W&M NFL Draft Preview: DeAndre Houston-Carson & Luke Rhodes

DeAndre Houston-Carson is poised for a strong showing in this year's NFL Draft. [photo: tribeathletics.com]
DeAndre Houston-Carson is poised for a strong showing in this year’s NFL Draft. [photo: tribeathletics.com]
It’s that time of the year again! NFL head coaches have been fired and new ones hired, clubs have parted ways with several players, and bright eyed, bushy tailed rookies are looking for their names to be called during the Draft. That’s right, the 2016 NFL Draft begins this THURSDAY at 8 PM on ESPN, ESPN 2 and NFL Network. Tribe fans everywhere will be watching with bated breath, especially on days two and three of the Draft, as W&M’s star safety/cornerback DeAndre Houston-Carson learns where he will begin his professional football career. Get your popcorn ready. We’re in for a show.

DeAndre Houston-Carson’s Storied W&M Career 

To draw the top highlights from DHC’s incredible W&M Tribe Athletics bio: After making the switch as the team’s #1 cornerback to safety in the offseason, senior captain DeAndre Houston-Carson finished the season as just the third player in the program’s 122-year history to earn consensus first-team All-America honors, awarded by the Associated Press. DHC was awarded the Colonial Athletic Association co-Defensive Player of the Year Award and was one of just three finalists for the Dudley Award, which is given to the top Division I player in the state of Virginia.

Need we say more? Okay, fine, if you insist. He also finished as the VaSID State Defensive Player of the Year and garnered a first-team All-CAA selection. He did this by leading W&M in tackles (109) from the safety position, ranking first in the CAA in tackles per game among defensive backs (8.4), and ranking tied for second in the CAA in interceptions (four) and interception return yards (124). To say that DHC has had an incredible career at W&M would be an understatement. Houston-Carson finished his career for the Green and Gold with 293 tackles, 10 interceptions and nine punt/kick blocks. Truly, one of the all-time greats in Williamsburg.

DeAndre Houston-Carson (right) during the 2016 Senior Bowl. [photo: Glenn Andrews / USA Today Sports]
DeAndre Houston-Carson (right) at the 2016 Senior Bowl. [photo: Glenn Andrews / USA Today Sports]

Senior Bowl Performance

It’s safe to say that DHC didn’t stay off the field long following the end of the 2015-2016 W&M Tribe football season, as he was promptly invited to the 2016 Senior Bowl. The Senior Bowl is a postseason collegiate football all-star game that showcases the best NFL Draft prospects of collegiate players who have actually completed their eligibility–hence use of the term “Senior.” Following the season, the Senior Bowl was an incredible opportunity for Houston-Carson to begin his road toward the NFL, and he took full advantage.

The week prior to the game includes an exclusive opportunity to compete in practices against fellow collegiate all-stars. To name a notables who participated in the Senior Bowl this year: OSU’s WR Braxton Miller, NDSU’s QB Carson Wentz, Stanford’s QB Kevin Hogan, and Alabama’s RB Kenyan Drake. These practices include several NFL Scouts who get to see players up-close and how they match up against their peers in several different drills. As an added bonus, several of the practices were aired on NFL Network during the week leading up to the game. As the week wore on, all reports coming out of practice showed that DHC belonged, and was making a name for himself as a ball hawking safety that could make a big hit.

All of this culminated in the Senior Bowl game itself on January 27, in which DHC shined. He played on both the Special Teams unit and on defense from the safety position, where he made a couple big hits, none better than the one above where he absolutely laid out one of the biggest tight ends on the field. Following the game, there was little doubt that DHC held his own against players from big-time FBS programs. NFL Scouts began to take  serious notice.

2016 NFL Combine Results

All of this attention garnered Houston-Carson an invite to the 2016 NFL Combine, held in the Indianapolis Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium. Again, DeAndre did not disappoint. He posted several impressive statistics, including a strong showing in the all-important 40-yard dash drill–even earning himself a shout out from Mike Mayock and Hall of Famer Deion Sanders on NFL Network. Here’s how DHC fared at the Combine:

40-Yard Dash: 4.54 seconds
Bench Press (225 lbs): 13 reps
Vertical Jump: 32.5 inches
Broad Jump: 115 inches
3 Cone Drill: 7.15 seconds
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.28 seconds
60-Yard Shuttle: 11.89 seconds

 

Again, fair or not, the 40-yard dash time carries a lot of weight in today’s NFL–especially for defensive backs; it just so happens that DHC’s 4.54 forty yard dash was good enough for a #5 overall finish among all safeties at the NFL Combine. More importantly we think is the fact that several NFL teams had the chance to interview DeAndre while he was in Indianapolis. Now, if any if you have met DeAndre, you know that DHC is an incredible person off the field. We have no doubt that NFL Scouts were incredibly impressed with his poise, maturity, and lack of character issues. Above all, these interviews may have been the most important segment of Houston-Carson’s NFL Combine visit, even above his 40-yard dash time.

