Every year at about this time, football fans turn their attention to the NFL draft.
It’s no different at North Texas, where the question has been the same since 2004. Is this the year the Mean Green finally snap their draft drought?
Linebacker Cody Spencer was the last UNT player to be selected. The Oakland Raiders picked the UNT Hall of Famer in the sixth round nearly 17 years ago.
This is the first year we can say with near certainty in our annual look at UNT’s draft prospects that the drought is set to end.
Jaelon Darden entered the 2020 season as a solid draft prospect and has seen his stock soar ever since. He rewrote UNT’s record book as a senior while catching 74 passes for 1,190 yards and 19 touchdowns in just nine games before declaring for the draft.
Darden further solidified his draft prospects with a tremendous performance during his pro day in front of 34 scouts from 29 teams. The Houston native ran a pair of 40-yard dashes in the 4.47 to 4.48 second range and excelled in other drills.
Darden posted a time of 6.65 seconds in the three-cone drill and 4.07 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle. Both times were faster than any times posted by a wide receiver in the 2019 NFL scouting combine.
Darden measured in at 5-foot-7 1/2 and 174 pounds.
“I did well,” Darden said after his pro day. “I came out and was very consistent. I was proud of what I did.”
UNT has been down this road before with a few of its other top players in recent years.
Linebackers Zachary Orr and Craig Robertson as well as running back Jeff Wilson were all standout players at UNT and went on to carve out significant careers in the NFL. All were passed over in the draft and entered the league as free agents.
Darden appears to be a sure bet to break through and follow in Spencer’s footsteps by being drafted. Mock drafts have him slated to be selected anywhere from the third to seventh rounds.
Darden’s height might scare off some teams, but there is little doubt he will make UNT history this season in in the late rounds.
Projection: Sixth round.