Missouri Valley Conference prepares to send off elite prospects for NFL Draft

The National Football League will be hosting its 2022 NFL Draft on April 28-30. Hundreds of college athletes who have worked their entire lives to achieve this one goal will finally have the chance to make it a reality. 

In the Missouri Valley, multiple prospects will have the opportunity to prove themselves at the next level. Head and shoulders above everyone else is offensive lineman Trevor Penning from Northern Iowa. 

Penning stands at a whopping 6’7”, 325 pounds. He already possesses an NFL-ready body and scouts said is surprisingly light on his feet as he goes through his routine. 

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A lot of teams seeded in the middle of the first round are hoping to get their hands on Penning. 

“The tenacity of his play has separated him a lot[…] They like that edge that he plays with, because that’s hard to find in players,” said UNI head coach Mark Farley. 

Another prospect scouts will have to keep their eye on will be North Dakota State wide receiver Christain Watson. Right now, Watson projects as a second-round pick in most NFL mock drafts. 

Scouts love his verticality and his potential to strike big plays for elite offenses. Big-time playmakers are becoming increasingly important as the NFL has shifted more towards spread offenses. 

Watson would be the second straight NDSU player to go in the top two rounds, following former quarterback Trey Lance who was picked third overall in last year’s draft. 

“He works hard every day in practice. He takes pride in individual drills, team drills,” said NDSU wide receiver coach Noah Fauley, “Everything matters to him, which is fun to coach and fun to be around a guy like that.”

Southern Illinois features some NFL draft prospects as well, but they have been projected near the later rounds. Players like wide receiver Landon Lenoir and safety Qua Brown hope they can get a chance at the professional level. 

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Brown said playing in the NFL would be more than just a dream come true. It would validate all the years he poured his blood, sweat and tears into the sport. 

“If I have to step up and be a leader, I can help push guys to help them be better. Whatever role I need to fill, I know I can go out there and put my best foot forward,” Brown said.

Lenoir said he is more than thankful to Head Coach Nick Hill and the entire SIU football program for helping him reach this point in his career. Having the opportunity to play for the Salukis was one of the best decisions he ever made. 

Playing for the Salukis gave him the chance to compete against the best of the best every day in practice.

“We’ve got three guys in the NFL on defense, so these are guys I’ve been competing with my entire career. So I’m used to the competition,” Lenoir said. 

It won’t be easy for Lenoir and Brown, as only a few mock drafts have them projected into later rounds, like the sixth and seventh. It’s more than likely an NFL team would need to take a chance on them in order to become officially drafted. 

Nevertheless, both players said they would give the NFL everything they have in order to have success in the pros. Th

“I’ve had my back against the wall my entire career, and I’ve still been able to succeed through that. Even if I don’t end up getting drafted, it won’t be anything new for me,” said Brown, “It’ll just be another stepping stone for me along my path, and I’ll have to overcome it.”

Back in 2020, SIU safety Jeremy Chinn was drafted in the second round of the NFL draft. Chinn finished second in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting in his first season and has gone on to become a highly-touted free safety. 

Brown said seeing someone he played with and learned from have success in the league gives him hope the NFL is in his future. 

“Starting next to Chinn for multiple years, being in the same recruiting class, we both grew our game together. That definitely gives me high aspirations,” Brown said. 

On March 11, SIU hosted their Pro Day, an event in which NFL scouts come and watch players who weren’t invited to the NFL combine. Multiple players on SIU performed well, including Ze’Veyon Furcron. He accomplished 34 reps on the bench press, more than anyone at the combine. 

Lenoir said he thought his Pro Day (Lenoir did his Pro Day at Northwestern) went very well for him. He was glad he put on a show for the NFL scouts in attendance. 

“It felt good having the opportunity to show my talents to the, roughly, 27 teams that were there,” Lenoir said. 

The Washington Commanders and Atlanta Falcons reached out to him personally, according to Lenoir. 

In many ways, sports mimic the lives in which we live. And in life, nothing is guaranteed. Both players understand playing in the NFL is not something that will be handed to them. 

Luckily for Brown and Lenoir, it seems other professional leagues like the XFL are making a comeback. Not only the XFL, but a new spring football league (titled the ‘United States Football League’) has just emerged for players to showcase their talent outside of the NFL. 

This has already proven to work, as four previous XFL players got the chance to sign on with NFL teams after the rocky start to their careers. 

“The NFL is the ultimate goal. But sometimes things don’t go as planned,” Brown said, “So if I was in that position, I would go to whatever league gives me the best shot at making an NFL roster.”

Lenoir said, “I don’t want to think about that chance until it’s necessary. I’d be open to it, but right now I’m working hard to be in the NFL.”

Sports Reporter Cole Daily can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at cdaily_de. To stay up to date on all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter 

 

 

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