At an outdoor Fourth of July barbecue on Saturday night in his hometown of Opelousas, Louisiana, Class of 2021 wide receiver Keon Coleman orally committed to play football at Kansas.
The two-sport athlete who also hopes to play basketball in college picked KU over Oklahoma and South Carolina.
Seated in front of a camera in his driveway with his mother to his left, Coleman revealed on Instagram Live that Kansas was his pick by announcing for KU and putting on a cloth face mask that read “Kansas” in white letters against a blue background on one side and had an American flag on the other.
“This is my mask for the rest of quarantine,” Coleman said. “Rock Chalk.”
The feed drew more than 400 viewers in less than five minutes and Coleman said he wanted to wait until it crossed the 500-viewer mark to make his announcement.
Coleman is a three-star prospect according to Rivals.com, but it’s his four-star rating at 247 Sports that has caught people’s eye.
Coleman’s 247 Sports composite rating of .9064 makes him the highest rated prospect to commit to the Kansas football program since 2000, passing current KU running back Pooka Williams, who carried a rating of.9055.
In addition, 247 Sports has Coleman ranked as the 116th best overall player in his class and the 14th best wideout in the country.
Coleman joins Lawrence High commitment Devin Neal — a four-star running back — as the two highest rated prospects in the 2021 class to date, and the Jayhawks' ability to pull him away from perennial powerhouse Oklahoma is an indication of his potential.
“He could show up and sleepwalk and be the best athlete we’ve got by far,” Opelousas head coach Thomas David recently told SI.com.“There is nobody close. But when you watch him work, you see why schools like Oklahoma and Florida State are finding him at a 1A school in Louisiana.”
Listed at 6-foot-4, 188 pounds, Coleman caught 35 passes for 1,200 yards and 22 touchdowns during his junior season. He also averaged 20 points per game for Opelousas Catholic on the basketball court.
According to Jon Kirby of JayhawkSlant.com, Coleman talked to KU basketball coach Bill Self about walking on to the KU hoops squad during his recruitment.
“Coach Miles said I can make an impact on the football team and coach Self said I could do the same for basketball,” Coleman recently told JayhawkSlant. “It shows that they want me for both sports. I like them a lot. It’s a good opportunity. They are all good people. Coach Miles was telling me he wants to help me get that Heisman (Trophy).”
KU receivers coach Emmett Jones was the lead recruiter for Coleman throughout his recruitment and he is now the 13th player to commit to Kansas in the current football recruiting class.
Three-star wide receiver Keon Coleman will announce his college choice on Saturday and it’s not nearly as cut and dry as it once seemed.
Down to a final three of Kansas, Oklahoma and South Carolina, some late movement has indicated that the Jayhawks are very much alive in the quest for the 6-foot-4, 188-pound playmaker from Opelousas Catholic in Louisiana.
Until recently, all of the analyst picks in Rivals’ FutureCast prediction system had Coleman headed to Oklahoma. That changed Thursday night and early Friday morning, when 10 of the 16 FutureCast participants switched their picks from OU to KU. Two more, including JayhawkSlant’s Jon Kirby, made their predictions for Kansas, as well.
The movement took place in a 12-hour span, between 9:13 p.m. Thursday and 9:25 a.m. Friday, and is an indicator that the Jayhawks have a real shot at landing Coleman.
Similar movement took place on the 247 Sports site, where nine of the 12 Crystal Ball picks now project Coleman to Kansas. 247 has Coleman listed as a four-star prospect.
The receiver himself got in on the fun late Thursday, posting a message to Twitter that said, “Crystal balls don’t mean anything.”
Coleman is expected to make his announcement at 7 p.m. Saturday on Instagram Live.
Ranked by Rivals.com as a three-star prospect, Coleman is the 72nd best wide receiver in the country and 12th best player in Louisiana in the 2021 recruiting class.
Coleman also hopes to play basketball in college and, according to Kirby, has had a conversation with KU coach Bill Self about the Kansas basketball program.
The athletic wing averaged 20 points per game during his junior season in high school, but most believe his future is in football.
Last season, as a junior, Coleman caught 35 passes for 1,200 yards and 22 touchdowns and his size, frame and ability to make plays down the field have him projected as a player with tremendous upside.
KU receivers coach Emmett Jones has been KU’s lead recruiter for Coleman.
Kansas football target Keon Coleman has entered the final week of his recruitment and plans to make his choice on Saturday.
Talk about adding a little extra boom to your Fourth of July.
