Sure, there's still a bowl game to play. However, it's about time we recognize the leaders of this Toledo Rockets football team and look ahead into their opportunity in the 2017 NFL Draft. Let's take a look at the Toledo seniors who have real opportunities to play on Sunday.
Seniors like Toledo-native, Storm Norton have several attributes that could, and should, translate to the National Football League. Norton, a six-foot-eight, 306-pound left tackle reminds some of former Central Michigan Chippewa, Eric Fisher who went on to be the No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 draft. While Norton won't be selected No. 1 in the draft, he still has a chance to be drafted rather high. Currently, Norton is listed anywhere from No. 10 to No. 20 out of offensive tackles eligible for the 2017 NFL Draft but I will say I think that should be a bit higher. Norton has anchored the offensive line for the past three seasons, even on great offensive lines. Toledo has been privileged with one of the best offensive lines in the nation over the past three years and Norton is a big reason for that. Not only that, but at 306-pounds, he holds the strength and frame of NFL systems with tremendous agility for a tackle of his size as well. So far this season, Norton has impressed in front of the several NFL scouts who have been on hand, both in the Glass Bowl, and at Toledo's road games, to check on a few of the mid-major players who could rise up the draft boards. While I see Norton likely being drafted in the later rounds, let's draw some comparisons to the 2016 NFL Draft, shall we?
We talked about how Storm Norton is anywhere from No. 10 to No. 20 in the offensive tackle ranks right now. In the 2016 NFL Draft, there were 19 offensive tackles drafted with No. 19 being taken in the sixth round. Therefore, if we do some projections based on those statistics, Norton could go anywhere from the fourth to sixth round. Sure, it's very early and he still has a combine and pro day to compete at, along with a likely Senior Bowl, but it's fun to compare and take a glance at, even months before the draft. The Toledo Whitmer High School alum has a real chance at making a name for himself in the National Football League.
Where do we begin with Mr. Kareem Hunt? The man who is just 25 yards away from breaking the all-time Toledo Football career rushing record has put on a show for Rocket fans his entire career. Currently, Hunt trails only former NFL back, Chester Taylor for No. 1 which will likely be broken in the Rockets’ bowl game. The scary part is, Hunt has been injured and has missed games in his Rocket career which would have given him the record by now, if he had been healthy. Hunt's health could be a concern of NFL scouts but there's no denying the strength and bulldozing ability of Hunt when the ball is in his hands. Hunt does not shy away from contact and has an incredible frame at about five-eleven, 225-pounds with pretty impressive speed. A big part of Hunt's stock will come from the NFL combine and his pro day, depending on his 40-yard dash times and different drills as well. Former Toledo runningback, David Fluellen was impressive in his Rocket career but ultimately didn't have the combine or pro day he expected after running poorly, but is still making NFL rosters each season. Now, Hunt has a chance to become the next Toledo runningback to have a successful NFL career. Hunt is currently listed as a top ten runningback going into the 2017 NFL Draft but that could rise or fall, obviously. Right now, we could see him going in the sixth or seventh round, but this obviously depends on his performance in a potential Senior Bowl, Pro Day, and NFL Combine.
Big Hes has the body of an NFL lineman, there is no question about that. At six-foot-three, 300-pounds, the Pittsburgh native is ready to be a big run stopper at the next level. As of right now, Treyvon Hester is rated as a top-fifteen defensive tackle and is projected to be drafted anywhere from the fourth to sixth round. Several NFL scouts were impressed with Hester’s strength but agility as well. Going into the bowl game, Hester has 39 tackles, eight for a loss along with five sacks. At defensive tackle, he has been extremely productive since his second year on campus and NFL scouts see that. The only problem going into the 2017 NFL Draft for ‘Big Hes’ will be the depth at defensive tackle. There are currently ten to twelve defensive tackles that could be drafted in the top four rounds, so Hester’s stock could be effected by where the dominos fall in the first few rounds. As stated previously, the Senior Bowl, NFL combine and pro day will all be extremely important for Hester’s stock. Right now, expect Hester to go in the fifth or sixth round but I certainly see him being drafted.
Talk about fighting through adversity, DeJuan Rogers has prevailed in Toledo, especially in his senior season after his mother had passed away. Rogers, a six-foot, 200-pound safety out of Detroit is rated as a top twenty safety going into the 2017 NFL Draft. The Rocket captain leads the team in total tackles with 82 along with an interception and seven passes defended. Rogers has the ability to play all over the field, both in pass defense and coming off of the edge in certain blitz packages. However, Rogers is going to need to prove something going into a potential Senior Bowl, pro day and NFL combine due to his current stock leaving him undrafted. Either way, Rogers will find himself an undrafted free agent signing somewhere and have a chance to make a roster, but the obvious goal is to be drafted somewhere. Rogers should run well in the 40-yard dash which will help his stock rise a bit. NFL scouts have made several trips to the Glass Bowl over the past two seasons and have seen the production out of No. 23 in Midnight Blue & Gold. We’ll see if Rogers is able to improve his draft stock over the next few months.
Michael Roberts is a guy that has burst onto the scene in 2016. Prior to the season, Roberts saw playing time but didn’t make big time plays as he has as a senior and NFL scouts are taking notice. Against Western Michigan, Roberts became Toledo’s single season touchdown reception leader, making big plays in the redzone all season long. The six-foot-four, 270-pound tight end will certainly have a legitimate chance to make an NFL roster but will have his work cut out for him. Toledo fans understand how athletic Roberts is and how he can make some incredible catches, but it’s time for him to prove it to the rest of the nation going into the 2017 NFL Draft. Right now, national scouting sites are not giving ‘M-80’ the recognition he deserves as he’s currently rated a top thirty tight end going into the draft. With legit size, strength, and athleticism, I’d be stunned to see Roberts cut from an NFL roster before the 2017 season. However, it’s up to the Senior Bowl invite, pro day, and potential NFL combine for Roberts, who has to run with good speed to help his stock as a big bodied tight end.
At six-five, 300-pounds, Mike Ebert has been productive on the Toledo offensive line. When Ebert had originally given his verbal commitment to Toledo back in August of 2011, many projected him to play defensive end for the Rockets. However, a position change proved to be a great fit for him as he fit in nicely at offensive guard. Right now, Ebert isn’t getting the big looks that Storm Norton is on the offensive line, but Norton may actually help Ebert get looks over the next few months as scouts flock to see the left tackle. Ebert will likely end up as an undrafted free agent but is currently on the lower half of draft eligible guards. The Rockets know the production and durability you get from No. 68, but he must have a solid showing at his pro day to improve his overall stock.
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All in all, the Rockets’ senior class was one of the best classes to come through the Glass City, as evident with the several outstanding evaluations. Toledo should honestly expect two to three players to be drafted in the 2017 NFL Draft with several others getting signed as undrafted free agents with opportunities to fight for roster spots. We’ll keep you posted as the Senior Bowl, pro day, and NFL combine all approach over the next few months.