One of the many exciting aspects of the NFL Draft is the numerous small school prospects who go largely unnoticed during the college football season, and slowly come into the limelight during the pre-draft process.
Saint Francis University defensive back Lorenzo Jerome is one of highlighted small school players in the 2017 NFL Draft. In this Cincy Jungle exclusive draft profile, we’ll take a look at Lorenzo’s background, his play via film, and get some words from his head coach at SFU.
Lorenzo Jerome Measureables
|Arm Length||30 5/8"|
|Bench Press||11 reps|
|20 Yard Shuttle||4.68s|
* Jerome originally ran a 4.7 40 yard dash at the NFL combine, but improved his 40 time to a 4.53 at his pro day workout.
A Catalyst For Success
Before Jerome arrived, Saint Francis was not exactly known for their prowess at football. The Red Flash competed in Division III from 1978-1992 with mixed success and in 1993 moved up to FCS competition where they previously struggled in the Northeast Conference. In the last few years however, Jerome, along with a number of other talented recruits and new head coach Chris Villarrial have begun to turn the program around. This came to a head in the 2016 season, with SFU (under Jerome’s leadership) capturing their first conference title and postseason appearance since joining the FCS. Villarrial is a former NFL offensive lineman with 148 starts between the Bears and Bills, and he sees plenty of potential for NFL success in his star safety. I spoke with Coach Villarrial to see just what he saw in Jerome, and how he can be an asset to NFL teams.
A Florida native, it was head coach Chris Villarreal who convinced a younger Jerome to leave the sunny Florida weather for the cold snows of Loretto, Pennsylvania. When asked if he knew then that Lorenzo had NFL ability, Villarreal was candid in admitting that you can never be sure.
“I don't think you can ever predict someone to play in the NFL when you are recruiting them, there are way too many unknowns and variables to account for,” said Villarreal. “We thought we were recruiting a really good football player but I don't think you can ever foresee someone accomplishing everything he has.”
From the moment he set foot on campus, Jerome became a key contributor for the Red Flash, but his coach was quick to point out that the talented NFL prospect and 2017 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl MVP, has never been the type of player to only rely on his natural talent.
“Lorenzo is a better worker than he is a player,” Villarreal said. “His compete level from pickup basketball to the conference championship game is what truly separates him. He will compete day in and day out and won't take a backseat to anyone.”
In talking to his former coaches they truly believe his intense work ethic is what will separate him from the pack at the next level. The hallmark of Jerome’s play has been his versatility as well as his ability to make big plays, and Villarrial thinks that flexibility is what NFL team’s are going to love about his star safety.
“[Lorenzo] can do it all and I mean that,” Villarreal said. “He is so valuable because of the limited roster spots the NFL has to work with and when they can find a player that can do as many things as Lorenzo can, he is going to be a tough man to not want on your team. I think his versatility early in his career will separate himself from other players in this draft until a team finds a home for him in their respective defense.”
Villarreal also thinks Lorenzo’s exposure to various coverages at SFU will help him transition to any NFL team.
“We also run a very multiple defense here so he also has been exposed to multiple coverages and schemes. I believe at the end of the day if you put good football players on the football field they end up making plays,” remarked Villarreal.
That was clear by his two interceptions in the NFLPA Bowl, which earned him MVP honors and made scouts take a hard look at the SFU star. Just days later, Jerome wowed again when he recorded three tackles, one of them for a loss, two interceptions and a forced fumble in the Senior Bowl down in Mobile, Alabama.
But above and beyond the high level of play he brought to the field for Saint Francis, his coach seemed most grateful for the man Jerome has been off the field, and what that means to the program.
“I could go on for forever talking about the attention and coverage he brought Saint Francis through his individual accolades but the biggest legacy he left is in that locker room,” Villarreal said. “He was a leader of men, and raised the level of competition throughout the whole program. He challenged players when they needed challenged and was there for his teammates when they needed him. Even today when he is not around the program every day his impact is felt because of the work ethic and values he instilled upon the younger generations.”
In an era where the spotlight constantly shines on young athletes and eyes are always on draft prospects, that kind of attitude and composure could be something all clubs and their respective fans can appreciate.
There may not be a more versatile player in the country than Jerome. During his four years at Saint Francis, he scored in almost every way imaginable. Receiving, kick returns, punt returns, interceptions, and fumbles are all ways in which Jerome has found the end zone. The main cause for concern about Jerome then was not whether he could make plays, but whether he could make those plays against NFL level talent.
NFL ball is leaps and bounds ahead of FCS play, but as players like Carson Wentz have shown, it’s a doable transition for the right talents. We won’t see Jerome on an NFL field until August, but the pre draft showcase games are the next best thing. Lorenzo shined like a star in both the Senior Bowl and the NFLPA Bowl. In those contests the SFU product came away with a mind boggling four interceptions and a forced fumble (in the two games combined).
As a defender, Lorenzo’s best talent is his nose and aggressiveness for the football. His instinct to go make plays and create turnovers reminds me of Ed Reed when he came into the league. I typically hate making contrive NFL comparisons since no players are truly alike, but the mold of a playmaking safety comfortably fits both of them.
But in some ways his greatest asset has some teams calling it a cause for concern. It’s been said in some circles that Jerome can almost be too aggressive at times, prioritizing making the big play and being at risk of getting burnt for that on an NFL stage. However, in the Senior Bowl Jerome showed he had great pursuit and discipline by sniffing out a gadget play and causing a fumble.
Jerome immediately sniffs out the reverse and although he whiffs at first (tackling will be an area for improvement with him, especially early on when he will likely be a special teamer) he catches up in pursuit and strips the football. This nose for the football, combined with the skills of an all-conference kick returner will make him a favorable mid round talent for NFL teams. I think in a few years Jerome could mold into a solid starting safety, and as his coach said, he could be a perfect fit for practically any defensive scheme.
What do you think of Lorenzo Jerome? Would you like to see him in stripes this fall?