Football is more than just a sport to those in the Magnolia State. Even though Mississippi lacks a professional sports team, being under recruited hasn’t kept the state from producing prospects as it is ranked among the top sixth in producing NFL talent this year.
Decades ago, the Southwestern Athletic Conference was known for producing the most professional football talent of any league. Now the Southeastern Conference holds this title as it an all-time favorite amongst conferences when it comes to college football.
Mississippi has seen great players at skilled positions leave the college ranks and go on to have successful careers. The state can argue that it has produced the best to ever play pro football – from Brett Favre and Walter Payton to players like Jerry Rice and Eli Manning.
While many focus on nationally ranked schools such as USC, Ohio State, and Florida, many assume that they produce the top NFL prospects and elite players to enter the draft. It is almost every player’s dream to play for D1 programs and compete for powerhouses such as Texas and Oklahoma, but only a small percentage actually remain competitive at such schools.
Not always the case, many small town schools have produced underrated prospects recruited by some of the best NFL teams to enter the league drafted or undrafted. Mississippi boasts some of the best individual talent to come from small schools such as Jackson State, Southern Miss, and Mississippi State.
Javancy Jones, Roderick Henderson, and D.J. Jones are some of the talent from this year’s draft class to be offered the opportunity to compete at the next level. Others who drew the attention of NFL teams were Fred Ross, Johnathan Calvin, and Justin Senior of Mississippi State. Names such as Nick Mullen, Daniel Ross, and Chris Lyles gained the interest of scouts as they were also given the chance to prove themselves to teams.
Like many players from small towns and even smaller schools, they all had one thing in common – to create their own exposure as they did not have the benefits of coming from powerhouse programs that produce household names annually.
Being told on multiple occasions that they couldn’t dominate or play at larger levels served as motivation for many of these players. Whether drafted or undrafted, they are in search of one goal: proving that they aren’t going to shy away from tougher competition.
D.J. Jones is the biggest impact player from the state to be drafted. He was selected as the 198th overall pick in the sixth round by the 49ers. With his size and athleticism, it is expected for him to jump right into a starting role as an interior defensive lineman. Using his quickness against offenses grants him more space to create plays at the nose tackle position.
Graduating on Saturday and signing with the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, Javancy Jones is not taking his opportunity in the desert for granted as his goal is “to prove all the people who believed in him right.” He is known for his versatility and ability to play any position in the front seven due to his strength and speed. Looking to continue to improve his ability to cover, he expects to make the biggest contribution as a leader on special teams if not moved to the linebacker position.
The Tennessee Titans took a chance on Roderick Henderson by signing him as an undrafted free agent. Coming from a small school is the only underrated aspect of his game. With style of play comparisons to Vince Wilfork and Damon Harrison, he will be a crucial component on the defensive line once he learns to slow things down as his ability to take on double team blocks is a bonus.
Talented players throughout the state have also received offers and phone calls from teams inviting them to tryouts and training camps.
Former Co-Lin standout Demond Tucker was offered a rookie min-camp invite from the Pittsburg Steelers. Defensive tackle Daniel Ross of Northeast Mississippi signed as an undrafted free agent with the Texans. Ole Miss wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo was an UDFA who signed with Baltimore.
Undrafted free agents are picked every year, and adding inexpensive young talent after the draft has proven to be successful every year.
A list of players hailing from the state who signed with an NFL team is listed below:
Justin Senior, Mississippi State – Seattle Seahawks
Fred Ross, Mississippi State – Carolina Panthers
Johnathan Calvin, Mississippi State – Greenbay Packers
Nelson Adams, Mississippi State – Pittsburgh Steelers
Richie Brown, Mississippi State – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Chris Lyles, Mississippi College – Indianapolis Colts
Daniel Ross, Northeast Mississippi – Houston Texans
Jason Carr, Northeast – Cincinnati Bengals
Demond Tucker, Co-Lin/Iowa State – Pittsburgh Steelers
Nick James, Ole Miss – Detroit Lions
Tony Bridges, Ole Miss – Seattle Seahawks
Damore’ea Stringfellow, Ole Miss – Miami Dolphins
Quincy Adeboyejo, Ole Miss – Baltimore Ravens
Chad Kelly, Ole Miss – Denver Broncos (253rd overall pick)
Derrick Jones, Ole Miss – New York Jets (204th overall pick
Evan Engram, Ole Miss – New York Giants (23rd overall pick)
D.J. Jones, Ole Miss – San Francisco 49ers (198th overall pick)
Jeremy Liggins, Ole Miss – Seattle Seahawks
Fadol Brown, Ole Miss – Oakland Raiders
Carlos Davis, Ole Miss – Baltimore Ravens
Akeem Judd, Ole Miss – Tennessee Titans
Dylan Bradley, Southern Miss – Minnesota Vikings
Nick Mullen, Southern Miss – San Francisco 49ers
Will Freeman, Southern Miss – Atlanta Falcons
Cameron Tom, Southern Miss – New Orleans Saints
Dan Williams, Jackson State – Oakland Raiders
Cornelius Henderson, Jackson State – Kansas City Chiefs
Roderick Henderson, Jackson State/Alabama State – Tennessee Titans
Javancy Jones, Jackson State – Arizona Cardinals