NFL draft day 3 recap: Duo of former Cal defenders selected

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Although the 2020 NFL draft was, by nature, one of the most unique editions in NFL history, it was similar to the rest in that plenty of late-round gems will surely arise out of it. Day three is when NFL front offices make their mark, and it is all about identifying overlooked talent. Some players lasted longer than expected, while others were overwhelmingly surprised by early draft calls.

Jaylinn Hawkins selected by the Atlanta Falcons with 134th overall pick

What a surprise. We said it would be a good fit, and the Falcons made sure they got their guy. Most analysts, as well as Hawkins himself, expected him to be selected in the latter half of day three, but Atlanta clearly had him graded higher than most.

With the departure of Desmond Trufant, Atlanta has an extremely young secondary and Hawkins should be in line for significant playing time as a rookie. Keanu Neal, the strong safety ahead of him on the depth chart, has plenty of talent, but may see limited snaps after two consecutive season-ending injuries. Hawkins undoubtedly has a steep learning curve ahead of him, but Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn has a history of developing elite safeties and the former Cal star fits the mold of a physical box safety that Quinn loves.

Evan Weaver selected by Arizona Cardinals with 202nd overall pick

It has always been clear that the jump in athleticism from college to the NFL would limit Weaver’s ability, but the Cardinals were willing to take a risk on a guy who was anything but risky in college. Weaver was a lock for double digit tackles every Saturday in college, and he’s in line to continue racking them up at the next level. He will likely begin as a backup and special teams piece, but look out for Weaver to become a staple early down linebacker sooner rather than later.

Stopping the slides out West

Evan wasn’t the only Weaver to fall down draft boards.  Despite putting up 34 sacks in his college career and being given multiple early round grades, the Miami Dolphins were able to steal former Boise State edge rusher Curtis Weaver with pick 164.

Along with Evan Weaver, the Pac-12 saw a few of its other dominant players fall much further than their talent and production would have suggested. As one of the best collegiate pass rushers over the past couple seasons, former Utah defensive end Bradlee Anae was expected to be a solid day two selection. Yet with one pick remaining in round five, the two-time First Team All-Pac-12 Honoree found himself still on the board before the Dallas Cowboys scooped him up with the 179th pick.

It wouldn’t stop there for the Conference of Champions, as former Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin wasn’t taken until the seventh round, but was given the ability to stay close to home with the Arizona Cardinals. The star rushed for 26 touchdowns over the past two seasons and will have the chance to join a dynamic, revamped Cardinals offense highlighted by Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins.

Developmental quarterback time

Speaking of slides, former Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm was not selected until mid-fifth round by the Buffalo Bills. Despite being one of the best leaders and decision makers in the draft, the former SEC standout primarily fell due to his lack of arm strength. With the Bills, he will have the chance to settle in behind starter Josh Allen before being asked to play meaningful snaps.

Jacob Eason, who was once a Georgia Bulldog with Fromm, was seen as a high-upside prospect, albeit with limited college experience. He has a massive arm, but as displayed in Washington’s loss to Cal, Eason must work on his accuracy and decision making. Expect the Colts, who selected him in round five, to give him a couple years under Philip Rivers before being named a starter.

Former Oregon State standout Jake Luton, who engineered an upset win against Cal last season, was taken in round six by Jacksonville. Former Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew will likely be named the starter, but Luton will at least get a chance to compete for the starting spot.

Undrafted free agents looking for the right fit

Former Cal defensive back Traveon Beck was expectedly not selected, but he will be sure to garner interest as an undrafted free agent. He was one of the best collegiate nickel cornerbacks over the past couple years, and he should get a look during training camp.

Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon was also passed on despite leading the nation in passing yards per game by a significant margin. With teams always looking for depth at the position, expect him to get an opportunity to at least make a practice squad this season.

Shailin Singh covers football. Contact him at [email protected].