Sunday, May 3, 2015

Heeney: KU’s football struggles hurt draft stock

Kansas University linebacker Ben Heeney jumps during a drill at the NFL football scouting combine Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, in Indianapolis.

Kansas University linebacker Ben Heeney jumps during a drill at the NFL football scouting combine Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, in Indianapolis.


When 139 college football players — including 18 linebackers — heard their names called in the 2015 NFL Draft before Ben Heeney did, the first-team All-Big 12 linebacker from Kansas University began to wonder why he was still available in the fifth round Saturday.

It wasn’t hubris that left the Hutchinson native contemplating what might have impacted his draft stock. Heeney didn’t claim he should’ve been picked in the first or second round.

At 6-foot, 231 pounds, he knew his frame wasn’t considered that of a prototypical NFL linebacker. But Heeney (127) finished second in the Big 12 to TCU’s Paul Dawson (128) in total tackles his senior season, then went to the NFL Scouting Combine and became a top performer at his position in the 40-yard dash, three-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle and 60-yard shuttle.

So did playing at a low-profile program such as KU, which went 9-39 the past four seasons, play a factor?

“I definitely think that hurt my stock,” a candid Heeney told the Journal-World shortly after Oakland picked him. “I feel like that’s the biggest reason why I didn’t get picked earlier. It’s nothing against anything I’ve done. KU just hasn’t been at the top in a while, so it hurts me a little bit.”

While the Jayhawks certainly played on television channels available nationwide throughout Heeney’s days at Kansas, he said it was difficult for players to gain fame when they’re not competing in marquee games.

His defensive teammate, cornerback JaCorey Shepherd, had his own issues leading up to the draft, in the form of bad timing. The Big 12’s 2014 leader with 18 passes defended (15 breakups, three interceptions) tore his left hamstring three days before KU’s pro day. The tendons gave him problems before that, too, when he strained them prior to the combine.

Asked whether playing at KU hurt his chances to make a name for himself in college, Shepherd conceded winning more games might have “helped some,” but he didn’t think it made that much of a difference for him, because he spent three seasons defending some of the nation’s top quarterbacks and receivers.

The 5-11 corner was a sixth-round pick of Philadelphia.

“People can say that, but playing in the Big 12, that’s an Air Raid conference,” Shepherd said, “and we played teams that were ranked in the top five, the top 10, all the time.”

KU’s other starting corner, Dexter McDonald, became the second Jayhawk the Raiders snagged, in Round Seven. Like Shepherd, he didn’t think the state of KU’s program limited him as a prospect. McDonald instead pointed to the success of former Kansas standout Chris Harris, who went undrafted but this past year, in his fourth season, signed a five-year contract extension with Denver for $42.5 million.

The 6-1 McDonald went on to mention other former KU players in the NFL, such as Bradley McDougald (Tampa Bay), once his teammate in Lawrence.

McDonald’s takeaway from the draft? KU made a bit of a name for itself, having three players selected.

“If you’re willing to work hard and make sure you handle your job,” McDonald said, “that’s really all you control.”

The new Raider said he, Heeney and Shepherd all proved while at KU that their teammates and coaches could rely on them, and he expects their skills and attributes to carry over to the next level.

“I think we’ll be just fine,” McDonald said.

More Jayhawks land post-draft deals

By Sunday, two more Jayhawks found NFL opportunities, after the draft’s conclusion.

Punter Trevor Pardula, who averaged 44.0 yards per punt in two seasons, picked up a camp invite from Kansas City.

Tight end Jimmay Mundine, who caught 45 passes for 584 yards in his senior season, will go to camp with Cleveland.

The day before Pardula and Mundine found their pro opportunities, five of their KU teammates signed free-agent deals: Nick Harwell (Dallas), Nigel King (Miami), Tony Pierson (Chicago), Michael Reynolds (Tampa Bay) and Cassius Sendish (Cleveland).


Ashwin Rao 7 years, 1 month ago

I disagree with that comment in the title. I feel that being in a bad program gave him an opportunity to look good. He wouldn't have looked good (even if he got in) at Alabama.
Guys who make selections don't watch Televisions. They review tapes of schools, D1 and others, to get the best candidate. That is why so many candidates come out of small schools (with no TV exposure)...
He just didn't show that he is good enough in the games that he played in (some may be due to bad coaching, but some is purely on him), and his physical assets were also not the best.

Glen Miller 7 years, 1 month ago

He was one of the top producers in all of college football for his Junior and Senior year. Actually, he showed in games that he WAS good enough. Outside of his size and sometimes not being able to get off blocks as good as others..... he has amazing instincts, great speed that can cover from sideline to sideline, his work ethic is ridiculous, you won't find a better teammate, he got better every season and he's a great representative of our University and whatever team he is on. I didn't expect a first or second day pick, but thought surely he was a 4th round talent who could play in the league for 10 years as a great special teamer and solid contributor on defense. I look for him to have a very successful NFL career.