The three-star wide receiver (Coleman is a four-star prospect in the 247 rankings) who has explored the idea of playing both basketball and football in college is down to a final three of KU, Oklahoma and South Carolina.
A 6-foot-4, 188-pound playmaker from Opelousas Catholic in Louisiana, Coleman is ranked as the 72nd best wide receiver in the country and 12th best player in the state in the 2021 recruiting class by Rivals.com.
While Coleman has skills as a basketball player — he averaged 20 points per game during his junior season in high school — and has talked to KU coach Bill Self about the potential to play both sports, most believe his future is in football.
Last season, as a junior, Coleman caught 35 passes for 1,200 yards and a whopping 22 touchdowns and his size, frame and ability to make plays down the field have him projected as a player with tremendous upside.
KU receivers coach Emmett Jones has been KU’s lead recruiter for Coleman and his recent track record with Kansas wideouts certainly won’t hurt his chances.
Last season, in his first year on the KU staff, Jones helped Daylon Charlot, Andrew Parchment and Stephon Robinson Jr., all turn in career years. Prior to that, Jones spent three seasons on Kliff Kingsbury’s staff at Texas Tech, where he helped the Red Raiders lead the nation in total offense and passing offense during his first season as a full-time assistant.
The Jayhawks beat out a lot of quality football schools to still be standing in the race for Coleman as his recruitment winds down. But winning a battle with OU for a quality wideout could be tough.
In fact, the Rivals.com FutureCast predictions for Coleman are unanimously in favor of the Sooners, with nine Rivals analysts giving OU the edge here.
The fans see it slightly differently, but even there OU is still the favorite, grabbing 45% of the votes compared to 20% for KU and 9% for South Carolina.
NCAA President Mark Emmert visited with The Athletic’s Seth Davis this week to discuss the outlook for fall and winter sports in 2020.
Like many administrators trying to monitor the pandemic and plan for the upcoming seasons, Emmert made it clear that the key piece of information driving all of the NCAA’s decisions is the safety and well-being of the student-athletes along with common sense.
“You have to assume that there will be student-athletes and students in general who come down with the virus,” Emmert told Davis in an exclusive interview. “So the real question isn’t, what do you do if someone comes down with a case? It’s, what do you do when they do?”
School, conference and NCAA officials across the country, in conjunction with health care officials and experts, are asking that very question and putting guidelines, policies and procedures in place to act accordingly when that happens.
With football being the first major NCAA sport up on the 2020-21 college sports calendar, a lot of those efforts have been put toward preparing for the football season, which, at KU, is now just 73 days away from opening day.
Emmert, like many decision-makers, is confident there will be college football this fall. He called the situation “very, very fluid” and added that, “whatever occurs, it’s going to be different.”
Whether that means no fans, stringent testing, changes to the schedules and travel procedures or all of the above, it seems as if pretty much everyone associated with the sport has accepted the fact that a different type of season is coming our way.
College basketball, however, is a slightly different animal. For one, it’s played indoors. For two, it begins in the fall and extends into the second semester, which puts the sport and its athletes and coaches in a much different position than football.
Emmert addressed the 2020-21 hoops season in his recent sit-down with Davis, expressing that the NCAA was looking at a bunch of different scenarios for how best to plan and prepare for a college basketball season this year.
Kansas coach Bill Self on Tuesday night said he remained confident that there would be a season. Self even said he thought there was a “great chance” that there would be fans inside Allen Fieldhouse when that season rolls around.
But at the same time, the KU coach said that there were still a lot of unknowns and that the season, if it’s played, would likely look different from seasons past in a lot of meaningful ways.
While some have wondered if moving the season back to a January start and playing through May instead of starting in November and ending in March would be the best move, Emmert offered a different approach.
“One possibility, for example, and it’s just a possibility, is to do the opposite,” Emmert said. “To move the season forward, begin it earlier in November, play some games, maybe even some conference games, before the Christmas holidays in anticipation that there may be some significant disruptions.”
The thinking behind that theory is, the earlier you start the more time you give yourself to manage athletes testing positive for COVID-19 along the way.
“Basketball’s a much more intimate game in the sense that you only have 13 scholarship players,” Emmert said. “If one or two student-athletes come down with it, then you’re probably quarantining a whole team. So you may have to say, ‘Look, we’re going to stop playing for two weeks.’
“If you had started the season earlier and you’ve shortened the number of contests, you can afford to have some disruptions in the season and still get a full season in.”
