Antone Exum very possibly could have been entering tonight's NFL draft as a projected 1st round pick if it weren't for what happened in January of 2013, when he tore his right ACL playing pickup basketball. The injury put Exum out for most of the 2013 season, which was a terrible thing to see, given his previous season at the corner spot where he stood out. Exum was not able to make a large impact this past season, given that he was only able to play in three games because of injuries. Those injuries have caused his draft stock to drop dramatically, but he is still working to get back to his previous high level of play.
Similar to James Gayle, it seems that Exum may have to make a position switch in order to get the most playing time in the NFL. This would involve a switch from cornerback to safety, which he played in his nascent stages at Tech. Either way, I'm really hoping Exum can get back to the way he was playing two years ago and be a dominant force in the secondary.
#VirginiaTech CB Antone Exum seems to be the forgotten man in this CB class. Outstanding JR tape (21 passes defended), durability is the ?— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) March 30, 2014
Exum's stats as a Hokie:
2010- 14 games, 5 starts, 45 tackles, 9 pass break-ups (led the team), 0 INTs
2011- 14 games, 14 starts, 89 tackles (led the team), 10 pass break-ups, 1 INT, 5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks
2012- 13 games, 13 starts, 48 tackles, 16 pass break-ups, 5 INTs (led the team), 1.5 tackles for loss
2013- 3 games, 3 starts, 4 tackles, 1 pass break-up
Exum showed as a Hokie that he can play well in coverage as well as make tackles consistently. Exum put up a team leading 89 tackles in 2011, exemplifying his above average ability to tackle for a defensive back. The following year, he led the team in interceptions with five, and he also broke up 16 passes, proving that he isn't lacking in his coverage skills either.
Exum also played some special teams in college, which could possibly help him win a job on a team that needs versatile players.The torn ACL made the 2013 season a nightmare for him, as he suddenly dropped off the draft radar, and he was faced with the realization that he would likely drop in the draft. However, I do applaud the way he gave his all to try and get back to play the last half of his senior season, because he easily could have thrown in the white towel and started to prepare for the draft without playing any games last season.
Highlight tape from Exum's Hokie career:
Exum's Numbers at the NFL Combine in February
He's listed at 6'0, 213 lbs
Bench Press: 17 (tied 6th against Corner Backs and 8th against Safeties)
40-yard Dash: 4.59 (29th against CB and 11th against S)
3-Cone: 7.05 (18th against CB and tied 5th against S)
Shuttle: 4.13 (8th against CB and 3rd against S)
Vertical: 35.00 (21st against CB and 9th against S)
Broad Jump: 117 (tied 24th against CB and tied 10th against S)
These numbers were definitely not Exum's best showing, which is most likely because he is still working his way back from injury. Hopefully NFL personnel directors are as optimistic as I am, because many might shy away from the health risk. Exum proved that his strength is still there by putting up 17 reps on the bench press, which was tied for 6th among CBs and was 8th compared to the safeties. Exum's speed is clearly not where he needs it to be, but again, the combine took place back in February so his times will likely have improved by the time he is ready to don the pads. His jumping ability wasn't strong either, as both his vertical and broad jump placed out of the top 20 compared to the other cornerbacks. If Exum were tested today, it would be reasonable to expect drastic improvements. And again, in spite of the injuries the NFL personnel directors thought highly enough of him to extend an invite to the combine, something only a few get.
Where Does He Go In The Draft?
NFL.com currently projects Exum as a 3rd or 4th round draft pick. Exum has the potential to be a great steal in the draft, given the way he played pre-injury. On the opposite side, there's the very real possibility that he may never recover from the injuries, and could struggle to make a teams 53-man roster. Exum played far too well in 2011 and 2012 to have one injury ruin his career, and I'm hoping a team in this draft believes he is better than most of the secondaries available.
With several Hokie defensive backs currently enjoying success in the NFL including Kam Chancellor, DeAngelo Hall and Brandon Flowers to name a few, there is hope that the D-Block reputation VT has earned over the years sways some club into taking a flyer on Exum a little earlier than anyone expects.
This draft is looking like an interesting one for us Hokie fans as several former Hokie stars should be taken, with at least as many signing as undrafted free agents.
Follow up with Gobbler Country as the draft continues on through the weekend.