The NFL draft starts today and the Georgia Southern star hopes to hear his name called — the earlier the better.
“I’m just playing the waiting game now,” the Sprayberry High School graduate said by phone from his home in Marietta.
McKinnon has spent a lifetime with his eye on the NFL but now has to wonder what professional organizations will be looking for in him.
During a recent edition of ESPN’s “SportsNation,” draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. named a dozen running backs ahead of McKinnon in the upcoming draft, then said “the sleeper at running back is Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern.”
McKinnon, who recently turned 22, has given scouts a lot to sleep on.
Despite playing as an option quarterback for most of his college career, the 5-foot-9, 209-pounder displayed the ability to line up as a running back during the week of the Senior Bowl.
His numbers at the NFL combine — a 4.41-second time in the 40-yard dash, 32 reps of 225 pounds and a 40½-inch vertical jump — suggest he has the skills to play at the next level.
And if scouts weren’t impressed with his 1,817 rushing yards as a junior (third-most in a single season at Georgia Southern) and 1,050 yards as a senior (playing the last five games with a sprained ankle), he can always point to a trilogy of games at the highest collegiate level.
In games when Georgia Southern was overmatched against Alabama, Georgia and Florida, McKinnon rushed 33 times for 282 yards (8.5 yards a carry) and three touchdowns.
McKinnon understands the questions some might raise about playing at Georgia Southern, which competed at the Football Championship Subdivision level and used an unconventional triple-option attack, but he sees his time as an Eagle an asset.
“I had a chance to do a bit of everything,” McKinnon said. “Playing for coach (Jeff) Monken, (there was) hard coaching, an emphasis on fundamental football. Now I see how it made me better.”
The future is now for McKinnon.
“I wouldn’t know where to start to explain,” said McKinnon about having a chance to play in the NFL. “I know I’m fortunate to have this opportunity.”
Since Georgia Southern’s pro day in early April, McKinnon said he has visited Buffalo, Arizona, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Houston.
He said he has heard from just about every team, but his draft status is as unpredictable. CBSSports.com projects McKinnon to go in the fourth round.
“It’s hard to say whether one team has shown more interest than another,” he said. “I really have no idea where, or when, I might be drafted.”
McKinnon said teams like his versatility.
At Georgia Southern, he returned punts and kickoffs. As a sophomore, he ran, caught and threw for touchdowns. And when the team needed more athletic ability in the secondary, he played defensive back and recorded two interceptions in a playoff game against Maine.
“I’m playing the versatility card,” McKinnon said, a little laugh surrounding his words.
He pointed out that rookies who make NFL rosters often are expected to play special teams. Former Georgia Southern star running back Adrian Peterson was a valuable asset on special teams with the Chicago Bears during his eight-year career.
McKinnon said his transition from quarterback to running back doesn’t seem to concern scouts — he ran mostly between the tackles as a quarterback — but his pass protection remains an unknown.
McKinnon will find out what the future holds in the next few days. He plans to be at home with family and a few friends. He’ll keep his phone nearby in anticipation.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” McKinnon said. “When I get that phone call, it will.”