No one knows for sure what will happen in either sport. And Emmert emphasized that most of the major decisions made in all sports will be left in the hands of school and conference officials, with the NCAA there simply to provide guidance.
The best approach as of today is for school officials, coaches and athletes to remain vigilant and to continue to put together long lists of plans, contingencies and procedures so they’ll be ready for anything and everything that could possibly come their way.
It sounds like the powers that be at Kansas are doing just that and have been for weeks.
And those plans only figure to become more detailed and concrete as the seasons draw closer.
The Kansas football program made the latest cut for three-star wide receiver Keon Coleman — and if he becomes a Jayhawk, he might play at Allen Fieldhouse as well as on the football field.
The 6-foot-4, 188-pound playmaker from Opelousas Catholic in Louisiana announced his final three on Twitter early Monday afternoon: KU, Oklahoma and South Carolina. Coleman dropped Florida State, Michigan State and Mississippi State from his top six.
Ranked by Rivals as the 72nd-best wide receiver in the nation and the 12th-best player in his state in the 2021 recruiting class, Coleman is worth watching for more than one reason — there have been rumors that he wants to play both football and basketball at the college level.
A little more than three weeks ago, Coleman told Jon Kirby of JayhawkSlant.com that Kansas basketball coach Bill Self had joined in on a football recruiting call to talk to Coleman about his game.
“It was a Zoom virtual visit,” Coleman told Kirby. “Then the coaches said Bill Self wanted to join and make it like a two-for-one call. I was like, ‘Whoa.’ We started talking and it went from there. "It was the first time I talked to Coach Self. He told me I do a lot of things you can’t really teach. He said I’m a fast-twitch player and said I was quick.”
Last season, as a junior, Coleman caught 35 passes for 1,200 yards and a whopping 22 touchdowns. He also averaged more than 20 points per game for the Opelousas Catholic basketball team.
According to Rivals.com basketball recruiting analyst Corey Evans, Coleman has the necessary length and size to play on the wing and could be “valued for his defensive prowess and athleticism all the way up to the high-major realm.”
Wide receivers coach Emmett Jones has been the lead recruiter for the Jayhawks on the football side, and head coach Les Miles has been heavily involved, as well. But pulling someone like Self into the mix certainly doesn't hurt KU’s chances, and Coleman told Kirby that Self’s appearance during his virtual visit showed him that Kansas was serious about letting him play both basketball and football.
Though it's rare, it's not unprecedented at Kansas for an athlete to play multiple sports. A couple of years ago, Self added KU football tight end James Sosinski to the basketball roster to help KU fill out its stable of big men during the run to the 2018 Final Four. And several years before that, Self encouraged former KU walk-on Conner Teahan to see if his quarterbacking skills would transfer to the Division I level during spring football practice under Turner Gill. Teahan, who appeared in the spring game that season, eventually threw in the towel on the idea and returned to help lead the Jayhawks to the 2012 Final Four.
Going further back, Mario Kinsey once played guard for Roy Williams and quarterback for Terry Allen, and Isaac Byrd was a standout wide receiver under Glen Mason and also a centerfielder with the KU baseball team.
It remains to be seen whether Coleman will join that list, or, if he does, whether he’ll make enough of an impact in both sports to be remembered for it. But even if he just pans out in football, a player with OU and South Carolina as his other finalists would be a big boost for Kansas.
While waiting for the 2020 college football season to kick off, three veteran football writers at ESPN recently drafted their favorite college seasons in history — and Kansas was a factor in two of them.
Naturally, one of those mentions on the 15-season draft by Bill Connelly, Ivan Maisel and Mark Schlabach is the 2007 season, in which the Jayhawks earned an Orange Bowl victory. The other one was from a season more than half a century ago.
Maisel picked the 2007 season at No. 2 in the first round, and part of his reasoning was “all the chaos” the season included. For example, LSU, under current Kansas coach Les Miles, became the first two-loss team to win it all that season. Beyond that, though, Maisel pointed out that 13 top-five teams lost to unranked foes, and he made special note of the fact that Kansas went to the Orange Bowl, Illinois went to the Rose Bowl and Hawaii was in the Sugar Bowl. None of those three programs has had anything close to that kind of success since the wild 2007 season.
Maisel also pointed out that the 2007 season was Nick Saban’s first at Alabama, Chip Kelly’s first at Oregon and the year that Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy turned 40.
The other Kansas mention in the five-round draft came at the top of the third round, when Connelly chose the 1960 season with his third pick.
