April 29 MVP: MassVarsity Pre-and-Post


On Thursday night, Massachusetts produced two natives of the Commonwealth who went in the first round of the NFL Draft.


In back-to-back picks, Clemson defensive lineman Christian WIlkins went 13th overall to the Miami Dolphins, just before Boston College offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom went to the Atlanta Falcons.


Even though Wilkins went to Suffield Academy in high school, he lived in both Framingham and Springfield, so he's considered a Massachusetts kid. And Lindstrom is from Dudley and played for Shepherd Hill, so there is no two ways about his origin.


With those two selections, Massachusetts found itself in pretty elite company. The only home states with more first-round picks were Florida (five), Texas (three), North Carolina (three), and New Jersey (three). Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Washington all matched Massachusetts with two.


That means that states like Virginia, California, Ohio, Georgia, Maryland, South Carolina, and Arizona — all considered to be far superior football states — were, at least for one night, inferior to what Massachusetts brought to the table.


This is not to say that the Commonwealth is suddenly a top-10 state for producing NFL talent. However, it does bring up a question: is this simply an outlier, or the start of a trend?


From our perspective, we believe this is just the beginning. Perhaps you won't see this many players go in the first round, but you will certainly not see many future years go by without seeing any Massachusetts players taken.


Also, by the end of the weekend, Brockton's Aaron Monteiro (Miami Dolphins), Everett's Lukas Denis (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), and Amherst's Taj-Amir Torres (Tennessee Titans) caught on as undrafted free agents. So the possibility of five Massachusetts players from this class making NFL rosters remains.


If you look around the college football landscape, there are plenty of promising prospects for players who have NFL futures. Scituate native and Xaverian alum Joe Gaziano has been one of the top defensive linemen in the Big Ten in the last three years for Northwestern. His teammate, Blake Gallagher, is a Raynham native and St. Sebastian's alum who led the Wildcats in tackles from his linebacker position this past season.


If you swing over closer to home, BC running back AJ Dillon may be a New London, Conn. native, but he prepped at Groton's Lawrence Academy. He is certainly someone who falls in the category of a potential first-round talent, if not Day 2, so long as he stays healthy. BC has a plethora of young prospects from the Bay State that have NFL potential, including Lindstrom's younger brother, Alec, also an offensive lineman who will start at center this year.


There are plenty of others who are just getting started. Merrimac native and Brooks School alum Pat Freiermuth had a tremendous true freshman year with Penn State in 2018, and was named a Freshman All-American by The Athletic, 247Sports, and ESPN.


And if you've been following the spring workouts at Georgia and Michigan, you'd know that former Everett High standouts Lewis Cine and Mike Sainristil, respectively, are tearing it up, too.


And if you talk to any of the college coaches or local evaluators, the current crop of high school players continues to show major potential. It is too soon to project those players with Sunday talent, but major programs are coming into the hallways of Massachusetts programs more than they have in recent memory.


This is something that builds upon itself, because if one coach comes in to see a player at a certain school, chances are he will find out about someone else. That word gets passed on, and a snowball effect takes place. We've already begun to see it, and it does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon.


So, the next logical question becomes, why exactly does Massachusetts seem to be churning players out at this rate right now? That's a little tougher to figure out. There is still no spring football here. Have the youth systems improved? Are the players getting more individual coaching on the fundamentals and intricacies of the game? Have the strength and conditioning practices taken the next step?


It's hard to say. All we know for sure is that the bottom line is pretty cut and dried. Massachusetts has taken a step forward, and the talent well does not look like it will dry up anytime soon.


The right fit


UMass wide receiver Andy Isabella appears to have landed in the perfect spot with the Arizona Cardinals.


The speedster finds himself in a situation where, under new coach Kliff Kingsbury, the Cardinals are certain to air it out a lot, and just drafted a quarterback with the first pick overall in Oklahoma's Kyler Murray.


Although Arizona has one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, which wasn't properly addressed in the draft, Murray's escapability can overcome some of that. And Murray throws one of the best deep balls out of any of the quarterbacks taken.


