As of mid-August, the 2012 college football season looked like a golden opportunity for Da’Rick Rogers, a junior wide receiver, to establish himself as one of the nation’s best wideouts and either a first- or second-round draft pick should he declare for the 2013 NFL draft.
Playing for the Tennessee Volunteers, Rogers was set to form one of the nation’s best receiving duos across from fellow junior Justin Hunter, with one of the nation’s most talented quarterbacks, junior Tyler Bray, throwing the football their way.
Unfortunately for Rogers, he lost that opportunity on Aug. 23, when he was suspended indefinitely from the Volunteers due to multiple violations of the school’s substance-abuse policy.
Rather than sit out for the 2012 season, Rogers transferred to Tennessee Tech, an FCS program, so that he could remain eligible to play this season. Now it would seem nearly certain that Rogers will declare after one FCS season, but it is also certain that his draft stock has dropped considerably as a result of the transfer.
Not only will Rogers be playing against lesser competition this season, meaning he will have a much lesser scale on which to prove himself than in the prestigious Southeastern Conference, but teams will scrutinize his off-field behavior and suspected drug issues heavily, which could have many teams writing him off their draft boards already.
Scouting Rogers as a Player
When Hunter, the Volunteers’ No. 1 receiver, tore his ACL in the third game of the season last year, the window opened for Da’Rick Rogers to have a breakout sophomore season. That was exactly what he did, catching 67 passes for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns.
Rogers has the potential to be a tremendous NFL weapon because of his combination of his size and route-running skill. Listed at 6’3’’, 206 pounds, Rogers has the size of an outside receiver, but he runs quick, crisp and efficient routes like a slot receiver.
Rogers does not just have size; he plays with accompanying physicality, can run through contact and is very good at catching passes in traffic.
One play from 2011 that demonstrates his ability to use his size to his advantage came in Tennessee’s Oct. 15 matchup versus LSU last season.
On this play, Rogers runs seven yards upfield, where he is being blanketed by LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu (who ironically, like Rogers, was also dismissed from his program this season for substance-abuse violations). To break free, Rogers uses his size advantage over the 5’9’’, 175-pound cornerback by pushing him back with a hand check:
Rogers uses that hand check to get a step ahead of Mathieu as he runs a slant into the middle of the field. From there, Rogers continued to use his size advantage as he ran through contact from multiple LSU defensive backs before finally being taken down at the end of a 44-yard gain.
Later in the game, Rogers used his size advantage over the very talented cornerback once again. After Rogers made a catch on an eight-yard curl route, Mathieu had him wrapped up, but Rogers used his size and strength to shake Mathieu off and send him to the ground:
This enabled Rogers to extend the play for extra yardage and displayed how his size can really be an advantage, even on a play where he had lined up as a slot receiver.
Catching in traffic is also a big skill of Rogers’ game. There were multiple examples of Rogers making very difficult touchdown receptions in traffic last season, including against Cincinnati and Florida, where he ended up sandwiched between two defenders and took heavy hits, but still made the catch. He has the size and strength to get in position and hold on for the tough catch, as well as the courage to put himself in those vulnerable positions.
Rogers is also a very accomplished route-runner, especially for a sophomore. He can run the full route tree and gets in and out of breaks quickly and crisply. This skill gives Rogers the versatility to play inside as a slot receiver and create mismatches with his size and quickness, similarly to how New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez does.
Rogers may not be a deep threat with blazing speed, and he has to get more consistent with his hands, as drops have been an occasional issue for him. Overall, however, Rogers has the talent that potentially could have made him a late first-round or early second-round pick had he been able to keep playing for the Volunteers.
* h/t to YouTube’s JPDraftJedi for video used to capture screenshots
Where Rogers Now Stands
Playing in the SEC, Rogers had a great opportunity to make a big impression week in and week out, as almost all of his games would come against top-tier opposition. At Tennessee Tech, his only big opportunity to stand out this year will be on Sept. 15, when the Golden Eagles play at Oregon.
This drop in competition really hurts his chances of improving his stock, but will not drop his stock from where he was already at, which was in the second- to third-round range. His off-field issues, however, will have negatively consequential effects.
It is very important for Rogers to remain motivated on the field this year, while staying out of trouble off the field, to show NFL scouts and executives that he has learned his lesson and is turning his life around.
If Rogers can really dominate at the FCS level, he may still have a chance of being a second-round pick. However, his most likely maximum status is as a third-round pick, and if he fails to stand out at Tennessee Tech or has any more off-field trouble, he could drop well into the draft’s third day.
Rogers had three receptions for 75 yards in his first game, including a 52-yard play and a 17-yard touchdown. These are solid numbers, but he needs to build upon them as the season progresses to keep himself high upon the NFL’s wide receiver draft radar.
Dan Hope is the New England Patriots game-day correspondent and an NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.