That was the year that KU chose to play running back Bert Coan in its win over then-No. 1 Missouri, which had reached the top of the national polls for the first time in history. Coan eventually was declared ineligible by the Big Eight Conference, but the Jayhawks, believing they had done nothing wrong, played him anyway.
Kansas defeated Missouri 23-7 that afternoon, handing the Tigers their only loss of the season. But a couple of weeks later, the loss was removed from Missouri’s record because of Coan's ineligibility. The Tigers went on to win the Orange Bowl and finished the season 11-0, but they wound up ranked fifth in the final AP poll. Minnesota, with two losses, was named college football’s national champion.
The Coan controversy continued for as long as the Border War lingered, with each school claiming a different record in the overall series because of the outcome of that game.
Even though the Kansas football program is mired in as tough a decade as any Power Five football program has ever had, there are plenty of names and achievements in the program's history that still rank as relevant on the national stage, and the fact that these veteran college football writers found two of them to be factors in their all-time draft is a good reminder of that.
With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at my picks for the five best seasons in KU football history:
1 – 2007 – These Jayhawks set plenty of records and won their last game of the season on the biggest stage in college football, which gives them a solid claim to the top spot on the list. Todd Reesing owns every major passing record in KU history. Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier are at the top of all of the program’s receiving records. KU finished second in the nation in scoring and 12th nationally in total defense. Beyond that, the 2007 team roared to an 11-0 start and reached No. 2 in the polls before losing to No. 3 Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium. MU’s loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game the following week opened the door for the Jayhawks to earn a BCS bowl berth, and Kansas made the most of it by knocking off Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl and finishing the season at 12-1. In the final AP poll, KU ranked No. 7, and it earned one first-place vote. KU also had two first-team All-Americans: Anthony Collins and Aqib Talib.
2 – 1968 – Pepper Rodgers' tough and talented squad made it to the 1969 Orange Bowl, where it lost to Penn State in the infamous 12-men-on-the-field game. KU finished 9-2 overall that season — 6-1 in Big Eight Conference play — and was ranked No. 7 in the final Associated Press poll. KU climbed all the way to No. 3 in the rankings at one point, and the Jayhawks featured one of the nation’s most potent offenses, led by tailback John Riggins and quarterback Bobby Douglass.
3 – 1960 – Even with the Coan controversy swirling, the Jayhawks finished the 1960 season at 7-2-1 overall and 6-0-1 in Big Eight play, led by All-American quarterback John Hadl. Their only losses were to No. 2 Syracuse and No. 1 Iowa, both on the road. KU finished 21st nationally in points per game (21.9) and 24th in points allowed (8.9 per game). KU's record would have been good enough for a Big Eight crown, but the conference stripped the Jayhawks of their final two victories of the season (over Missouri and Colorado) and handed the Tigers the Big Eight title instead.
4 – 1995 – Led by quarterback Mark Williams and tailbacks June Henley, L.T. Levine and Eric Vann, the 1995 Jayhawks were one of the season's surprise teams, finishing 10-2 with an Aloha Bowl victory and a No. 9 final ranking in The Associated Press poll. KU ranked 31st nationally in points per game (28.8) and 42nd defensively in points allowed per game (21.8), and the Jayhawks played the 34th-toughest schedule in the country. The Jayhawks started the season 7-0 before losing at No. 14 Kansas State and to No. 1 Nebraska in a three-week span down the stretch. KU racked up wins over No. 4 Colorado and No. 15 Oklahoma — both on the road — during that 7-0 start.
5 – 1961 – Behind future NFL stars John Hadl (KU’s first two-time All-American) and Curtis McClinton, the Jayhawks entered the season ranked No. 8 in the preseason polls and finished it with a 33-7 rout of Rice in the Bluebonnet Bowl. The Jayhawks could have finished even higher had it not been for their struggles early on. After dropping a one-point game to TCU — then of the Southwestern Conference — in the season opener, KU tied Wyoming and lost at Colorado by a point to start the season 0-2-1. From there, the Jayhawks won seven of their final eight games to finish 7-3-1 — six of those wins came in one long streak that included games at Nebraska and at Oklahoma. KU finished 15th in the final UPI Coaches Poll.
Mr. Louisiana: Kansas running back Pooka Williams wins online vote as best back in home state’s prep history
According to a series of online polls by Varsity Sports Now Louisiana, Kansas junior Pooka Williams Jr. is the greatest high school running back in Louisiana history.
A former four-star prospect in the class of 2018 who attended Hahnville High in Boutte, La., Williams won five rounds of voting during the recent 32-back bracket that played out on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
The former freshman All-American and 2019 first-team All-Big 12 back defeated Kenny Hilliard in the final round by winning 63% of the vote.
