College football is ... back?
It certainly doesn’t feel like a celebration for the sport that has seen multiple conferences opt not to play this fall and a few more that appear to be hanging in the balance during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Alas, there is football this weekend. Austin Peay is taking on Central Arkansas in Montgomery, Alabama, on Saturday.
Neither school is considered a football-prospect factory. Austin Peay last produced an NFL draft pick in 1996, and its school last had one of its graduates play in the league in 2004. Central Arkansas has been slightly more fruitful, producing five Day 3 draft picks since 2010 (including current Colts cornerback Tremon Smith) and undrafted Colts safety George Odum.
Saturday’s matchup features a player who could be the highest drafted player from either school in many years — and perhaps ever.
Central Arkansas CB Robert Rochell is an intriguing prospect who offers good length and athleticism. According to The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman, who listed Rochell on his annual “Freaks” list, the cornerback reportedly has run a 4.38-second 40-yard dash, a time that puts him in the top 15th percentile at the position among scouting combine testing. He also ran a 3.89-second short shuttle, which is in the top fifth percentile.
In addition to that, Rochell is believed to be incredibly explosive. His reported broad-jump best of 11-foot-8 would put Rochell in rare combine air — only Byron Jones (12-3), and Obi Melifonwu and Juan Thornhill (11-9) put up better numbers in Indianapolis. Additionally, Rochell’s reported 60-yard shuttle time of 10.98 would be close to a combine record.
Rochell was a star a year ago when he intercepted five passes and broke up 18 more pass attempts, earning him first-team All-America mention by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCS). Over his past two seasons combined, Rochell has intercepted nine passes total and broken up 28 more.
In addition to a solid performance against Hawaii last season (where PFF charted him as allowing two passes for 14 yards), Rochell also stood tall in the opener against a good Western Kentucky team, intercepting a pass, deflecting two more and making seven tackles. He also allowed only one reception (a 9-yard TD) against WKU on five pass attempts, per PFF.
What NFL scouts need to see from Rochell
Scouts are still seeking a verified height and weight for Rochell. Listed on the team’s roster at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, some NFL teams believe that he could be closer to 6-foot and as many as 15-20 pounds lighter, barring any recent weight gain.
Rochell profiles as a press corner at the next level with the upside to be a starting outside defender. He remains raw, having switched over from the offensive side of the ball during his redshirt season of 2016, and UCA’s level of competition has afforded only a handful of FBS matchups the past few seasons.
Being a ballhawk over the past two years has put him squarely on scouts’ radars. His summer grades fell around the fifth-round range, and Rochell will have more chances to improve that with the Bears aggressively retooling their 2020 schedule.
Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel reported the story of North Dakota State adding one game this fall against UCA. The Bison are loaded with talent, including a potential top-10 pick in QB Trey Lance. If Rochell can stand out in a game that will be heavily viewed by NFL scouts, it can boost his standing prior to the 2021 draft.
First, Rochell gets Saturday’s game, followed by a quick turnaround with the Bears facing UAB on Sept. 3. In addition to the NDSU game, the Bears also are scheduled to face a worthy opponent with NFL talent in a game against Louisiana in November.
If he plays well against this revamped slate, it could be enough to boost Rochell on the field before he heads to next year’s combine, where he is expected to be an athletic-testing wonder.
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