issues that plagued him at Tennessee are a thing of the past.
On the field there has never been any question about Rogers' ability to make big plays and help his team win games. At 6’3 and 215 pounds, Rogers has the size that NFL teams love and consistently showed on film that he plays to that size. He is fearless catching passes as he heads into traffic and does not “peek” at the defense, which allows him to secure the ball and get it tucked away quickly so that he can hold onto the ball after he gets hit right after the catch. Blessed with rare hands and ball skills, Rogers caught over 94% of the passes thrown his way in the games I evaluated in 2011. He consistently showed the ability to adjust to make tough catches on off-target throws and was able to make catches along the sideline with a defender on his back and he still got his feet down in bounds (Although in college he only needed to get one foot down).
While Rogers no doubt is a good athlete, he is much more of a smooth and fluid one than a quick twitch one. In the games evaluated he did not show the elite burst of acceleration to close cushion on the cornerback and did not show the playing speed to get separation deep down the field. He does however know how to run good routes to get open and uses his size and technique to create a little space. While not explosive getting started up the field after the catch, he is quick and decisive doing so. Additionally, he is an aggressive runner with the ball in his hands and combined with his size, strength and balance he consistently has shown the ability to run through arm/grab tackles to gain yards after contact and make big plays.
Many people will be focused on how fast Rogers runs at the Combine to try and peg his draft status, but the reality is that his workout will have little to do with that. He needs to impress teams during the interview process convincing them that he has learned from his past mistakes and will not allow his behavior off the football field to affect his on field play. If he hits a home run in the interview process then Rogers will likely hear his name called on the second day of the Draft, but if he stumbles through the interviews he will end up as a fourth or fifth round pick.
Email Russ at Russelllande@yahoo.com and Follow Russ on Twitter @RUSSLANDE