Former UMass WR Tajae Sharpe comfortable and confident as the NFL draft approaches

Thursday, March 24, 2016

AMHERST – Standing in front of the media outside the UMass Football Performance Center, Tajae Sharpe looked at ease chatting with reporters.

For many of his former teammates, pro day is an anxious experience, their best chance to impress NFL Scouts and earn a chance to play professional football. Every half inch of jumping, or 10th of a second on a run, could sway their chances one way of the other for players on the fringe.

Sharpe wasn’t facing the same pressure. Between the college all-star games, the NFL Scouting Combine and individual workouts he’d done already, Sharpe was a known commodity. Representatives from most, if not all NFL teams, have already poked, prodded, watched and interviewed him. Pro day was another chance to impress, not the only one. Barring some unforeseen development, he’s likely hear his name called at next month’s NFL draft. 

“I feel like I’m definitely one of the best receivers in this draft,” he said. “I’m confident in my abilities. … Being at the East-West game, the Senior Bowl and going to the combine I’m getting used to the big stage. Even at UMass we play some pretty big games. The more eyes the better, the more opportunities to show people what you can do.  When opportunity and preparation meet, it all comes together. I’m happy with my whole process leading up to the combine and the senior games I played in.”

Sharpe, who suffered a groin injury at the combine, opted not to do the 40-yard dash or either of the running agility drills, saving his legs for pass routes, which he ran effectively, as he and quarterback and fellow NFL hopeful Blake Frohnapfel fell back into old rhythms.

“I didn’t want to tweak anything,” Sharpe said. “I just wanted to be 100 percent running my routes, showing the scouts what I can do with my footwork and my route running.”

Depending on the quality of players working out, the number of scouts attending UMass’ annual pro day has ranged from a handful in lean years to quite a few. The interest in Sharpe helped swell the total to 19 teams represented, which could create more opportunities for his former teammates, too. Pro Day attention for Vladimir Ducasse in 2010 helped earn Victor Cruz a free agent contract from the New York Giants that eventually led to Cruz becoming one of the NFL’s most recognizable players.

Randall Jette could get a similar boost. Sharpe has regular told anyone who asked that the toughest cornerback he ever matched up with was Jette every day on the practice field.

“We knew Tajae was going to be the main event. I was just happy I was on the card,” Jette said. “Tajae brought a lot of attention and rightfully so. He puts in the work. Him being here cheering us on helped a lot of his teammates. That’s who Tajae is, he’s a leader.”

Jette thought he raised his stock during the pre-draft process. 

“Everything I was expected to do, I did very well,” Jette said. “I wanted to show my positional drills. I got a good chance to do that today… My standards are high. I did well enough, but there’s more I left on the table. I want to get in somewhere and show them I can play. I’m a gamer. Drills are cool, but I’m a gamer.”

Jovan Santos-Knox agreed. After completing the collection of drill stations, the linebacker wished he had a chance to hit somebody.

“It was nerve-wracking. You want to see your numbers, you’re anxious, you’re excited. You know there’s a lot at stake. This is your dream,” he said. “I wish we could come out and do a scrimmage. But this is the process, you do whatever they tell you.”

Frohnapfel was performing for himself but held the fate of some of his teammates in his hands, as he was the only quarterback there.

“You’re trying to throw the football as hard as you can but accurately as well,” Frohnapfel said. “You miss a pass, you obviously don’t want to do that, that’s a chance for them to get a catch.”

Still Frohnapfel, who has been working with QB coach Todd Kruger to prepare, wanted to relish the experience of throwing passes to his friends on his home field one more time.

“It was probably the last chance I’ll have to throw to those guys, so I really enjoyed it,” Frohnapfel said.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage