Though no Middle Tennessee player heard his name called during the NFL Draft, five players have joined NFL rosters as undrafted free agents or received rookie minicamp invitations.
Running back I’Tavius Mathers, cornerback Jeremy Cutrer, defensive end Steven Rhodes, offensive lineman Maurquice Shakir and defensive end Chris Hale all signed or accepted minicamp invitations in the hours and days following the conclusion of the draft on Saturday.
Each player will get a chance to prove themselves at rookie minicamps, which take place in the coming weeks before organized team activities (OTA) begin.
Here is where each player is heading:
I’Tavius Mathers – Jacksonville Jaguars
Mathers, who set MT all-time single-season records in rushing yards (1,561), all-purpose yards (2,194) and receptions for a running back (66) last season, was reportedly picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars a mere 20 minutes after the draft ended.
The Murfreesboro native has a lot of company in the Jags’ backfield. He joins four other backs, including the draft’s fourth overall selection, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, that will be vying for playing time. The other guys in the group are veteran Chris Ivory and third-year players T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant.
What may set Mathers apart from Jacksonville’s other running backs is his versatility. He became the first player in NCAA FBS history to have 1,500 yards rushing, 500 yards receiving and 60 catches in the same season in 2016, and that pass-catching ability may keep him in a Jaguar uniform.
Jeremy Cutrer – Jacksonville Jaguars
Mathers wasn’t the only Blue Raider the Jags had an eye on. Cutrer will join his teammate in North Florida on a roster that is filled with cornerback talent.
Joining the former Blue Raider at the corner spot are nine other players, most notably A.J. Bouye, a highly touted free agent that joined the Jaguars from the Houston Texans in the offseason. Nashville native Jalen Ramsey – the No. 5 pick in the 2016 draft – is also there, along with Aaron Colvin, Akeem Davis, Doran Grant, Tracy Howard, Josh Johnson and rookies Jalen Myrick and Ezra Robinson.
The 6-foot-1 Cutrer has the height most NFL teams are looking for at cornerback, and he showed a good tackling ability at Middle Tennessee that makes up for his listed weight of just 167 pounds. He was fifth on the team with 64 tackles and first in interceptions (three) and pass breakups (10) in a First Team All-Conference USA season in 2016.
Steven Rhodes – Tennessee Titans
Rhodes, a 28-year-old Marine veteran, took one step closer to fulfilling his dream of playing in the NFL by receiving a rookie minicamp invitation from his hometown Titans.
The Antioch native may have a lot going against him, being that he will be a 28-year-old rookie this season, but he could be aided by the Titans’ inability to add an edge pass rusher this offseason. Currently there are only three players – Caushaud Lyons, Mehdi Abdesmad and Angelo Blackson – listed as defensive ends on the Tennessee roster.
If Rhodes is going to make the most of his rookie minicamp, he will have to find a way to show he can be a pass rusher in the league. He had 4.5 sacks and seven quarterback hurries last season for the Blue Raiders, but he also proved an efficient tackler with 41 out of the defensive end spot. He also forced and recovered a fumble.
Maurquice Shakir – Baltimore Ravens
MT head coach Rick Stockstill announced Saturday that Shakir signed with the Baltimore Ravens.
Shakir joins a Ravens offensive line that is going through some turnover after losing two players this offseason. But, with eight guys listed on the roster as guards, including fourth-round pick Nico Siragusa, there will be plenty of competition.
Shakir will likely have to beef up his 6-foot-4, 308-pound frame, but he’s definitely has proven he’s tough to take off the field once he’s on it, no matter if he’s undersized. He started 25 out of 26 career games played for the Blue Raiders over the last two seasons.
Chris Hale – Green Bay Packers
After having a disappointing season due to injury, Hale took another step towards his NFL dream by accepting a rookie minicamp invite from the Green Bay Packers on Saturday.
The 6-foot-5 defensive end had some expectations going into the 2016 season thanks to a four-sack redshirt junior campaign in 2015, but a dislocated elbow on the first play of his senior season derailed what could have been a very promising year for the blue and white. Hale finished with just a single sack and three hurries on the season while starting 10 games.
Hale has the size and arm length to turn heads in the NFL as a defensive end, but he will have to show more production to go along with his extreme athleticism.