With the constant rise of declaring underclassmen in the draft since 2008, fans should be less and less surprised by where the declarees may come from. While there’s usually 15-20 juniors almost everyone expects to declare for the draft, there’s easily 20-25 more than few saw coming.
Adam Muema of San Diego State and Austin Franklin of New Mexico State are two of those unexpected juniors to take the NFL leap. Regardless of their reasoning, they’ve decided that the NFL is the best option for them.
After scouting both prospects, it’s clear they both have legitimate NFL talent based on the film. But it’ll be a tough journey ahead as unheralded juniors in a fierce NFL Draft process.
Adam Muema, RB, San Diego State
After a 1400+ yard season following in Ronnie Hillman’s footsteps, Muema appeared to have a bright future as Hillman’s heir apparent in the Aztec backfield. However, an ankle injury limited him early this season, and he seemed to lose a bit of the quickness and downfield speed that he showed as a sophomore. With already 500+ carries under his belt, another season of 200 carries, more pressure on that ankle, and a higher chance for injury, Muema decided it was best to end his career early and keep himself as healthy as possible for the NFL.
Muema lacks great stop-start quickness, doesn’t have great open field speed, and seems to hesitate before attacking the hole as well as you’d like. He uses slow, chopping steps at times as he tries to react to a defense, slowing his ability to get to his top speed and limiting the holes defenses give him. However, he does a great job of playing within himself, not running too wide and leaving himself open to big hips. He has plus balance through contact, and does a great job of subtly adjusting laterally to brush off tacklers in the open field. By keeping his base low to the ground, he sinks low through contact and further aids his balance. His vision and anticipation once past the line of scrimmage is certainly a plus, and he can break big plays thanks to this despite his lack of great speed. He sets up his blockers well, rarely over-running them and allowing for added chunks of yards in traffic downfield. He’s shown pass catching ability, a huge plus for a runner of his size in today’s NFL, and that will need to be a big factor if team’s consider drafting him.
His lack of ideal size (5’9, 205), ankle injury past, and lack of great speed immediately limits Muema to a 4th-5th round pick at best, and he likely falls past that if team’s don’t see his value as a pass catcher. His best comparison is probably Pierre Thomas, a guy who can pass catch well and, despite not having great tools, is able to consistently pick up yards past the line of scrimmage. He’ll get a 7th round grade from us now, but pass catching workouts and his Combine numbers will go a long way for Muema.
Austin Franklin, WR, New Mexico State
Playing only in the slot (plays the “H” receiver role for this team), the 6’0, 184 pound receiver is the best and only legitimate NFL talent on the offense. After a breakout 2012 season where he had over 70 catches, and over 1200 receiving yards, Franklin was ruled academically ineligible in the pre-season and didn’t get any playing time for the first five weeks. However, immediately upon his return, he’s shown the same ability he displayed in 2012. With his quarterback ready to graduate and likely positive feedback from NFL teams, Franklin decided to make the jump early to the NFL.
A remarkably quick player, Franklin utilizes his impressive stop-start as a route runner to exploit gaps in zone defenses quick on hitch and inside routes. While his in-breaking and out-breaking routes could use some polishing, his threat of vertical speed has been enough to gain consistent separation from defenders. A fluid mover in the open field, Franklin changes direction smoothly and without losing upfield balance. He’s able to gain speed quickly after the catch, rarely breaking stride and turning upfield quickly and with a low immediate base to break a defensive back’s tackle initially. With a bit of a narrow frame, Franklin doesn’t work well in traffic as a pass catcher, but can be an explosive seam threat, as he’s shown over his career. He’s received plenty of work as a runner on reverses, and has shown the open field running ability to make defenders miss for the next level. The three biggest concerns with Franklin are his hands (not always a hands-catcher), his limitations to playing only in the slot (and avoiding press coverage or talented-enough man coverage), and the fact that he hasn’t faced many talented defensive units.
As a junior, the only area where he can perform for NFL scouts will be the NFL Combine and his impending pro day. He possesses the big play slot receiver talent to warrant a draftable grade, but he’s certainly a risk with his surprise declaration, need to play in the slot, and untested separation skills. Still, he’ll be on our board as a 6th round pick, with the chance to rise a lot more if he can run a low 40 time at the Combine, which is very possible based on his speed displayed on film.