Dexter McDougle’s cell phone rang and no one else noticed . The NFL draft party of roughly 30 was buzzing two Fridays ago at his Virginia home, enjoying food and conversation as the event unfolded on television. It was the middle of the third round, somewhere around the 77th overall pick, when an army of officials from his future employer – coaches, assistants, the general manager — conferenced in and, at first, only McDougle realized what was happening.
“Oh my goodness,” he thought to himself. “It’s about to happen.”
“Are you ready to do this?” a voice on the other line asked. “Are you ready to be a Jet?”
McDougle had never paid much attention to NFL draft projections, even though he built a college career proving them wrong. The former Maryland cornerback felt confident on every visit he took, during every interview he gave, and his agent expressed an idea of where he thought McDougle would go. If that aligned with the mocks, McDougle would hear his name called on the third day, somewhere between rounds four and seven.
This was primarily based on McDougle’s medical history, specifically the fractured shoulder blade that caused him to miss all but three games last fall. Had he stayed healthy and even kept up a sliver of the interception-per-game pace set over those three weeks, who knows where McDougle might have fallen. Even so, he still found himself retreating to his room on the second day, in the third round, shutting the door as friends knocked on it, for another conversation with the Jets.
Downstairs, on the television, the 80th pick approached. More friends, fresh off work, had come over, and everyone had begun taking out their phones to capture the moment. Out of all the interviews McDougle had done, he felt most comfortable in New York. Indeed, a New York Times article cited Jets scouting director Terry Bradway calling McDougle the smartest cornerback they hosted before the draft.
Then, pandemonium. Everyone hugged McDougle and gave him high-fives. His interview, workouts and Pro Day, where he ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash, was enough for the Jets to buck the projections and select McDougle. ESPN.com called it “a reach.” The Star-Ledger pointed to his “instincts” and “fundamentals” and “upside to be a longtime factor.” He was the highest Maryland player taken since Torrey Smith, his friend from Virginia, in 2011.
At rookie minicamp this past weekend, McDougle wore jersey 43, in red, for non-contact. The Jets said it was precautionary. They would rather be safe than risk him reinjuring the shoulder, even though he was cleared before the draft. He wished he was back on the field, but even a red jersey is still a jersey.
So McDougle did what he learned to do at Maryland, wearing a sling instead of a helmet on Saturdays. He took mental reps and thought like a coach, learning the scheme for when he finally returns to full contact. For that, the timetable is uncertain and McDougle said he is taking things day by day. But sometime up in Florham Park, N.J., the reality of what his father had said finally dawned on McDougle. It was his job now, what he had dreamed about as a lowly rated recruit from Stafford High School who drew more low-level attention as a wide receiver than BCS interest as a cornerback.
“I love football,” McDougle said Sunday. “This is what I want to do.”