NFL Scout Analysis & Draft Projection

Of course, several news outlet scouts have made comments on DHC and how his game would translate to the NFL; here’s what they’ve been saying:

“Houston­-Carson exudes confidence and football intelligence on the field and plays with the swagger of a D­-1 safety. In coverage, he is instinctive and responsive and trusts his eyes. While he is a ready, aggressive tackler, he still needs more beef on his frame and has to fine tune his angles to the ball to eliminate some of the big plays he has had a hand in. His physical and mental tools are starter’s quality and his special teams talent should get him on the field right away.” – Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

“FCS players had better dominate at their level to earn NFL attention and that is precisely what Houston-Carson did for the Tribe, starting for four years and recording an eye-popping 293 tackles, 10 interceptions and nine blocks. He possesses the length, fluidity and competitiveness to return to cornerback in the NFL. His range and vision are intriguing at safety but if he is to remain there, Houston-Carson must show more reliability as an open-field tackler.” – Rob Rang, CBSsports.com

In addition, DHC has heard his name “called” in mock drafts from several sources:

DraftSite.com: 5th round, 147th overall
Bleacher Report Mock Draft: 5th round, 153rd overall
Sports Illustrated Mock Draft: 2nd round, 55th overall

There’s no big consensus on exactly where DHC should be drafted, but we think it’s pretty safe to say that anywhere between the 2nd and 5th rounds, W&M faithful should be on the lookout for Houston-Carson’s name to be called.

Which NFL Team should DHC go to?

In order, the three mock drafts above project the following teams draft DHC: the Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles, and the Cincinnati Bengals. The Eagles pose the most interesting case of the three, as the team already boasts one W&M player on the roster–fellow safety Jerome Couplin III. For that reason alone, we wouldn’t mind if he wound up in Philly.

However, there is one team that we’d absolutely love to see Houston-Carson fall to…the Carolina Panthers. Now, before you poke holes in our logic, hear us out! Current draft projections have DHC going in the mid rounds. As he more than likely won’t be drafted in the first round, each team will have at least two or three chances to pick him up before he’s drafted. Even though the Panthers have a low draft pick, the team can still pick up DeAndre in the mid rounds.

[AP Photo/Chuck Burton]
Is this a match made in Heaven? It could certainly be the case with DHC and Sean McDermott in Carolina! [AP Photo/Chuck Burton]
But why the Panthers? Simple: Sean McDermott. McDermott is the current Defensive Coordinator of the Panthers. In the last four seasons, here is how the Panthers have finished the regular season in terms of overall defensive rankings: #6 (2015), #10, #2, #10 (2012). Okay, we get it. The Panthers have a great, top-10 defense and a superb defensive coordinator. Is that really the only reason? Of course not! As most Tribe super fans know, Sean McDermott is a TRIBE ALUM, from the class of 1998. What other reason do we need to want the Panthers to draft DHC?

But is this notion realistic or is it just a pipe dream? The Panthers already boast a very good free safety in Kurt Coleman, who finished with the third most tackles on the team last season (90). However, Coleman is in the last year of a 2-year contract, and will likely test his worth in free agency in 2017. If drafted to the Panthers, DHC would contribute on both Special Teams and in spot duty for Coleman, all while honing his skills each day in practice. Ultimately, we’d love to see him go to Carolina. A great coordinator who happens to be a fellow Tribe alum, ideal future prospects and a chance to grow, and an incredible defense on a team with a future. Why not?

Luke Rhodes NFL Draft Outlook

And let’s not forget DHC’s fellow senior captain, who happens to be an insane THREE-TIME All-CAA selection, linebacker Luke Rhodes. Luke is just 1 of just 11 players in the program’s history (again, 122 years) to be selected as a two-time team captain, finishing his career fifth in school history with 341 tackles. Rhodes, like DHC, started the offseason by participating in a collegiate all-star game, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, where he was scouted by several NFL teams. He performed well in the game, and was seen all over the field:

In recent weeks, we’ve heard countless rumors and speculation on Rhodes and where he could potentially land in either the NFL Draft or as an undrafted free agent, where he would be able to choose from a list of teams that would be interested in him. Let’s not soon forget that fellow Tribe alum Jonathan Grimes took the same route after his name wasn’t called during the NFL Draft–and he’s turned out just fine!

Grimes is currently entering his 5th year in the NFL, now with the Houston Texans. Not too shabby. Best case here is that Rhodes garners himself a late round draft selection, however if he doesn’t get drafted, it’s not the end of the world. A team will surely pick him up as an undrafted free agent, where he will be able to prove his mettle in summer training camp and qualify for an active roster. As far as we’re concerned, it sounds like he won’t have any issue finding a team:

Conclusion: How to Follow the Draft

As a refresher, the NFL Draft takes place over the course of several days. On day one, this Thursday, only the first round will occur and be broadcasted on live television. On Friday, rounds 2 and 3 will occur beginning at 7 PM on the same channels listed above. Finally, the rest of the draft will be finished with rounds 4 through 7, beginning at 12 PM on Saturday. Immediately following the Draft, college players who were undrafted become undrafted free agents, and are free to sign with any team that has interest in them.

Keep your fingers crossed, but any way you look at it, at least TWO Tribe players look primed and ready to begin their PROFESSIONAL football careers in the NFL. How many FCS teams can say that? LET’S GO TRIBE!!!

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