Today’s round of NFL Combine interviews went similarly to yesterday, passing by very quickly. However, I got to spend more time digging deeper with the 2020 NFL Draft defensive back prospects, and none more so than SMU safety Rodney Clemons. The first thing I noticed when I met Clemons was how approachable, easy to talk to, and well-spoken his is. When I asked him if I could interview him, joining a list of close to 50 people to do so this week, he was extremely welcoming and even appeared eager to speak with me. Here are the highlights from our conversation, as well as some other interesting notes from a few other 2020 NFL Draft defensive back prospects that I got to sit down with.
Clemons on basketball and the NBA
While the SMU team captain will be playing for an NFL team come fall of 2020, his collegiate football career almost never happened. In high school, Clemons excelled in basketball before the school’s football coach noticed how explosive his hips were. The rest was history. He finishes his junior and senior years on the football team and was recruited by New Mexico and SMU, before ultimately following UNM linebackers coach Archie McDaniel to University Park.
Even though he never dunked in a game (Clemons never go the opportunity), he said playing basketball helped him become more explosive in football. Growing up in Houston, Clemons follows all Houston teams and loves James Harden and the Rockets. He noted how the best athletes play multiple sports, specifically alluding to Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes.
I then presented Clemons with arguably the toughest question of the interview: what NBA player would you pick right now (all things considered) to build your franchise around? After a few seconds of pondering (Clemons takes pride in thinking before he speaks), he ultimately landed on either Giannis Antetokounmpo or Ja Morant.
“I would start young. I usually like to start with a point guard to run the team, or a superstar like Giannis. You really can’t go wrong with either of them.”
Clemons on his parents, food, and music
After landing in Dallas to play at SMU, the 23-year-old prospect has fond memories of the Boulevard experience, seeing thousands of fans and getting to walk through the campus before taking the field. Despite his short high school career, Clemons started every game for the Mustangs and said he learned quickly after being “throw into the fire.”
“I wanted to come in and play immediately and make a difference. I was always learning and eventually got to teach the younger guys. But it was definitely hard, but I picked up quickly”
As an only child of divorced parents, Rodney said that he has a good relationship with both of them and enjoys making them happy. Clemons mentioned that football was the center of his life for both of them and that he hopes he has made them proud. So far, he has met with the Cardinals, Raiders, Rams, Lions, and Cowboys.
Off the football field, Clemons describes himself as “a goofy guy,” who is always dancing and playing a video game. He loves to play Fortnite with fellow 2020 Draft prospects Jedrick Wills and Rico Dowdle, both of whom Clemons has trained with. He also loves to make music using software on his computer and freestyles. Unfortunately, I could not convince Clemons to freestyle on the spot, but that will be the first question in the next interview with him. I closed the conversation by gathering the following information from the future NFL defensive back.
- If he had to pick one artist for the rest of time, Clemons would pick Drake.
- He loves music and listens to Lady Gaga all the time.
- He is a huge seafood guy, specifically shrimp in a low country boil.
- Clemons is adventurous in his food, but he will always choose the food he knows.
- With the game on the line, Clemons would rather pick off the QB over making a goal-line stop.
Bopete Keyes on how he got his nickname and digital design
Thakarius Keyes, a 2020 NFL Draft defensive backs prospect from Tulane, goes by Bopete. His nickname came from his grandmother (whose birthday is actually to be today), who happened to call him that once and the name just stuck. After I informed him that I had already scoured his Instagram and Twitter, I asked about a photo of him with a beautiful dog.
Peso, the Siberian Husky, is very energetic and friendly, not unlike Keyes, and a lot of people even say they look alike. He rescued him from a dog shelter in New Orleans. Speaking of New Orleans, Keyes recommends escaping the tourists around Bourbon Street and eating at Neyow’s Creole Cafe, home of his favorite dish – red beans and rice.
When researching Keyes before the interview, I was interested to see he majored in digital design at Tulane.
“It fits me and keeps me in a mode of having fun – I have a creative mind. I like to design album covers and logos.”
Keyes’ best digital design ever? He designed an entire house and offered how tedious the project was, but ultimately it made him feel accomplished when he finally finished. If he wasn’t playing football, Keyes said he would be a digital designer for a larger company.
Keyes and fellow 2020 NFL Draft defensive backs prospect Jeff Okudah (Ohio State) have the longest arms in the draft. The Tulane prospect stated that his length helps him have the luxury of playing a little bit more off a receiver, but still enables him to poke his arms through and create a pass breakup or even an interception. Keyes is looking forward to using his arm length at the next level, especially in press-man coverage.
Brian Cole II on being a nomad and playing for Buddy Stephens
Mississippi State defensive back Brian Cole II is no stranger to moving around, whether it’s geographically or on defense. After beginning his career at the University of Michigan, Cole II then spent time at East Mississippi Community College before ultimately becoming a Bulldog in Hattiesburg. Cole II said the entire adventure has been a humbling experience, and that switching from receiver at Michigan to defense has helped him become a better all-around player.
“I feel like I got molded into my position, which has become my league position. Knowing the offensive side of the ball has helped me anticipate plays.”
Taking his dad’s name, Cole says his family has been a blessing for him. They supported his move to EMCC, where he got to play under Buddy Stephens. Naturally, I asked Cole II if Stephens was as harsh as the Netlfix docuseries portrayed him to be.
“netflix makes him seem like he is way crazier but no he is not that bad. He is hard nosed and strict, but playing defense, i didn’t have to deal with him as bad as the offensive line.”
Once Cole II got to state, he commended how technical defensive backs coaches Bob Shoop and Terrell Buckley were and how much they helped him study. These coaches truly helped Cole II shift to a true defensive back as a prospect. I ended the interview with a question about new Mississippi State coach Mike Leach. Cole’s friend, Will Rogers, played under Leach at Washington State and told Cole to “be excited for his guys” that get to play under the quirky co-founder of the air-raid offense.
Other news and notes from the 2020 NFL Draft defensive backs
Clemson CB A.J. Terrell gave an interesting note when I asked about QB Trevor Lawrence, who will almost certainly be one of the top quarterbacks taken in next year’s draft (should he declare).
— Eric Roddy (@RoddyPFN) February 28, 2020
Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield Jr., who is following in his father’s footsteps and pursuing an NFL career, shared with me that he is excited to hopefully return punts at the next level. Here is a clip of the Gopher speaking on what it would mean to play for the Vikings like his father.
— Eric Roddy (@RoddyPFN) February 28, 2020
For a full thread on Winfield’s interview, click here. Two final 2020 NFL Draft defensive back prospects that stood out to me in terms of how well they answered questions were Cal’s Ashtyn Davis and Utah’s Terrell Burgess. Both players demonstrated great poise and humility, maintaining eye contact and giving off a very genuine feel while answering. Both players are seen as Day 2 prospects but could climb boards if they can separate themselves in Sunday’s drills.