In the semifinals, Williams defeated current Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette by winning 61% of the vote.
Fournette, who was the nation’s consensus No. 1 overall recruit following his senior year at St. Augustine High in New Orleans, signed to play for current Kansas coach Les Miles at LSU and was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft.
It’s hard to say exactly what led to Williams’ victory. Fournette’s numbers and resume were better across the board, as he rushed for 7,830 yards and 92 touchdowns during his prep career, topping Williams’ numbers of more than 6,000 yards and 72 touchdowns.
But Jim Derry, who works for both the New Orleans Times-Picayune and VSN Louisiana, had a couple of theories on why Williams won.
“Part of it is recency bias,” Derry said in a recent phone interview about the bracket. “He was the last truly great back in the state.”
In his more than 30 years of paying attention to Louisiana high school football, Derry said he never saw a more dynamic running back than Williams.
“He could catch passes out of the backfield, he could run the ball and he was phenomenal on special teams,” Derry said. “They didn’t kick to him. Because if they did, there was a good chance he was going to take it to the house.”
While the current Jayhawk’s flashy style and never-ending highlight reel of explosive plays likely endeared him to voters, Derry said Williams’ senior season was the stuff of legends.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a senior year like he had,” Derry said. “And I definitely have never seen a playoff run like he had.”
That year, Williams ran for 3,128 yards and tallied 40 total touchdowns. In his senior-season push to the state title game, Williams ripped off 1,403 yards and 14 touchdowns in the five playoff games alone.
“Pooka was a pinball wizard,” Derry said. “He was just electric. You can probably find all 40 of those touchdowns on video somewhere, and 16 of them were just crazy.”
While Williams’ decision to leave Louisiana to come to Kansas had some in the state scratching their heads, Derry said his numbers and success at Kansas, through two seasons, illustrate that Williams made a wise decision.
“They can’t all go to LSU,” said Derry, noting that recent first-round NFL draft pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire, a native of Baton Rouge, La., and Williams would have been at LSU at the same time had Williams elected to stay home.
“And I think Pooka’s better than Clyde,” Derry said. “He might not be quite as powerful, but in pretty much every other way, I think he’s a better back.”
For what it’s worth, Edwards-Helaire didn’t even make the VSN bracket.
Here’s a look at a few of the other notable names who did, many of whom played in the NFL and/or starred in college.
• Marshall Faulk – Known today as one of the most dynamic NFL backs of all time, Faulk was not quite on that level during his high school days. Remember, the New Orleans native played his college ball at San Diego State and not Alabama, LSU or USC. Faulk was a 5 seed and he lost to No. 1 seed Cecil Collins, who ran for 99 touchdowns and 7,800 yards during his prep career, in the round of 16.
• Brandon Jacobs – The bruising back who made a name for himself by scoring 60 touchdowns during an eight-year NFL career with the New York Giants was a No. 3 seed and rumbled his way to the Final Four of the bracket, where he lost to Hilliard.
• Kevin Faulk – One of four No. 1 seeds in the bracket, the longtime New England Patriots multipurpose back and former LSU star lost to No. 2 seed Kenny Hilliard in the quarterfinals.
• Dalton Hilliard – The former New Orleans Saints standout was a No. 2 seed and lost to Fournette in the quarterfinals.
• Joe McKnight – The former USC running back who played professionally with the New York Jets before dying in a car accident in 2016, was the No. 3 seed in Fournette’s region and lost to current Washington Redskins back Derrius Guice, who also attended LSU and hails from Baton Rouge.
• Travis Etienne – The 4 seed in the Fournette region, Etienne is headed back to Clemson for his senior season, where he will look to lead the Tigers to another national title and break a few school, conference and NCAA records in the process. According to Fanduel.com, Etienne enters the 2020 season with the highest odds of any running back in the country to bring home the Heisman Trophy. He is Fanduel’s sixth overall favorite to win college football’s most prestigious individual prize.
• Leroy Hoard – Another 3 seed, who fell to Kenny Hilliard in the second round, Hoard, a native of New Orleans, played nine seasons in the NFL, the first six in Cleveland and the final three in Minnesota.
• Travis Minor - A standout at Florida State after his prep career, Minor went on to play eight seasons in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams.
Live, unscripted sports temporarily returned to our television sets this week. And boy was it glorious.
