FIU watched six players from its league, Conference USA, get drafted this past weekend, including two from rival Florida Atlantic. No FIU players were drafted.
Sunday brought better news for the Panthers as three of their players got a chance to reach their dreams.
Wide receiver C.J. Worton (Atlanta Falcons), defensive tackle Anthony Johnson (Tampa Bay Bucs) and punter Stone Wilson (Dolphins) have earned invitations to NFL training camps.
“All three had really good college careers,” FIU coach Butch Davis said on Monday. “I think all three have legitimate chances to make NFL rosters.”
Davis pointed to a pair of ex-FIU players who were not drafted in 2018 — linebacker Anthony Wint and tight end Pharoah McKever — but still scored invites to training camp and took advantage. Wint played two games for the New York Jets last year and is on this season’s depth chart as a backup. McKever is listed as a fourth-stringer for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
As for this year’s crop of undrafted free agents, perhaps Wilson can beat out veteran Matt Haack, who averaged 44.6 yards per punt for the Dolphins last year. Wilson averaged 44.2 yards for FIU, and now they could get matched up punt for punt in practices.
“I told scouts that Stone might get cut a time or two, but he has the talent to stay in the league for six, eight, 10 years,” Davis said. “It’s tough because they only keep one punter.”
Davis gave the example of Phil Dawson, who was cut twice before finally sticking with the Cleveland Browns in 1999. Davis coached Dawson in Cleveland from 2001 to 2004, and the kicker went on to earn Pro Bowl status in 2012 and is still in the NFL at age 44.
Meanwhile, Worton is set up to get the chance to catch passes from Matt Ryan while learning from six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones.
The Falcons also have Mohamed Sanu (66 catches last year) and Calvin Ridley (64).
Worton, who won a state title at South Dade High and transferred to FIU from the Florida Gators, ran a 4.37 in the 40 at his pro day. He also caught 37 passes last year, leading FIU with 627 receiving yards and six touchdowns. The 23-year-old Worton also posted a 33-inch vertical leap and is listed at 6-0 and 185 pounds.
“I don’t think anybody helped himself on pro day as much as Worton,” Davis said. “The scouts realized he has good hands and can return punts. He caught their attention with his versatility.”
A 6-3, 290-pounder, Johnson led FIU last year in QB hits (7) and finished second in tackles for losses (6.5) and sacks (3.5).
In Tampa, Johnson will find a depth chart that includes six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and 2018 first-rounder Vita Vea, a 350-pounder.
Davis, who was an advisor with the Bucs in 2012 and 2013, got to know McCoy during that time and believes Johnson can learn a ton from him.
“Gerald is an amazing leader with great work habits,” Davis said. “Tampa Bay is also a good fit for Anthony schematically. They play a system that will allow him to use his athletic ability and attack the line of scrimmage.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ FIU third baseman Austin Shenton, who extended his hitting streak to 15 games in Sunday’s 2-1 win over visiting Charlotte, is ranked by Baseball America as the No. 112 prospect in the 2019 MLB Draft. FIU recruit Eric Rivera — a left-hander from Puerto Rico who also plays outfield — is ranked No. 148.
▪ FIU’s beach volleyball team (17-11), which was among eight schools selected for the national championships last year, missed the cut on Sunday, ending their season.