At least 84 Villanova football alumni have been drafted or played in the National Football League over the years. Most famously, the Hall of Fame defensive lineman Howie Long was picked up in the second round of the draft by the Oakland Raiders, and most recently, offensive tackle Ben Ijalana found himself drafted by the Colts (he is now with the Jets). Other great players have come and gone in the professional circuit since the first Villanovan went pro in the 1920s, including Jets linebacker Al Atkinson and Eagles running back Brian Westbrook.
Not all of Villanova's football professionals were widely sought-after enough to be picked up in the draft, however. Darrel Young signed with the Washington Redskins as an undrafted free agent in 2010, expecting to play defense as he did in college, and was ultimately converted into a starting fullback for the D.C. franchise. Before that, Walter Payton Award winner Brian Finneran had an 11-year career in the league despite being undrafted, serving as a key target for Michael Vick in his tenure there.
In 2015, Villanova will again graduate a number of talented athletes from the football program. None of them figure to be drafted in the early-going, but at least four seem likely to make it to training camp this summer.
Ross Hall, OL, 6-4 / 294-lbs
Hall stepped up into the role of starting center for the Wildcats when Dan Shirey suffered a pre-season injury in 2012 and never handed the job back. He worked well snapping the ball to John Robertson for the last three seasons and has the size and instincts to make the jump to the next level. At his pro-day workout, he reportedly did 22 reps on the bench and recorded a broad jump of 8'3" and a vertical of 25". He was subsequently invited to work out for the Philadelphia Eagles, and reports from his camp stated that he was getting some "love" from Chip Kelly's staff.
Small school offensive linemen don't seem to have the same stigma in the professional ranks as skill position players, which only improves Hall's chances of strapping on a helmet and pads this Fall. He figures to be a fit for a team looking for interior linemen, as he can play at either guard or center.
Look for him to get signed after the draft.
Kevin Monangai, RB, 5-8 / 215-lbs
Did anyone expect that Monangai would run the 40-yard dash in 4.33? That's what some reports have him timed at, though he didn't have many chances to flash that speed at Villanova, where he looked more like a shorter Marshawn Lynch in terms of running style. That speed wouldn't shock you too much if you had been in the stadium for a few of his longer rushing plays, however, because once the former sprinter breaks free into the open field, he is very difficult to catch up to.
That said, the Villanova back had a great career on the Main Line. He uses his legs to power through weak tackles as much as he does to generate speed, and a keen observer will notice that his feet never seem to stop moving until the referees rule him down on the field. As a senior, he rushed for 1,138 yards and 12 touchdowns on 222 attempts and had 3,167 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns in total at Villanova.
Almost as important, however, is that Monangai may be one of the strongest players (pound for pound) to ever come out of Villanova, and certainly one of the most impressive among this season's prospects. He has squatted 725 pounds, benches 400, and can clean 365; he reportedly put up 21 bench press reps at his pro-day, which puts him up there with many offensive linemen.
We know that Monangai has worked out with both the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Jets, and surely impressed scouts from around football. If interest in him gets strong enough, a team could make a move for him in the 6th or 7th round, but most seem to expect him to sign with a team after the draft concludes.
Vince Kowalski, OL, 6-4 / 292-lbs
A four-year starter at Villanova, one of Kowalski's best attributes may be his iron-man ability to stay healthy -- he never missed a game on the Main Line and started in almost 50 straight for the Wildcats. He is strong and athletic, and managed to spend all that time entrenched at the right tackle spot, despite being undersized for the position as a freshman. Now, he's 292-lbs and stronger than ever, it seems.
At his pro-day at the end of last month, Kowalski recorded 28 bench reps of 225 pounds, a 5.26-second 40-yard dash, a 7.97 three-cone, a 29-inch vertical and a 108-inch broad jump. His measurables caught the interest of the Philadelphia Eagles, who invited him along with Monangai and Hall, to their facility for a closer look shortly thereafter. Though he played tackle at Villanova, scouts seem interested in moving him inside to guard as a professional.
A recent tweet from DraftInsider.com's Tony Pauline suggests that a few teams have interest in Kowalski. In addition to the Eagles, Pauline lists the Patriots, Chiefs and Raiders among the franchises that could land the former Wildcat. If that list is accurate, Kowalski could hear his name called this weekend in the later rounds of the draft. In either case, given his measurables and track record, expect the graduating lineman to find a job before training camps get underway.
Poppy Livers, WR, 5-7 / 168-lbs
One of the more interesting Villanova stories this weekend will be that of Poppy Livers. The diminutive receiver has fought against the negative perceptions of his size since high school, and landed on the Main Line initially as a preferred walk-on, after his grandfather (a Villanova track and basketball star) helped steer him toward Talley's program. Livers ultimately earned his scholarship, and according to coach Talley, he needed one:
"It's the perfect example of a guy who's hungry. He needed a scholarship to stay here. I'm sorry to say, but at times I think he went looking to find a place to eat before he was on scholarship and we tried to help him in so many ways. Then finally, he just won a scholarship, we just could not hold him back."
Livers, who grew up in Seaside, California, was invited to the San Francisco 49ers' pro-day workouts earlier this month, where he had a chance to show their coaching staff his ability to play at the next level. At Villanova, Livers was used as a slot receiver and a return specialist, and his talent on special teams could be his ticket to making it as a professional.
Andy Talley's teams have rarely made waves returning punts with the coach usually preferring that his teams safely field the ball and let the offense worry about yardage. Livers, however, was given the green light by Talley to run and he recorded the only two punt return touchdowns of Talley's tenure at Villanova -- both on the road.
As a receiver, he had 141 career catches for 1,792 yards and 12 touchdowns on the Main Line. He averaged 9.5 yards per return on punts and 17.4 on kickoffs. As a senior, he had 67 receptions for 987 yards (14.7ypc) and 9 touchdowns, as well as 7 carries for 64 rushing yards.
Though he has, potentially the second-best name in the draft pool, he is expected to go undrafted. His college career, however, was good enough that we expect that he will get his chance at training camp as an undrafted free-agent or try-out invitee.
Good luck to all of the Villanova football seniors who are holding their breath and waiting by the phone this weekend.