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Half dozen Mountaineers going to the NFL

By Joey Jones and Bret Strelow for App State Sports. BOONE, N.C. — Six App State Football alums officially joined the NFL on Saturday, two as draft picks and four as free agent signees.

An eventful day began with the Los Angeles Rams selecting pass-rushing standout Nick Hampton in the fifth round with the 161st overall pick and continued with the Jacksonville Jaguars taking offensive lineman Cooper Hodges, who is from nearby Glen St. Mary, Fla., in the seventh round with the 226th overall selection.

In the hours immediately after the draft ended, four Mountaineers signed with NFL franchises: CB Steven Jones Jr. (Tennessee Titans), TE Henry Pearson (Green Bay Packers), RB Camerun Peoples (Carolina Panthers) and OL Anderson Hardy (Kansas City Chiefs). There are multiple published reports stating that quarterback Chase Brice will participate in rookie minicamps with the Atlanta Falcons and Washington Commanders.

App State led Sun Belt programs last season with 14 alums on NFL rosters, and eight of those players entered the NFL as undrafted free agents. Wide receiver Jalen Virgil (Denver Broncos) and defensive lineman Demetrius Taylor (Detroit Lions) made 53-man rosters in 2022 as undrafted rookies, and cornerback Shaun Jolly played for the Rams last season after being a rookie free agent.

In the last four years, App State and Louisiana are the only Sun Belt programs with at least one pick in each of the NFL drafts and more than one pick in two of those four years. Hampton and Hodges became the 32nd and 33rd different App State alums to be selected in the NFL Draft, dating back to 1942, and the Mountaineers have had 17 players picked in the last 16 drafts.

DRAFT CAPSULES

NICK HAMPTON, EDGE RUSHER
With 26.5 career sacks, including 7.0 in nine games during his final year at App State, ranked No. 5 among full-time FBS players who were active during the 2022 season … According to NCAA statistics and PFF College data, also finished his FBS career with 133 QB pressures, 175 tackles, 40 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries … Began 2022 season with 2.5 sacks against North Carolina and ended opening month by adding two more against James Madison … Despite missing the final three games, in addition to his sack total, accumulated 39 tackles, 25 QB pressures, 9.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in 2022 … Reese’s Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine participant … At the combine, had high-level measurements among edge rushers in the 40-yard dash (4.58), vertical jump (35.5), 10-yard split (1.65) and broad jump (10.0).

COOPER HODGES, OL
Ended 2022 regular season with starts in all 51 of his FBS game appearances … Became four-time All-Sun Belt selection as a right tackle and played guard in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl … Overall blocking grade of 85.3 from PFF in 2022 ranked fifth overall among starting FBS offensive tackles and No. 1 among starting right tackles at the FBS level … Run-blocking grade of 86.2 was also fifth nationally among starting FBS offensive tackles and No. 1 among starting right tackles … The two-year captain allowed just one sack and two quarterback hits in 428 pass-blocking snaps during the 2022 season.

FREE AGENT CAPSULES

ANDERSON HARDY, OL
Played in 44 career games and made 29 career starts, including 28 in a row at left tackle to end his career … All-Sun Belt first team in 2022 … Hula Bowl participant … According to PFF, had the third-best overall blocking grade and fourth-best run-blocking grade among starting offensive tackles in the Sun Belt in 2022, when he started all 12 games … Allowed just two quarterback sacks in 2022 … Weighing 301 pounds, had time of 4.96 seconds in the 40-yard dash at App State’s Pro Day … Knocked out 30 reps on the 225-pound bench press … Vertical jump of 31-5 inches.

STEVEN JONES JR., CB
First-team All-American in 2021 from the Football Writers Association of America, Phil Steele and Pro Football Network, with a second-team honor from the Walter Camp Football Foundation … Played in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl … 2022 second-team preseason All-American via the Walter Camp Football Foundation and PFN … Seven career interceptions included five during breakout season in 2021 … Totaled 34 passes defended in FBS career, including 28 over his final two seasons … Career totals included four INT returns for TDs, five total TDs (counting the end zone recovery of his own punt block) and 131 tackles. … In 2021, broke or tied school records for single-season INT return TDs, career INT return TDs, single-game INTs (five-way tie for first) and single-game INT return TDs (four-way tie for first) … Played in 64 career games and made 27 starts at cornerback … Two-time All-Sun Belt defender (first team in 2021, second team in 2022) … In 2022, tied for the Sun Belt lead in the regular season with 15 passes defended … Tied for 14th nationally in the regular season with 1.2 passes defended per game in 2022 … Had time of 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash at App State’s Pro Day … Vertical jump of 35-0 and broad jump of 10-4.

HENRY PEARSON, TE
Played in 59 career games and made 43 starts at tight end … All-Sun Belt second-team as a senior … Totaled 58 catches for 897 yards and 11 touchdowns in his career … Full-time starter in his final three years after starting eight games in 2019 and making three starts as a true freshman in 2018 … In 2022, led App State and tied for the Sun Belt lead among tight ends with five touchdown catches during the regular season … Second among league TEs in catches (25) and receiving yards (329) in the regular season … Among starting Sun Belt tight ends, had the second-best overall blocking grade, according to PFF … Scored a tiebreaking touchdown on 9-yard reception late in third quarter of 17-14 win at Texas A&M … Knocked out 30 reps on the 225-pound bench press at App State’s Pro Day — the high among tight ends at this year’s combine was 23.

CAMERUN PEOPLES, RB
In 36 career games (15 starts), totaled 2,830 rushing yards, 33 rushing TDs, nine 100-yard games and a school-record 6.22 yards-per-carry average … Capped a 1,124-yard rushing season in 2020 with 317 yards and five touchdowns in the Myrtle Beach Bowl — a performance that set NCAA’s single-game bowl record for rushing yards, broke the school record for single-game rushing yards, tied the NCAA bowl record for rushing TDs and tied the school record for rushing touchdowns … Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year Award candidate in 2020 after scoring a 63-yard TD as a (redshirting) true freshman in 2018 bowl win but suffering a torn ACL in his right knee on a 17-yard run in the 2019 opener … Appeared in nine games and made six starts in 2022 … Rushed for 593 yards on 101 attempts (5.9 average) and five TDs … Had three 100-yard games, with 168 yards (with two TDs on 23 rushes) against Georgia State, 112 yards (on 19 attempts) at Texas A&M and 102 yards (with a 73-yard TD) on four carries against The Citadel … Had a 48-yard run on the final drive to help clinch the win at No. 6 Texas A&M … Helped tie UNC game with 38-yard touchdown run … Reese’s Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine participant … At the combine, had measurements of 4.61 in the 40-yard dash, 37-0 in the vertical jump and 10-1 in the broad jump … His 19 reps on the bench press at App State’s Pro Day would have tied for fourth place among running backs at the combine.

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