By Chuck Licata, Managing Editor at TexasHSFootball.com
No question – Gerald “The Ice Cube” McNeil was one of my favorite players in my childhood days in Eastern Pennsylvania.
Understand: what little athletic prowess I had as a kid, I was one who played multiple positions (every place but catcher on a baseball field; wide receiver/kick returner on the football field). Thus, guys like McNeil and Eric Metcalf (both receivers/kick returners in the NFL) were my gridiron heroes.
While McNeil (Baylor University, 1983; Killeen HS) didn’t have a long NFL career- four seasons (1986-89) with the Cleveland Browns and one (1990) with the then-Houston Oilers – he was an impact guy. McNeil, considered by many as one of the most exciting players in his time in the league, totaled 3,569 total return yards (1,852 coming on kickoffs), and four total TDs (two return TDs and two receiving touchdowns). McNeil earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in 1987 and was the only league player to return both a kickoff and punt return for a touchdown in ’86.
McNeil, a 1983 All-American and Baylor Athletic Hall of Famer, was tops on a lot of Baylor all-time lists before the Bears went spread-offense in recent years.
So imagine my thrill when, two years ago, one of my mentors (Houston resident Rob “Big Daddy” Lynch) introduced me to “G” (as I now call him) in person.
Well, in talking with McNeil last week about our efforts at Texashsfootball.com, he got excited when I told him about our recent push on highlighting Texas-roots guys who will hear their names called in the upcoming NFL Draft. You see, besides owning his own printing company that claims several big Houston-based companies like Gallery Furniture as established clients, McNeil works with the Houston Texans as a Community Ambassador and talent evaluator; he coaches and works with college and younger kids; and, he talks with several coaches and ex-players around the NFL and college levels.
Oh – and he LOVES NFL Draft Day!
So it only made sense that I pick McNeil’s brain and get his thoughts about some of the Texas-based players we’ve mentioned here in previous weeks. After all, I may be taller than McNeil (I’m 6-foot, he’s all of 5-7) but when it comes to football knowledge…well, let’s just say he knows a LOT more than I do!
One note on what’s to come: The “G-Team” is McNeil’s choice of the NFL team he believes would be the best fit for each player and his particular set of skills.
Player: Andrew Billings, Junior, Baylor (Hometown: Waco)
6-foot-1, 311 pounds
McNeil’s overall analysis of Billings: He’s a player! I’m very excited about him. Folks around the NFL were wondering if he’d come out (in the NFL draft). He’s very strong, he’s got great feet for a defensive lineman, he’s physically imposing and he has athletic power and quickness. On draft boards, teams are putting up 2-3 stars on him. Let me say this: some folks around the league are saying – and I quote – Billings “is a potentially disruptive interior pass rusher.”
What makes Billings attractive to NFL teams: He’s 6-foot-1 and a junior; folks are hoping he grows a couple more inches. On him, 6-1 is an advantage because he’s going to have great leverage against guys that are bigger than him. I saw a lot of tape on Billings. His moves, mobility and technique put him in the NFL already. His talent makes him an immediate impact player in the NFL. Whoever gets him will be thrilled.
McNeil’s draft projection for Billings: To me, Billings is easily one of the top 15 picks. Defensive tackles tend to go early – that has nothing to do with comparisons to other players at other positions, it’s just that the DT position is in high demand. Again, Billings will be a big impact player.
The “G-TEAM:” Pittsburgh Steelers. The way they like to rush the passer makes him a great fit for the Steelers. That team – their head coach and GM in particular – are looking to build on defense; he’s a perfect fit. However, the Steelers pick 25th in the first round so he most likely won’t be available to them unless they trade up.
Player: A’Shawn Robinson, Junior, Alabama (Hometown: Fort Worth)
6-foot-4, 307 pounds
McNeil’s overall analysis of Robinson: A’Shawn is one of 3-or-4 talented Alabama defensive linemen. He’s very strong, has good power and is one of the best run-stoppers in the draft! He may not have had any QB sacks last year, but realize he’s the man who got double-teamed each and every play. He shreds blockers easily. If there’s anything he’s lacking, it’s that he doesn’t have a quick burst/quickness off his initial step.
What makes Robinson attractive to NFL teams: He’s just a junior and many scouts believe he has a major growth spurt coming. Defensive tackles usually go early in the NFL draft, so most likely he’ll move up the draft board quickly. I believe there’s almost a certainty you’ll see a “run” on DTs in early the draft.
McNeil’s draft projection for Robinson: Definitely by the end of Round 1. What’s interesting: the team that grabs him around the end of Round 1 will be one that made the playoffs. That’ll be good for Robinson; they can groom him and give him time to grow as a player. He won’t have to be an immediate impact player, although he very well could be an impact player anyway.
The G-TEAM: New York Jets. Without question, Robinson would be a great fit with the Jets. The “Jets-Jets-Jets” lost two interior defensive linemen. I see their second-year head coach (Todd Bowles) using him wisely. I think he’s a perfect fit – they can use him and bring him along slowly in their 3-4 scheme.