It's not hard to imagine a play where the rush forces Murray out of the pocket, he side steps a tackler, then rolls out and throws it downfield to a sprinting Isabella, who beats the deep safety for a big gain.


Isabella will also no doubt be used on jet sweeps and quick hitches in order to just get him the ball and see what he can do with it. Whether it's in the slot or on the outside, Isabella is the type of versatile weapon Kingsbury can do plenty with.


And if you think the Cardinals did well with offensive picks, they also doubled down on local prospects on the defensive side of the ball when they snared BC defensive lineman Zach Allen in the third round. Allen may not have been picked in the first round, but his talent and work ethic could have him produce at the level of those selected above him.


All around, the Cardinals have two of the best from the in-state Football Bowl Subdivision programs, and no doubt will like the return on their investments.


Another gear


We stopped by at the Harvard spring game Saturday night, and there was not much to glean from the workout where not everyone was healthy.


The defense made life miserable for the offense on the whole, but one player who continues to look like the real deal is running back Aaron Shampklin. The speedster out of California's Long Beach Poly reportedly ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash earlier in the spring, and his shiftiness makes that number work even more effectively when the pads are on.


Keep an eye on wide receiver/returner Kym Wimberly, who will be entering his sophomore year with the Crimson. He's another gamebreaker in the speed department, and the offensive coaches will no doubt be looking for ways to get the ball in his hands this season.


Reloaded


UMass coaches were all over Massachusetts the past two weeks, canvassing the state for talent, and to no one's surprise, found players they liked over at Everett.


At this point, the Minutemen have offered five players for the Crimson Tide: in the class of 2020, wide receiver Eli Auguste; in the class of 2021, wide receiver Tyrese Baptiste, defensive end Josaiah Stewart, and defensive back Samy Lamothe; and in the class of 2022, wide receiver/quarterback/athlete Ismael "Ish" Zamor.


What does this all mean? Well, for starters, it means that even with the graduation of stars like Sainristil, running back Isaac Seide (UNH), and linemen Wilson Frederic (UMass), Gilbert Kabamba (Merrimack), and Jalen Iles-Smith (Assumption), the Crimson Tide will still have the most scholarship talent of any MIAA team in the state for 2019.


This is not even to mention the return of starting quarterback Duke Doherty, who will only be a junior, linebacker Trey Sejour, who is already receiving Ivy League interest, and running back Jaden Mahabir, who was terrific in a backup role to Seide last year.


The Everett freshman group was also one of the best in the state last year, as coach Theluxon Pierre had a turnout of over 50 players at that level, and several future impact players.


In other words, if you're waiting for the Tide to take a dip, it's going to test your patience, because this program is flooded with talent still.


Ram tough


Framingham State continues to do well with its class of 2019 haul. Lynn Classical's Chase Buono and Mashpee's Devaun Ford both announced this week on Twitter that they'd be joining the Rams.


Buono is one of the most underrated safeties in the state, and Ford is a tremendous running back who can also play in the secondary at the next level.


Consider these both big steals for the Division 3 program.


Big pickups


The transfer season is just getting started with NEPSAC and ISL programs, and Milton Academy picked up two recently that should help the Mustangs in their quest to grab a league title and New England bowl berth.


First was Swampscott wide receiver Jonathan Oriakhi, who will reclassify as a repeat junior. The former Big Blue standout is a big weapon at 6-foot, 190 pounds, and has the speed to be a threat downfield.


The Mustangs then added a piece to their offensive line with Westford Academy's Jack Wilson, a 6-3, 275-pounder who will be a part of the 2022 class. He joins a line that already has Wake Forest commit Zach Vaughan and returning league all-star Nate Stewart.


Combined with players like quarterback Jake Willcox, wide receiver Mitchell Gonser, running back Kyle Santiago and mega-recruit at linebacker and running back Kalel Mullings, the Mustangs have to be considered one of the favorites to win the ISL heading into the season.

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