We spoke with Eliot Sill of The Champaign Room, SB Nation's Illinois site to learn more about the Bengals' seventh round Draft pick, Clayton Fejedelem. Safety is certainly one of the Bengals' weaker position groups so Fejedelem will have a good opportunity to prove his worth this offseason.
Cincy Jungle: What do Illinois fans best know Fej for?
Eliot Sill: Having a worrying amount of tackles. As in, "Wow, Fej had 12 tackles? Well, that's great, but why was their running back getting into the secondary with such frightening regularity?"
CJ: What were his strengths?
ES: He has a nose for the ball. Seemingly always around the play and packs a wallop for a guy his size. He's a hard worker who gets off on proving doubters wrong, making him a pretty ideal late-round pick.
CJ: How about any weaknesses?
ES: OK, this is going to sound bad, but: coverage? He was put in a role at Illinois more of linebacker support, and the purpose of that was twofold in that it made use of his strengths and took him out of frequent one-on-one-type coverage situations. Now he's not terrible at it, and a good position coach should be able to work him into a respectable player over a couple of years, which he can happily spend gunning on special teams. Size is also a concern, at 6'0", 205, but he had no trouble bringing down Big Ten ball carriers, which is a good sign.
CJ: Did he have any major injuries in college?
ES: Nope! Fej was about as consistent as they come, playing in all 25 games that transpired during his two years at Illinois. "Two years?" you say? Fej was a juco transfer, from NAIA school St. Xavier, in Chicago.
CJ: Any red flags people know about?
ES: I'll be brief: No.
CJ: Did you think he'd be drafted? And if so, when?
ES: Optimistic Illinois fans did. I am not one such fan. Projecting anyone to go in the seventh round is silly because you have all the fallers who were projected in earlier rounds, plus secret little project guys teams have scouted that they want to take a chance on (which, apparently Fej was one). The pool of players with about the same talent level gets really huge toward the later rounds so it still feels like luck if you get selected then. Fej was a projected sixth-seventh round guy. Illinois media really pushed for him to get drafted. I was surprised, but the fit makes sense.
CJ: Do you think he'll take time to develop in the NFL?
ES: "Take time to develop" sounds like it will require a few years before he can contribute. He will be able to contribute right away on special teams. He's aware that will likely be his role on an NFL team (which is good!) and he's got the skill set for it. However, I think he will develop over his first two or three years into someone who can eventually make due in a defensive role.
CJ: How did he do against Illinois' best competition?
ES: Recorded 15 tackles against Ohio State, 19 against Wisconsin, and 9 against Iowa. He's a gamer.
CJ: Which safety spot has he played most in?
ES: At Illinois he was almost exclusively a free safety, though I believe he was more of a strong safety at St. Xavier.
CJ: I'm already embracing the Fej nickname. Any others we should know?
ES: Well, the Fej nickname is a good one. But you should know how to pronounce his real name, because it's deceptive. It's "FEJ-uh-lum." That's it. If you hear someone say "Fe-JEH-duh-lum," don't make fun of them — kindly explain that, though their attempted pronunciation is phonetically sound, it's simply not the way his name is said, and inform them of the correct, more palatable pronunciation.
CJ: Anything else you think Bengals fans would like to know?
ES: He wasn't offered a D1 scholarship out of high school, went to St. Xavier to prove himself and did. Made his way to Illinois, where this past season he had seven 10+ tackle games. He wasn't invited to this year's draft combine. His numbers at Illinois' pro day (4.53 40) earned him some attention. He's made a career of being underrated. In a couple years, when your dad is talking about "the little guy with the funny name who's always making the big special teams plays," feel free to smile knowingly.