We have the NFL draft to thank for that. And this year’s event, which began with Round 1 on Thursday night and continues through Saturday evening, was more important than ever before.
Save for the recent WNBA draft, which was a smaller production but also saw a serious rise in viewership, Thursday’s NFL draft was the first sign of sports in weeks.
It did not take long to realize and appreciate that seeing something real on television was far more meaningful than the breakdown of the picks by conference, school or position.
For what it’s worth, the SEC set a new record on Thursday night with 15 first-round picks, nearly as many as the four other Power Five conferences combined. The Big 12 had five.
As insignificant as sports can be at times, the buzz, excitement and distraction that Thursday’s first round provided from our current COVID-19-based reality was just what the country’s sports-starved fans needed.
According to reports, more money was bet on the first round of the NFL draft than ever before and online gambling on the NFL draft reached new heights. Various sites offered NFL draft prop bets on just about everything you can imagine, from where and when a player would be drafted, to picks by conference and picks by position.
BetMGM.com offered more than 160 such wagers for the first round alone. And that site, and several others, kept the action going on Friday and into the weekend.
Kansas offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji is hoping to be one of the 255 players to hear his name called by Saturday night. Most NFL draft analysts project that he will be selected.
The Associated Press reported Friday that 15.6 million television viewers tuned in on Thursday night, breaking the 2014 record of 12.4 million.
All of it for just a little taste of what makes sports so much fun to follow — the uncertainty of the outcome and watching it play out live right in front of your eyes.
We’ve had plenty of sports entertainment to choose from during the past couple of months. Networks have jumped into the rebroadcast craze, showing past playoff games and all-time classics on a semi-regular basis.
And the newly released Michael Jordan documentary, though old in terms of its recorded footage, felt very new.
All of that has been great. And fans, coaches and athletes have experienced those events in a whole new way. But no matter how cool it was to watch Kansas coach Bill Self live-tweet the rebroadcast of the 2008 national title game, nearly everyone who tuned in knew the final score, or at least the outcome, before the game even began.
That’s what made Thursday so cool. There were 1,000 mock drafts made leading up to the draft. But no one knew for sure what was going to happen. That’s drama. That’s sports. That’s spectacular.
And for at least a few nights, we got that back.
The games will return eventually. Who knows when? But until they do, we’ll watch the rest of the NFL draft this weekend like it’s the darn Super Bowl.
It’s likely that offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji will be the only Jayhawk drafted this week in the seven-round NFL draft that starts tonight and runs through Saturday.
But he’s far from the only former Kansas player with a chance to catch the eye of an NFL franchise.
A handful of other Jayhawks who played key roles on the 2019 team and throughout the past few seasons figure to get some kind of attention from NFL teams this week, with most of them headed toward the undrafted free agent route after the draft is over.
Plenty of good players have proven that not hearing your name called in the draft does not have to mark the end of the road. But it certainly makes for a much harder path.
For what it’s worth, only two Jayhawks — Adeniji and Azur Kamara — are listed in NFL.com’s draft prospect data base and only Adeniji made The Athletic’s list of the Top 300 prospects in this year’s 255-pick draft.
Still, pro football is full of stories of players who were overlooked and came out of nowhere to make a name for themselves.
Here’s a look at the Jayhawks who have the best chance to do that this year.
• Edge Rusher, Azur Kamara – 6-3, 245
Quick glance: Like Adeniji, Kamara was invited to the NFL combine in February and he performed well while there. His 40-yard dash time of 4.59 seconds was the 10th best among all linebackers at the combine. He also showcased his athleticism and agility while impressing with his length. While that 40 time will help him, the biggest thing Kamara has going for him is his game film. His numbers were not overwhelming by any stretch — 51 tackles, a team-best 3.5 sacks, 6 tackles for loss and 4 quarterback hurries — but he consistently showed up as a disruptive force even when he didn’t make plays. Regarded by most analysts as a raw, project type of prospect, the speed and his long arms figure to give him a chance.
Reason to hope: Kamara is nowhere near as skilled as Dorance Armstrong Jr., and he won’t get drafted in the fourth round like Armstrong did in 2018. But he has a similar build — scouts would love to see him bulk up to reach Armstrong’s playing weight of 255 pounds — and he actually has an even longer reach than Armstrong, 35.25 to 34.75.
Chances of catching on: Because he’s still so raw, it’s hard to see Kamara, even if given a good opportunity as an undrafted free agent, making a 53-man roster any time soon. But some team’s practice squad is not out of the question.
