With the inaugural expanded season from The Spring League fixing to kick-off, it’s good to start producing information regarding the league on the upcoming season. Here, at NFL Sapient, it’s our goal to provide the most complete NFL coverage possible. That being said, The Spring League bears a remarkable opportunity for young, aspiring players to gain repetitions before attempting another run at an NFL career.
The Spring League was founded in 2016, initially as four teams of twenty-five players. They ran practices and extended scrimmages and famously fielded former Texas A&M star quarterback Johnny Manziel. For the first time ever, The Spring League will be operating as an official league. Rosters have expanded from 25 players to 40, and now eight teams are taking the field with experienced head coaches at each helm.
In this piece, I want to explore the top ten overall prospects before the league kicks off today, May 6th, 2021. Here are the top ten players I have listed in the league before play.
The Spring League Prospect 10: QB Luis Perez, Jousters
Luiz Perez continues to shine in these developmental leagues after spending his collegiate career dominating Division II at Texas A&M-Commerce. Perez exploded as one of the stars in the 2019 AAF before moving to the XFL and playing struggling there. Now, he get’s a fresh start in The Spring League, getting the chance to shine again.
Perez doesn’t have a big arm. Instead, he has to rely on his ability to throw with accuracy and consistency, making good decisions within twenty yards of the line of scrimmage. He’s flashed the ability to be a good backup in the NFL time and time again with his solid decision-making. Yes, Perez puts limitations on NFL offenses because of his lack of deep-ball ability. He’s smart, though, and oftentimes that’s enough for players like Perez to hang in quarterback rooms in the NFL. He should be among the top quarterbacks in The Spring League in 2021, in the running for the Most Valuable Player.
9. TE Sal Cannella, Generals
Sal Cannella has had an anything but easy path chasing his NFL dreams. The high upside tight end played wide receiver at Auburn after going the JUCO route at Scottsdale Community College. He was a four-star prospect entering Auburn and took a redshirt in the 2017 season. Cannella graduated in December of 2019 after being named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll. He caught 23 passes at Auburn after being sparingly used really from playing out of position. On April 15th, 2020, he dropped his new clothing line, Nnella, which drew much attention after being lauded by Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Antonio Brown.
Cannella enters the 2021 Spring League season at a better position and better suited to gain repetitions that he needs at tight end. With his 6’5″ 230 lbs frame, he has some upside as a potential FLEX-tight end who can be used more as a receiver. He has an insane vertical ability that he displayed on his Twitter showing him jump five feet onto a box. The Spring League is a great opportunity for Cannella to get the exposure that he needs and get another chance at camp to make a final roster.
8. WR Johnathon Johnson, Jousters
Johnathon Johnson is the former Missouri product who exploded as a redshirt-freshman in 2016 as one of the more promising dynamic receivers in the SEC. Injuries have dampened his NFL hopes, as he was hurt following a 70 yard gain on a tackle in a fall scrimmage that forced him to miss his freshman season, and then again his senior season in 2019. Johnson went undrafted in the 2020 Draft cycle despite showing explosive ability.
Entering the 2020 cycle, I thought Johnson was one of the better Z/Slot receiver prospects to be found in day three of the draft. His tape shows his ability to make things happen after the catch, making him a valuable weapon underneath. He logged a good performance at the 2020 Shrine Bowl too, but the injury history prevented him from getting drafted. Johnson has a good chance to flash that explosive ability again, clean up some of his footwork in route-running, and get another chance in the NFL with his ability to make things happen after the catch.
7. OL John Yarbrough, Conqerors
John Yarbrough played college at the University of Richmond and played in the 2019 FCS National Bowl – earning Most Valuable Lineman honors at the event. The versatile lineman played at center, right guard, and left tackle during his time in college, and was named Second-Team All-Conference his senior season at Richmond, his second year as a starter. He started with the Tampa Bay Vipers in the XFL in 2020 before the shutdown of the league due to Covid-19, playing center there. He earned himself some time with the Carolina Panthers in the NFL.
His good body size, 6’4″ 295 lbs, allows him to be as versatile as he is. He has quick feet and shined among the better of linemen performing in the XFL. With a full season of The Spring League, it can be assumed that Yarbrough has a good chance to continue his development with valuable repetition and make an NFL 53-man roster in 2021.
