Football is fun, and nothing is more fun in college football than an underrated league called the Sun Belt. The Sun Belt Conference (also known as the Fun Belt) stretches from the Carolinas and Georgia to mid-Texas. The Fun Belt used to be a little known league that contained current C-USA members like UAB and Western Kentucky. But with recent additions of FCS juggernauts Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, the Sun Belt has changed from a little known Group of 5 conference to one that has loads of speed and highlights (a la a lite version of the Big 12). Let’s see if the Fun Belt has some players that can bring some of that fun to the NFL Draft.
Sun Belt NFL Draft Prospects
Kindle Vildor, CB, Georgia Southern (5’11, 190)
The last time an Eagles player was drafted was in 2017, when Florida State transfer Ukeme Eligwe went to the Kansas City Chiefs in the 5th round. The most recent homegrown Eagle drafted was LB Antwione Williams, who also went in the 5th round to the Detroit Lions in the 2016 NFL Draft
Vildor has the chance to go several rounds higher than both of them.
The scrappy cornerback from College Park, Georgia, is relentless in coverage. Georgia Southern mixes up their coverages, but on the outside, Vildor and Monquavious Brinson are playing mostly bail and press-bail coverage. That means butt to the sideline and reading the QB’s eyes while also keeping tabs on any deep routes in your area. Vildor has mastered this style of coverage. Anticipation is one of the critical components to a quality cornerback, and Vildor shows that all over his tape.
When the Eagles faced Clemson last season, they didn’t bow down one bit. Vildor played against the likes of Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross and proved why he is one of the top-rated corners in the land.
Vildor also shows up in the run game and fights not to give up that edge. Vildor has that IT factor that will get NFL teams going if they want to find a steal in a cornerback.
As a Sun Belt Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, #83 in Sports Illustrated’s top 100 players rankings and a Second Team All-American according to Pro Football Focus, Vildor has the accolades to back up his play. In a year that sees an Eagles alum lose his season before it starts in J.J. Wilcox, Kindle Vildor has a chance to be the highest Eagle ever selected in the NFL Draft in 2020.
Darrynton Evans, RB, Appalachian State (5’11, 200)
If you want a dynamic player on offense, here you go. Jalin Moore spearheaded the Mountaineers’ backfield, a 2018 member of Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List. Moore was one of the fastest backs and players in the nation until he fractured and dislocated his ankle which ended his senior season. In the past few years, App State has had workhorses at running back: Marcus Cox and Jalin Moore are the main ones that come to mind. In steps backup Darrynton Evans, and the offense doesn’t miss a beat.
Evans extended the Mountaineers streak of having a 1,000-yard rusher to 7 years and ranked 2nd in the nation in kick return yards. Evans also was second in the country with 8 40-yard rushes. Evans is sensational with the ball in his hands and cuts on a dime while App State’s pistol spread offense allows Evans to pick his hole and accelerate. A slight problem with Evans is choosing the right hole. Sometimes blocks would be set up for Evans, but he runs into a penetrating defender.
His conflicting vision may have been due to him being a starter for the first time in his career, but he did progress during the season. One trait where he didn’t progress is running through tackles. When Evans gets a hole with no traffic, 88 and out the gate; if there’s carnage in the way, Evans sometimes tiptoes and tries to look for a more open hole instead of trying to break through a small one.
I would like to see Evans with some better vision and bring a little more power when running in between the tackles. At the least, Evans could be a 3rd down back or a returner in the NFL. But if Evans could add a little bulk and power to his game and show some value in passing game, he could be a hidden gem in the NFL Draft that teams will wait for.
Kirk Merritt, WR, Arkansas State (6’0, 215)
Last Chance U sighting!! Now, if you want to talk to Group of 5, silky smooth slot receivers, you have to start with that man in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Kirk Merritt was Mr. Reliable for the Red Wolves and QB Justice Hansen last year. Merritt led the Sun Belt in targets, receptions, and yards, mostly from the slot.
Merritt glides when he runs his routes, and the Red Wolves get him the ball through screens, slants, jet sweeps, crossing routes and plenty of short routes. Merritt also has very sure hands and catches a lot of difficult balls. So how does a talent like Merritt end up in the Sun Belt? Let’s travel down memory lane.
A 4-star recruit in high school from Destrehan, Louisiana, Merritt was the 2014 SPARQ National Champion; SPARQ tests athletes’ speed, power, agility, reaction, and quickness. Merritt was also a track star in high school, running a 10.44 100-meter, 21.52 200-meter, and was state runner up in both categories. Merritt signed with Oregon and caught five passes during the season. Merritt then transferred to Texas A&M (TAMU) the following year and was arrested for indecent exposure after exposing himself to 2 TAMU tutors in 24 hours. Merritt pleaded not guilty and blamed jock itch for both occasions.
Merritt then left TAMU for East Mississippi Community College, the famed junior college featured on the Netflix series Last Chance U. Merritt contributed to another state title and national championship for the Lions and signed with the Red Wolves as the 4th ranked JUCO receiver in the nation.
Merritt has come a long way from Louisiana and has found a home with Arkansas State. Merritt will have to answer for his arrest, but with another good season, while staying out of trouble, Merritt can easily be a steal for a team looking for some depth on Day 3 of the NFL Draft.
Bryan London, LB, Texas State (6’2, 232)
Man, where do I start with this young man?
A 2-star recruit out of high school, London played running back and linebacker while also playing basketball and competing in track and field and powerlifting. The man is an ath-tha-lete, and it pops up on film repeatedly.
London is a tackling machine for the Bobcats, leading the Fun Belt in total tackles and solo tackles. College linebackers with a lot of production sometimes have underwhelming NFL Draft film, but that is not the case with London. London takes good angles to the ball and uses his power to take on climbing offensive linemen and send them back where they came from.
London not only excels in defending the run but is very good in pass coverage. The Bobcats play a lot of zone coverage, and London takes excellent depth in his drops and shuts down the middle of the field. It would be nice to see London in man coverage more, but the Bobcats do not play a ton of it. London isn’t always going to be the fastest linebacker on the field either, but he gets the job done and brings the physicality that coaches want in a linebacker.
At the least, London will be a camp body and a special teamer, but with his instincts and athleticism, he may be able to sneak into a backup or spot starter role.