Player: Josh Doctson, Redshirt Senior, TCU (Hometown: Mansfield)
McNeil’s overall analysis of Doctson: He’s a clear-cut Top 3 receiver in the draft. He’s tall and lean (6-2, 202) and the league guys love that. I love that he goes up and goes for the ball. He doesn’t wait for the ball to come down to him; he goes up and gets the ball. That’s what I teach all the guys with whom I work. He has that rare speed and athleticism to get behind defensive backs.
What makes Doctson attractive to NFL teams: Age is a factor in his favor. Teams will go for older players because they want maturity in draft picks. He runs great routes and plays like a veteran receiver.
McNeil’s draft projection for Doctson: Josh is a definite first rounder. My guess is he’ll go mid-first round. The ONLY question with Josh would be his interviews with various teams. If he impressed them in their conversations and showed maturity, there’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be one of first receivers off board.
The G-TEAM: Cleveland Browns. The Browns have used early-round picks on receivers in the past and with RG-III (Robert Griffin the third) signed at quarterback, Doctson makes sense for them. Plus, the Browns have multiple picks early as they have #2 pick in the second round; that means they could trade up and grab Doctson. Or, if he’s somehow still available, the Browns could wait and take Coleman with that second pick in Round 2.
Player: Corey Coleman, Junior, Baylor (Hometown: Richardson)
McNeil’s overall analysis of Coleman: There’s already rumors the Texans may take Coleman. There’s talks over here he’s being compared to Texans’ (All-Pro) receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Corey is 5-11, 194 but plays a lot bigger than that. Flat out – he’s a football player. He had a very impressive Pro Day at Baylor. Now that the Texans have improved their quarterback situation (with free-agent signing of Brock Osweiler) they could possibly use Coleman. Although if you know the draft history of the Texans, you know they usually draft defensive players in the first round.
What makes Coleman attractive to NFL teams: He’s a playmaker; he can go up and get the ball. Look at the outstanding receivers in the NFL: the really good ones go up – and go over the middle – and get the ball and don’t worry about getting hit. Like Doctson, that’s Coleman. One thing that might hurt is he’s coming out of run-and-shoot offense. So, NFL teams will question if he can run precise pass routes and how will he handle one-on-one situations as a receiver.
McNeil’s draft projection for Coleman: I think he’s first-rounder but could be a second rounder. Realize: when you get to the 22nd and 23rd pick of the draft, teams usually go for the best player on board. They’ll usually take a defensive lineman, possibly a defensive back. So, Coleman could slip to the second round. However, if Coleman is drafted around there, it won’t be a “reach.” With his big-play ability, Coleman’s going to make some NFL general manager look like a genius.
The G-TEAM: I’m sure a lot of Texans’ fans would like me to say the Texans, but honestly I think the New Orleans Saints are the team that best fits Coleman’s talents. They run the spread already and Drew Brees (Austin native; Westlake High School graduate) loves playmakers – they kind who can catch the ball and go to the house. Their alignments on offense put receivers out “in space,” which is perfect for Coleman.
Rashard Higgins, Junior, Colorado State (Hometown: Dallas)
McNeil’s overall analysis of Higgins: He’s not a speed burner at all. But, I see him helping teams as he’s tough on tacklers. Watching film on him, I’ve seen him throw a great stiff arm. Teams in the NFL love players like him; he’s going to be a productive NFL player. Honestly, I believe he’s going to be in the league for 10 years.
What makes Higgins attractive to NFL teams: This is a kid with the ability to run as well as be a successful player in a system. He’s not flashy or spectacular but he’s a solid contributor to a team’s offense. He has great hands – I’ve seen him run the reverse and do other things. He probably won’t do that in the NFL, but the fact is he’s versatile. You’ll see him on the field week-in and week-out. He’ll be a good possession receiver.
McNeil’s draft projection for Higgins: He’s going to be a steal in the draft, although I expect he’ll fall to the bottom of the third round. He is a top-10 receiver coming into the draft and that’s why he’s an absolute steal any time after the middle of Round 3.
The G-TEAM: Kansas City Chiefs. They have had problems drafting receivers in the past. Higgins is a good target for (Chiefs’ QB) Alex Smith and he’ll be in a good system at Kansas City.
Player: William Jackson III, Senior, Houston (Hometown: Houston)
McNeil’s overall analysis of Jackson: Officials from a couple NFL teams showed up for (the University of) Houston’s Pro Day. Teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers are looking for defense and Jackson impressed everyone on Pro Day. This cat is the best athlete and best player at his position on the board, which is saying a lot considering the position is pretty deep with talent in this draft.
What makes Jackson attractive to NFL teams: He ran a 4.29 (40-yard dash); that’s the second-fastest at the position. His arm span is something like 31 and three-quarters inches, which is unreal for someone his size. He’s a tremendous athlete who can consistently (play-after-play) run fast. He also has great make-up speed, Deion Sanders had great closing/make-up speed. If he’s getting beat in coverage, he’ll be able to close the gap quickly on a receiver.
McNeil’s draft projection for Jackson: I’m saying he’s the first defensive back off the board. I realize that’s a reach but I believe it. He’s got the kind of speed where they can put (defensive) guys on the line and leave him in one-on-one coverage with receivers. He’s a good kid and a quality person. To me, he’ll be a big impact player immediately.
The G-TEAM: Green Bay Packers. They’re looking for some help in the defensive secondary and Jackson’s a perfect fit.