• Wide Receiver, Daylon Charlot – 6-0, 193
Quick glance: Charlot is a quality wide receiver who does a lot of things well but few things great. He runs good routes, has good hands and has a knack for making plays even when plays don’t appear to be there. But he does not have elite speed, size or strength. Perhaps the best thing he has going for him is his belief in himself. After a rough couple of seasons with former KU coach David Beaty, Charlot rediscovered himself and his game under the guidance of first-year receivers coach Emmett Jones during the 2019 season. And sometimes believing in yourself is all it takes.
Reason to hope: Steven Sims Jr. They’re different players who play different styles, but, at the core, could be in the same boat – undrafted and hoping to make a team through a strong showing at camp. Sims did that two years ago with the Washington Redskins and has been a legit player for the Skins ever since. Charlot’s Alabama pedigree and strong senior season will earn him a look. What he does with it is up to him.
Chances of catching on: Charlot is all but guaranteed to get a call and a shot from some NFL team. In fact, he might have multiple suitors and could be selective about which opportunity he likes the most. There’s a long way to go from a minicamp invite to the 53-man roster or even a practice squad, but he’ll at least get his foot in the door.
• Safety, Bryce Torneden – 5-10, 192
Quick glance: Undersized to be sure, Torneden has spent most of his playing career being counted out. And all that has led to is him proving people wrong and playing high-quality football. To do it again at the NFL level would be an enormous accomplishment, but the margin for error and opportunities will be much tougher to manage. The biggest thing Torneden has going for him is his athleticism. Whether you’re talking jumping ability, change of direction, ability to play multiple positions or willingness to fly to the football, Torneden brings all of that in spades. And it doesn’t take you long to say to yourself, “That’s a football player,” when watching him play. Whether that will be enough to overcome his lack of size remains to be seen.
Reason to hope: For all of the ways they’re different as players, the one thing Torneden and Chris Harris Jr. have in common is the way they play the game. Led by heart, passion and the drive to be great, Torneden no doubt will bring a similar fire to whatever opportunity he gets as Harris brought to the Denver Broncos nine years ago. Because of his smaller frame, it’s hard to see Torneden following Harris’ path to the Pro Bowl and NFL millions, but any player who has ever carried the underdog role with him into the Kansas program forever will look at Harris as a reason to believe anything is possible. The 5-11, 206-pound Fish Smithson, who went the undrafted route and caught on with Washington, is probably a better actual comparison here.
Chances of catching on: There have been reports about Torneden having conversations with the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers during the weeks leading up to the draft. And that alone means he’ll almost certainly get an invitation to a camp. The best-case scenario here is that some franchise sees value in him as a special teams player who can provide depth in the secondary.
• Cornerback, Hasan Defense – 6-0, 193
Quick glance: The name alone could be enough to entice someone to take a chance on him. And Defense’s steady improvement throughout his time at KU should help, too. A bit overmatched after arriving in Lawrence after his freshman season at Kilgore College, Defense transformed himself into a reliable DB who earned honorable mention all-Big 12 honors in 2019.
Reason to hope: After leaving KU, Tyler Patmon had a stellar season at Oklahoma State, which propelled him to a shot in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys. Injuries to the Cowboys secondary played a big part in opening that door, but Patmon was ready to walk through it when it arrived. A student of the game and the son of a coach, Patmon’s football IQ and feel for the game put him in a different category than Defense. But the two have similar size and Defense will have to find his chance in a similar manner.
Chances of catching on: It seems like a good bet that he’ll get a camp invite of some kind, but he won’t be any team’s top priority and that will make an already steep climb even tougher.
• Cornerback, Elmore Hempstead Jr. – 5-11 180
Quick glance: Although quiet throughout his time with the Jayhawks, Hempstead received some positive feedback during KU’s pro day in early March and may be on the radar of a few NFL teams as a result.
Reason to hope: Former KU cornerback Greg Brown was in a similar situation, having done just enough to get noticed, but not quite enough to be a priority. The major difference between these two is Brown’s experience. He played a major role for the Jayhawks, while Hempstead did not. Despite his limited time on the field, which yielded just seven tackles in 10 games during the 2019 season, Hempstead did manage to tie for third on the team in pass break-ups, which showed good feel and instincts.
Chances of catching on: A camp invite is certainly within the realm of possibility here, but anything beyond that is unlikely.
