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Minicamp profile: Jaleel McLaughlin could be Denver’s diamond in the rough

The NCAA’s most productive collegiate running back of all-time didn’t get drafted. Now he heads into this week’s rookie minicamp to show he belongs in the NFL.

NCAA Football: Youngstown State at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

When you are the most productive running back in college football history—you probably expect to hear your name called in the NFL Draft.

Youngstown State product Jaleel McLaughlin didn’t, but the Denver Broncos quickly signed him to an undrafted free agent deal as soon as it began.

At just a shade under 5’8” and under 190 pounds, McLaughlin’s size was a likely culprit in him being overlooked by every NFL team. But the tape doesn’t lie and the stats don’t either.

He can play football and has been a star at every level.

A successful multi-sport athlete in high school, McLaughlin took his football talents to Notre Dame College in Ohio and broke virtually every Division II football record known to man.

He was the Falcons’ star playmaker, a two-time Mountain East Conference Player of the Year, as well as a two-time finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy. That’s their version of the Heisman.

In 2018 and 2019, he rushed his way into Division II football record books by amassing nearly 5,000 yards rushing and 66 total touchdowns. It’s simply production that is unheard of. That would be impeccable production over the course of a young man’s collegiate career. He put up those Madden-like numbers in just two.

In 2020, he was able to transfer to FCS-level Youngstown State and play immediately. In his first season [COVID-shortened], he ran for 697 yards on 134 carries and scored five touchdowns. Not too shabby for a limited number of games played.

Each year thereafter he steadily improved. In his final two years with the Penguins, he rushed for over 2,700 combined yards, 25 touchdowns, and added 39 receptions for 476 yards and two scores. Those type of numbers usually don’t go unnoticed.

But truth be told, I didn’t know who he was until he played my favorite team and alma mater North Dakota State. The Bison are formidable champions and don’t let many players have great games against them, but McLaughlin did.

He has speed you can’t teach. He has heart that doesn’t quit. He stood out in some facet each time they played. And in some of those games, pound for pound, he may have been the best player on the field—even with the Bison having several players drafted over the past few seasons.

One of the hardest things general managers, scouts, and their staffs have to do when evaluating prospects in measuring their commitment to football.

Do they want to be great? Do they really love the game?

It seems quite obvious that McLaughlin does. He has met every challenge that has come his way. He has exceeded every expectation anyone could ever have of him. And he sure as Hell had the numbers to merit being selected in the draft.

Not only that, but he has overcome adversity his entire life. He is the type of player you root for. A young man you want to succeed. The kind of player you want to bet on.

And if all goes well and he shows out, like he has every step of his football journey, I think he is makes the Broncos’ final 53-man roster.

I will always root for the underdog. Here is to hoping McLaughlin continues to live his football dream and excel as a pro.