6. DB Levonta Taylor, Sea Lions
The former Florida State cornerback saw a lot of interest in the 2020 NFL Draft cycle after a good career in the ACC. Coming out of high school, he was the first overall cornerback prospect in the 2016 cycle and started playing immediately at Florida State.
While his tape was clearly at worst a day three player, Taylor’s biggest problem in chasing NFL dreams was knee injuries. At 5’9″ and 190 pounds, he projects best as a slot cornerback and has the athletic ability to do it. What Taylor needs to do to get back on an NFL roster is shine as the sideline-to-sideline player he was at Florida State and show NFL teams that he has the same athletic ability following his big knee injury.
5. DB Nevelle Clarke, Generals
Nevelle Clarke was an explosive cornerback at Central Florida who dominated in the American Conference as a shutdown cornerback. However – the biggest issue was that he had was a failed drug test in 2017 that forced him to miss six games to a suspension (marijuana). Now that the league isn’t as picky about weed being an issue in the league, several states have legalized it, Clarke can put that behind him and move forward. He was signed to the most money by the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free-agent following the 2020 season, but never saw the field. It appears as though COVID lockdowns really may have hurt his career aspirations.
At 6’0″ and 185 lbs, Clarke can play in the slot as well as on the boundary. He could use some more weight on his frame, but that can be added with some work. His speed isn’t elite but he makes up for it with his physical play style. What Clarke hopes to gain out of The Spring League in 2021 is the chance to remind teams how explosive he is and move forward with his career. The chances that Clarke is the Most Valuable Defensive Player of this league is awful high.
4. RB Tra Minter, Linemen
Tra Minter was arguably the best offensive prospect to leave South Alabama at the time of his departure following the 2019 season. The All-Sun Belt running back was a versatile weapon who contributed as a receiver and a return specialist. He earned an invite to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl where he performed well, yet went unsigned as an undrafted free agent following the 2020 draft cycle.
Minter was caught in a weird era at South Alabama where the team really struggled to field FBS talent. Despite that, he put together over 5,000 yards of all-purpose yards and showed good speed and explosive ability. Minter, to me, is the best running back prospect in this league and if he shines as such he has a good chance to get an invite to an NFL camp. The Linemen have one of the better rosters in the league, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he shows out.
3. OL Drew Richmond, Linemen
Drew Richmond transfered from Tennessee to USC following the 2019 season, after logging 25 starts with the Volunteers. He was a four-star prospect coming out of High School, and a MaxPreps second-team All-American. However, Richmond didn’t ever really grow into his skillset, and his single season at USC didn’t catch the attention of NFL teams. He suffered an injury as a junior that caused him to miss some time and served a six game suspension with the Volunteers in 2017 for a “violation of team rules.” He went undrafted in the 2020 NFL Draft cycle.
Richmond enters The Spring League chasing his shot at redemption – playing with Hal Mumme and a loaded Linemen roster. He has considerable upside as a right tackle prospect with good size (6’5″ 315 lbs) and strength. If Richmond can show he’s lighter on his feet now, he will have a great chance at making an NFL roster in 2021.
2. WR Anthony Ratliff-Williams, Jousters
Anthony Ratliff-Williams was an explosive play threat with North Carolina who bolted for the NFL as a junior in 2019. He left school a little bit early, as he was still underdeveloped as a route runner. He was undrafted in the 2019 cycle and has yet to make an NFL roster.
Ratliff-Williams was a quarterback who made the move to wide receiver in college – which is why he has room to grow as a receiver. Without a 2020 preseason to help develop him, it’s easy to see why he wasn’t on an NFL roster. That’s Ratliff-Williams hope in The Spring League is that he can continue his growth into the position. With six-to-eight games more on his belt, he can fight his way to make his NFL debut in 2021. I’d say that the chances are pretty high to do so.
1. WR Kendrick Rogers, Sea Lions
Kendrick Rogers is a former Texas A&M weapon who played a big slot role with the Aggies. Rogers flashed big play ability as a big play receiver, his 6’4″ 205 pound frame being difficult to contain. While there was some interest at the NFL level, Rogers went unselected in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Rogers has the highest upside out of anyone in this league. A big body, raw X receiver type, Rogers flashed at Texas A&M before going undrafted in the 2020 cycle, mostly due to consistency with his hands. He has the athletic ability that you want to see and can make contested catches, he just needs to show he can make those consistently. Rogers, to me, has the biggest chance to shine and the most talent out of anyone in this league.