Ashwin Rao 7 years, 1 month ago

I am not denying that he was one of the better players on the team, and a person with a lot of heart... but I disagree with the comment that he could have been better of some place else (which is what it is implying). Not to get too philosophical about it, everyone is in their own situation, and they need to maximize it; and he maximized it.
He was in a team with not so much talent - so he did his best against the Big12 talent, and as a result and got drafted (which is by itself an impressive accomplishment)
He is small for his position (not sure about that, but that is what gurus say) - so he maximized his situation by excelling in heart & speed (he had a great 40 yd)

If he was in a different situation, for instance, if he was in TX or Baylor, then he wouldn't have gotten the exposure that he did at KU, because he would be sharing the spotlight with others better than him... so there is a high likely hood that he may not have gotten drafted at all...

I don't like people posing rhetorical statements that just make people sad/angry. Another bad thing is if recruits read this, they will feel that their chances at the big leagues is also going to diminish if they join KU, which is not the case!

Aaron Paisley 7 years, 1 month ago

I don't believe Heeney's draft stock would've changed too much had he gone to a different school, but he absolutely would've had more exposure at place like Texas or Oklahoma and probably would've been up for some national awards.

Bville Hawk 7 years, 1 month ago

Agree completely, Ashwin. Ben is rationalizing...

Michael Lorraine 7 years, 1 month ago

That makes 10 players who have garnered NFL interest for a group that only won 9 games during their 4 years. That does not seem right.

Suzi Marshall 7 years, 1 month ago

The Kansas team the past few years had some good talent. Our problem was lack of leadership poor play calling from the coaching staff. Now we are in a world of hurt with the lowest relative talent level probably in the history of Kansas football.

Titus Canby 7 years, 1 month ago

I agree Suzi. How in the world did have such a lousy record with good talent? Gotta be the coaching.

Damian Glaze 7 years, 1 month ago

In the Big 12 only Texas and Oklahoma had more people drafted from their institution than KU. KU had the same number as Nebraska and Michigan; and more than Texas A&M and Notre Dame. I think those are numbers to be proud of and build upon. Tell the young kids if you put in the work, you will have as much of an opportunity to get drafted coming from Kansas than at any of the other schools - Big 10, SEC or otherwise.

Damian Glaze 7 years, 1 month ago

One correction. West Virginia had one more than KU.

Aaron Paisley 7 years, 1 month ago

What hurt Heeney the most was his poor natural instincts and below average pass coverage skills.

Bob Schutz 7 years, 1 month ago

Aaron, This is a delayed reply to one of your posts last week regarding recruiting players from the track team. That is also what Bill Walsh did when he coached Stanford (prior to the 49ers).

Michael Sillman 7 years, 1 month ago

I don't think playing at Kansas hurt Heeney much. He got plenty of exposure.

The NFL is like the NBA in that it drafts based a lot on body type potential. You constantly hear comments like "he has an NBA ready body.

Heeney does not meet the current body type image of NFL scouts for an ILB.

That being said I expect that Heeney will confound the image issue and do well in the NFL with his work ethic.

Kay Jensen 7 years, 1 month ago

I guess my takeaway would be that comments like this don't exactly help our effort to recruit better players. I wish Heeney would keep that in mind.

Titus Canby 7 years, 1 month ago

My thoughts exactly. He's probably right, but geez, thanks for helping the program. He might as well have said, "Hey recruits, if you go to KU, you won't get drafted quickly."

Brian Wilson 7 years, 1 month ago

IMO, Heeney got drafted right where he should have. Also, our coaches get a five year pass from me. Weis depleted KU in talent and in scholarships to the worst level in the history of the program. We will be lucky to win more than 2 to 3 games each year for the next 3 years. And, if we do, our players and coaahes will prove that hard work and "heart" trumps talent.

Bryce Landon 7 years, 1 month ago

Weis isn't alone to blame for running KU football as deep into the ground as it is. Gill got the ball rolling on that.

Ashwin Rao 7 years, 1 month ago

People blame Gill & Charlie, but the recruiting problem started with Coach Mangino. Look at this page: After our 2010 year (Kerry, Dezmon, Tanner), our next success in the draft was in 2013... Mangino's last year was 2009, so he had some bad years in recruiting (either that, or the coaching was so bad that we didn't use the talent well).

In any case, hopefully we have more luck in the draft in the future (meaning, that we get better recruits to for a great baseline!)

Kenneth Hillman 7 years, 1 month ago

I hope that "support" of KU improves over the years ahead Heeney. You could have been a bit more gracious for the opportunity that you now have in the NFL.

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