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Eastern Washington University Football
Sports >  EWU football

Big Sky strikeout: Lean year for conference, FCS in last week’s NFL Draft

UPDATED: Fri., May 1, 2020

Eastern Washington University head coach Aaron Best reacts during a game against Idaho on Sept. 21, 2019, at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington University head coach Aaron Best reacts during a game against Idaho on Sept. 21, 2019, at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

It’s been a week since the conclusion of the NFL draft, and nary a Eastern Washington product was selected or offered a rookie free-agent contract.

Draft picks are relatively common for EWU – there have been seven since 2002 – but undrafted free-agent signings and rookie minicamp invitations have become standard.

But if former Eagles and NFL hopefuls like safety Dehonta Hayes, center Spencer Blackburn and tight end Jayce Gilder aren’t ultimately offered contracts, it will be the first time EWU goes a spring without sending a rookie free agent to the league since 2009.

The other route – an invitation to rookie minicamp – isn’t even a certainty. The coronavirus pandemic may lead to the cancellations of several camps this month and June, preventing even more small-school athletes from showcasing their ability to NFL coaches.

Hayes, like hundreds of Football Championship Subdivision-level players whose March pro days were canceled because the worldwide virus, believes he’d be signed by now under different circumstances.

“I honestly have no idea what to expect at this point,” said Hayes, an All-Big Sky selection who led EWU in tackles last season. “I didn’t think I would fall this far back, and neither did my agent.”

Gilder, an All-Big Sky tight end and team captain last season, shares Hayes’ plight.

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound pass catcher said his agent has heard from multiple teams but doesn’t know what to expect. Gilder said a rookie minicamp invite looks promising if they’re not canceled.

“If I would have had my pro day, I would’ve (been offered a contract),” Gilder said. “The problem is being unknown and not having the (NFL scouts) see me in person in drills and workouts.

“I’ve learned life isn’t fair during this process. It’s pretty tough, but an opportunity these next three months is very possible.”

Small-school standouts across the country had similar sentiments following an NFL draft last week that included six players selected from the FCS level, three in the seventh round.

From 2007 to 2019 an average of 18 FCS products were selected, substantially higher than this year’s six.

“This was the least amount of (FCS) draft picks since 1994,” said Craig Haley, an FCS football pundit for Athlon Sports.

The draft was also an aberration for the Big Sky Conference.

For the first time since 2000, the Big Sky didn’t have a single player selected, but 11 eventually signed rookie free-agent contracts, including Idaho receiver Jeff Cotton (Los Angeles Chargers).

Last year the Big Sky had one player drafted – Idaho linebacker Kaden Elliss to the New Orleans Saints in the seventh round – and 13 players signed undrafted free-agent contracts, including EWU receiver Nsimba Webster (Rams).

Elliss and Webster went on to make their respective 53-man rosters.

Gubrud pursuing CFL

Gage Gubrud could be the next former EWU standout quarterback to play north of the border.

Gubrud told The Spokesman-Review that he is in contract talks with the British Columbia Lions, a Canadian Football League team that put Gubrud on their negotiation list in 2018, Gubrud’s final year at EWU.

Ex-Eagles quarterbacks Bo Levi Mitchell (Calgary Stampeders), Matt Nichols (Toronto Argonauts) and Vernon Adams (Montreal Alouettes) all start in the nine-team league.

After starring at EWU for three seasons (2016-2018) and setting several EWU and Big Sky passing records, Gubrud transferred to Washington State last season but lost the starting job to Anthony Gordon.

Gordon went on to lead the nation in passing, set WSU and Pac-12 records and recently signed an undrafted rookie free-agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks.

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