Rhode Island boasts trio of prospects at NFL Combine
By CRAIG HALEY
(Stats Perform) - Schools below the FBS have a hard-enough time getting one prospect invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, so having three is extraordinary.
It has occurred on the FCS level this year, but not with one of the powers that usually come to mind, such as national champ North Dakota State or runner-up James Madison.
Rhode Island has three of the 12 former FCS players who help comprise 337 overall prospects at the annual pre-draft spectacle, which runs through March 2 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. With wide receivers Isaiah Coulter and Aaron Parker and offensive guard Kyle Murphy, URI is the first FCS school to boast a trio since Jacksonville State in 2017.
Making it more surprising for the flagship public university in the smallest U.S. state is it has only one winning season in the last 18 years. But that banner 2018 campaign also suggests how the trio of Combine invites helped raise the program's stature.
"I think that there's a tremendous amount of pride in our program to be able to send three quality kids out to the Combine, have an opportunity to go on and play," said seventh-year coach Jim Fleming. "It's also an incredible tribute to the work ethic and the focus and the preparation that these three kids have put into it to achieve this opportunity."
Parker and Murphy were first-team All-Americans as seniors last season, while Coulter - who is a cousin to Parker - went more under the radar, earning second-year All-CAA honors as a junior before he declared for the draft as an underclassman.
The 6-foot-2, 204-pound Parker was recruited out of Maryland to play outside linebacker, but he also was an option quarterback in high school, and the Rhode Island coaches quickly decided to utilize his great hands and speed at wide receiver. Excellent at creating separation on routes, Parker caught 216 passes for 3,460 yards and 30 touchdowns in 44 career games.
"His interest in getting better every day is very evident in terms of the work effort and interest in looking into the minute details associated with his craft," Fleming said.
"He's an alpha. He is a guy that is a catalyst for our entire football program, just the way he practices and plays. He's got a tremendous amount of emotion, so he'll be missed."
Coulter followed Parker to URI and is a vertical burner who joined his cousin as a 1,000-yard receiver this past season while he caught 72 passes and eight touchdowns. Although smaller than Parker at 6-2, 190, Coulter attacks the ball in contested coverage. Fleming supports Coulter's early entry into the draft, but preferred that he return for his senior season to mature more physically and perhaps become the top offensive player of the year in the CAA.
"I predicted it: the first time this kid touches the ball, he'll score a touchdown," Fleming said. "Sure enough, we threw a quick screen to him at Central Michigan three years ago and he took it (56 yards) to the house. He continued to grow in his role here, significant impact player for us. The most impressive probably was watching him play out against Virginia Tech (in 2019) because he really might have been the best player on the field at that time."
Murphy grew up less than an hour's drive north of URI in Attleboro. He gained experience at all positions on the Rams' offensive line, but at 6-3, 307, he will settle into being a guard at the next level. He is athletic and plays with an intelligent style.
"He's a no-nonsense guy," Fleming said, "that gives great effort on the day-to-day in his preparation both in the weight room and the offseason and, of course, on the football practice field. But when it came to game time, there was one more notch that he took things up on a Saturday. He's a finisher, a guy that just wants to finish every play."
Scouts routinely visited the URI last season to get to know the Rams' pro prospects, but little compares to the Combine, where all 32 NFL teams take an up-close-and-personal look at players through measurements and medical examinations, psychological testing, interviews and on-field workouts.
"Way back when, we had the opportunity to take very good raw material and be able to develop them to a level that gives them an opportunity to go on and chase a dream," Fleming said, "and it also allows us to be able to present URI and give us some street credit to the fact if in fact you come here, you can get to the NFL based upon your performance."
FCS Players Invited to 2020 NFL Scouting Combine
Quarterback: Kevin Davidson, Princeton
Running back: James Robinson, Illinois State
Wide receiver: Isaiah Coulter, Rhode Island; Aaron Parker, Rhode Island
Tight end: Charlie Taumoepeau, Portland State; Adam Trautman, Dayton
Offensive guard: Kyle Murphy, Rhode Island
Offensive tackle: Alex Taylor, South Carolina State
Defensive end: Derrek Tuszka, North Dakota State
Linebacker: Dante Olson, Montana
Safety: Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois
Punter: Alex Pechin, Bucknell
Updated February 24, 2020