Cal Football: Will Anyone be Picked in the Draft this Year?

BERKELEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 09: Devante Downs
BERKELEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 09: Devante Downs /

Cal football is hoping to send a few players to the NFL this year, but will any of them be picked in the draft in late April?

With the college football season over and the NFL season close to its conclusion, all eyes will soon be on the NFL draft. Cal Football hopes to send at least one player to the NFL via the draft, and there are some players that could be that guy.

There is no clear-cut draft pick out of Cal this year, like Jared Goff was in 2016 or Chad Hansen in 2017. But, oddly enough for a Cal team that featured one of the absolute worst defenses in the country just a couple years ago, their best chance to have a drafted player could come from the defense this year.

The Bears haven’t had a defensive player hear his name announced during the draft since 2014, when the New Orleans Saints picked Khairi Fortt in the fourth round. They’ve been shut out in three straight drafts since. The top two options coming out this year who could reverse that trend are defensive lineman James Looney and linebacker Devante Downs.

Looney ends his Cal career with two consecutive All-Pac-12 honorable mentions, and was a big reason for the defense’s overall improvement in 2017. Last year, he tied for the team lead with 9.5 tackles for loss and tied for third with 3.5 sacks while playing all over the field. In Justin Wilcox and Tim DeRuyter’s scheme, Looney played defensive end, nose tackle, and even played with his hand out of the dirt as an outside linebacker on occasion. No matter where he was, he was a force for the defense.

He played three total seasons at Cal after transferring from Wake Forest, where his brother, current Dallas Cowboys’ offensive lineman Joe Looney, played his college ball. The younger Looney played 36 of a possible 37 games, starting 35 of them, in his three years. In 2016, he accumulated eight tackles for loss (second on the team) and 3.5 sacks. He finished his Cal career with 20.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks.

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Looney stands 6’3” and tips the scales at 280 pounds, which is good size for an end, but somewhat small for an interior defender. His best asset is his first step, which he uses to explode off the line consistently with the snap and beat slower linemen right away. That quickness can sometimes make up for a lack of pure athleticism, though he isn’t out there tripping over himself. Looney is a smart player that puts himself in good position to make plays, and doesn’t take any plays off. He’s one of those “high motor” guys that is constantly working hard at the line.

Downs could be a pick early on the third day of the draft, but that would be a risk given his injury history and his lack of time as an elite linebacker in the Pac-12. He was solid for the Bears in his first two seasons as a reserve linebacker and developed into a strong starter in 2016, but 2017 was his breakout. Under Wilcox and DeRuyter, Downs became one of the top defenders in the Pac-12.

In six games, plus one half, last season, he racked up 65 tackles to finish second on the team, set career highs with 5.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles, and tied his career highs with three sacks and two interceptions. He won the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week award twice in the first three weeks of the season, becoming the first Bear defender since 2010 to win that award twice in one year. At the time of his injury, he led the Pac-12 in tackles and was in the top-10 in the nation in the category.

Downs was so good in such a short time that he earned Cal’s defensive MVP, All-Pac-12 honorable mention as voted by coaches, All-Pac-12 second team as named by Phil Steele, and was first-team inside linebacker on Pro Football Focus’ All-Pac-12 team.

He possess the size to play inside linebacker in the NFL, standing at 6’3” and weighing 245 pounds. Downs is a good tackler who rarely lets players out of his grip, and possesses good sideline-to-sideline speed that makes him tough to run away from. As a blitzer, Downs was extremely effective in 2017, finishing third among Pac-12 ILBs with 13 quarterback pressures on just 50 pass-rush snaps. He also doesn’t give up on plays, which allows him to make awesome plays like this.

Both Downs and Looney provide enticing options for teams looking to shore up their defensive front seven. Downs in particular looks like a great candidate to hear his name called, and has the skill-set to be a stud down the line.

Another option from the defense is linebacker Raymond Davison III. He didn’t get the recognition of his counterpart Downs, but was quite productive last season. He’s an outside linebacker that’s smaller than Downs (6’3”, 215 pounds), but racked up 62 tackles, six tackles for loss, and led the team with 4.5 sacks.

On the other side of the ball, two offensive players who hope to make it at the next level are running back Vic Enwere and wide receiver Jordan Veasy.

Enwere is a big power back, weighing in at 245 pounds, and acted as such for the Bears. He played with other talented runners like Daniel Lasco, Khalfani Muhammad, Tre Watson, and Patrick Laird, but carved his own path as the short-yardage back. He ran for 1,411 yards on 302 carries, and scored 17 touchdowns (he was the Bears’ active touchdown leader by the end of the season).

He’s also shown an ability to make quick cuts to get to a hole, and has some good speed in short bursts. But his size and power were his calling card in college, and will be his calling card should he make it to the next level. Enwere received 52 carries in one-yard-to-go situations, and was successful 34 times (65.4 percent). On fourth down, he was successful on 12 of his 15 attempts (80 percent).

Enwere isn’t a big receiving threat, making only 18 catches in 43 games at Cal, but makes up for it with a good knack for blocking. Enwere, at best, is probably an undrafted free agent, but if a team really loves him, maybe he can go in the seventh round.

Veasy played two seasons at Cal, and though he didn’t rack up huge statistics, he’s that big receiver that has become the trend in the NFL. He’s 6’3” and 225 pounds, and has the physicality to go with good speed. He caught 63 passes for 797 yards and nine touchdowns in 24 games.

Veasy’s senior season was his best season, finishing with career-highs in receptions (38), yards (491), and touchdowns (six). He finished strong with 18 catches, 245 yards, and three touchdowns in his last four career games, including a career-high 111 yards against Colorado.

He struggled at times with drops during his career, but is an intriguing option because of his size that allows him to go up and get balls over defenders. Veasy’s a pretty good route-runner, but it wouldn’t hurt to refine that ability. He also looks like an undrafted player, but should get a nice, long look in someone’s training camp.

Next: Cal NFL Player of the Week: Last Bear Standing

Defense has not been Cal’s strong suit for a while, but maybe things are changing. Downs will probably get drafted, and Looney is a late-round option as well.