As NFL Draft weekend approaches, prospects await their fate

Courtesy UNI Elerson Smith in action for UNI

The 2021 NFL Draft is this weekend (April 29-May 1).

Minneapolis South graduate Elerson Smith is projected by several NFL mock drafts as a late-round pick, possibly on the second day but most likely on the third and final day of the draft. If selected, the 6’-6” Northern Iowa defensive end will be the third Minneapolis City Conference player picked this century (Ra’Shede Hageman, 2014; Tyler Johnson, 2020).

“I am looking forward to it,” Smith told the MSR. He knows he will be waiting awhile to see and hear his name called: “I’m not a first-round guy,” he admitted.

After graduation from South in 2016, Smith attended UNI, where he earned his communications degree. He redshirted his first year; then, as a redshirt soph in 2018, the player appeared in all 13 games and finished second on the team with 7.5 sacks.

Courtesy U of M Benjamin St-Juste

The following season Smith posted his best year with 63 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, and 14 sacks. He didn’t play in 2020 because the UNI football season was postponed and held this spring because of the pandemic. He opted out and began preparations for the draft.

Smith played in the 2021 Senior Bowl on Jan. 30. Since then, he has put on about 20 pounds of muscle. He’s now 262 pounds, up from 245 that he weighed for the game, and definitely up from 190 pounds where he was when he left South.

He also believed his March 22 Pro Day performance at UNI impressed pro scouts, especially his overall speed and “a good raw jump” when measured for his vertical leap and broad jump.

“I’ve been playing football for the last 10 years,” Smith noted.

Two former Minnesota Golden Gophers, Rashad Bateman and Benjamin St-Juste, both are projected as earlier picks. The 6’-0” Bateman could go as high as 20 and as low as 29, and the 6’-3” St-Juste is seen as being a fourth-round selection.

Courtesy U of M Rashod Bateman

“I was proud of myself,” said Bateman after his April 1 Pro Day at Minnesota.

“Teams were happy with what they saw. I had fun,” added St-Juste.

At least 42 invited Black players from the 2020 and 2021 classes participated in a two-day HBCU combine at the University of Alabama-Birmingham April 9-10. Last year’s event was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Every player deserves “the opportunity to have his talent assessed by pro scouts,” HBCU Combine Executive Director Phillip Blackwell told Sports Illustrated.

The waiting game commences later this week as many former college football players, now seeking their first post-collegiate job in the NFL, look to hear their names selected and called sometime during the weekend. 

“I’m not too nervous. I feel confident,” said Smith. “I’m pretty sure that I will be nervous come draft day.”

Maroons vs. Golds game returns

The University of Minnesota will hold its annual spring game Saturday, May 1 at 11 am. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the game was cancelled last season.

Gopher Basketball Coaches Lindsay Whalen and Ben Johnson will serve as guest head coaches. Whalen will help lead the Maroon team, and Johnson will help guide the Gold team. The winning team gets the Goldy’s Cup, and the best player will win the new Sid Hartman Spring Game MVP, named for the late sportswriter who died last year at age 100.

Both guest coaches got in their pregame predictions.

“I know a little something about winning gold and have no doubt that we will win Goldy’s Cup,” declared Whalen.

“I was fortunate to have a lot of success on Minnesota football fields in high school and expect that to continue during the spring game,” noted Johnson.