• Safety, Mike Lee – 5-11, 175
Quick glance: If this were a hitting contest, Lee might be a first-rounder. Anyone who watched him play throughout his four years at Kansas knows that the Louisiana native can bring the thunder. But he likes the big hit so much that it can often take him out of position and inspires him to take unnecessary gambles. Those traits, along with being undersized for an NFL safety, make Lee’s chances a long shot at best.
Reason to hope: Football’s a physical game and anyone who can hit like Lee can catch the eye of a coach at any point. There may not be a bunch of them out there, but it’s possible that a few scouts could like Lee’s physicality enough to talk their bosses into giving him a look.
Chances of catching on: He had a nice career at Kansas and it was full of highlights. But there has been no talk about Lee having a real shot of making a successful jump to the NFL.
• Defensive End, Codey Cole – 6-3, 275
Quick glance: Another player who runs on heart, Cole was a late bloomer at Kansas but actually turned in a pretty solid senior season. The problem here will be size and fit. He’s definitely undersized to play on the interior of the D-Line and not nearly explosive enough to be a true edge rusher.
Reason to hope: Because that’s what Cole is built on. He posted to Twitter on Wednesday, “The craziest thing about this Draft is that I can get a shot and be blessed or I can not get a shot and never play football again.” He also noted that everything that happens from this point — in terms of whether a team gives him that chance or not — is out of his control. He has the right mindset for what’s ahead and will be ready to give it everything he’s got if the opportunity comes.
Chances of catching on: It’s hard to see Cole sticking around very long, but even just getting an opportunity will feel like a victory.
A couple of months removed from winning three games during Les Miles’ first season in charge, the Kansas football program last week picked up a key offseason victory that should be celebrated every bit as much as any of those in-season wins were.
KU’s decision to promote Emmett Jones from receivers coach to passing game coordinator last week — read: make sure he sticks around Lawrence instead of leaving for other opportunities — was by far the biggest and most important news of the offseason to date.
Keeping arguably the best assistant coach on staff and one of the top recruiters in the Big 12 Conference in town made last week a win for all kinds of reasons.
Continuity is key and Jones’ contract is also now guaranteed through the 2022 season. Jones’ recruiting skills are second-to-none. And his ability to both motivate and hold players accountable is a crucial part of the steep climb Kansas football is facing.
Clearly, the reasons Jones is so important to this program go well beyond his coaching chops. But to look past those would be a mistake.
What he got out of a largely unproven group of wide receivers during the 2019 season was rock solid. And it significantly upgraded the production of the Kansas offense.
Remember, it was Steven Sims Jr., (now killing it with the Washington Redskins) and Jeremiah Booker who had done most of the heavy lifting at the position for the three previous years, and both were gone when the 2019 season began.
Sure, there were bodies there and plenty of potential, but players like Andrew Parchment, Stephon Robinson Jr., and Kwamie Lassiter II were just that — potential. Yet Jones pulled something significant out of each one of them.
And don’t even get me started on the work he did with senior receiver Daylon Charlot. That, to me, was the biggest sign of just how talented Jones is as a coach and a human being.
In just a few months, he reached Charlot in a way that two other coaching staffs — both here and at Alabama — could not. And through equal parts love and compassion and hardcore expectations, he turned Charlot into the player Kansas fans expected to see when he transferred from Alabama in the first place.
As a group, the numbers put up by the KU wideouts in 2019 went up in every important category — more receptions (184-178), more yards (2,387-1,909), more touchdowns (20-15) and a higher yards-per-reception average (13-10.7).
And, remember, those numbers were recorded without the luxury of having two proven seniors, like Sims and Booker, who were both solid throughout their KU careers. They also came in Jones’ first season coaching these guys and first season under Miles.
KU’s head coach, offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon and quarterback Carter Stanley all had key roles in elevating the production in the passing game. But it was Jones who worked with the receivers day in and day out. And it was Jones who tapped into what it took to make each one of them more prepared, more aggressive football players.
He did so by connecting with them as people first and then by removing the fear of failure and replacing it with confidence and swagger.
Jones would be the first to tell you that it’s the players who deserve the credit for their production last season. They put in the time and the work required to be ready to deliver and then went out on Saturdays and did just that.
The players themselves would tell you that they could not have done it without Jones.
He just has a special way of reaching people. Whether watching film and breaking down coverages or joking around before drills or at media sessions, Jones always seems to know the temperature of the room and makes sure everyone is comfortable in his presence.
Not only that, but rare is the instance when you walk away from a conversation with Jones without having learned something of value.
Retaining him does not guarantee that Kansas will win a bunch of games next season. But trying to do that without him — both next year and into the future — would have been much more difficult.