The NFL is comprised with players from a wide array of backgrounds and college success doesn’t always mean success at the NFL level. Players come from small schools or from situations where they don’t pile up great college stats and they can have a tremendous impact for their team. These players need to find the right fit and through an incredible amount of work, they can become important piece to the puzzle.
University of Southern Mississippi wide receiver Francisco Llanos is one of these guys. Currently, he is very much under the radar as most in the draft community don’t know him. However, he enters his senior season in 2013 with a real shot to emerge because of his particular set of skills and his determination to work hard.
He is a player who originally walked on as a freshman and received a scholarship after his freshman season. Llanos has been through tough times on the football field as his team was 0-12 last year, and head coach Ellis Johnson was fired after one year. It’s an understatement to say that Llanos has worked through his share of adversity.
I asked Llanos what his hopes were for the 2013 season.
“Definitely I want to have a better year than we did last year. You know, last year was a tough, tough year. I just want to be a leader for this team and my receiving unit, and just be reliable this year. Be a guy that my coaches can count on. I walked on my freshman year and I mean it’s just been a lot of coaching changes. I mean, I’ve had a new receiver’s coach every year since I’ve been here, so it’s hard to get situated when you’ve got coaches coming in and out”
As a scout, there are certain player traits that make you sit up and take notice, and this is exactly what happened last week with Llanos. I saw some practice videos and a few workout videos, and I needed to talk to the young man working so hard to improve his craft.
The videos are all about improving his short area quickness and catching the football. At 5’9” and 180 pounds, Llanos knows his road to the NFL is paved with his quickness, route running and very soft, reliable hands.
Sometimes he runs his routes in sand, which is incredible because of the amount of energy it takes to get your feet out of the sand. His feet move incredibly fast in every drill and immediate comparisons are drawn. He looks like New York Giants Victor Cruz in the way Cruz has quicker feet than anyone else on the field.
I asked about the sand workouts and what they were like.
“It’s not fun at all but it is good work. It’s always good when you can put in the work in different areas, because we are always working out in the grass. So, when you can do stuff in the sand, you know, that, that gets your feet moving faster or whatnot, you know. It makes your ankles stronger, so I tend to do that sometimes.”
While watching a video that displays his footwork, I wondered if it was natural to him because of his rare movement skills. I asked if they were natural, God given abilities or the product of an immense amount of hard work.
“That is something that I focus on a lot due to the fact that I’m not very big at all. I have to focus on, you know, just the smaller things like catching the ball away from my frame, my route running and stuff like that. So, you know, it’s something I’ve worked on. I wouldn’t say it’s natural.”
We talked about the Southern Mississippi offensive scheme and his goals for entering his senior season in 2013.
“I definitely want to win. I’ve always thought, you know, the more you win that good things are going to happen. You know, if we continue to win, playing the bowl games and so on, you know, the stats will come. I’m not so much worried about getting 10 catches a game because if we win that eventually will happen.”
I asked if he had taken on a leadership role on the team and if he felt he was the “go to” receiver on the team and he talked about establishing himself as a veteran and helping out the younger guys.
“We have two wide receivers coaches inside and outside and I’m playing inside. I’m the starter inside and I’m the leader of my group so I’m definitely a go to guy for the slot guys and I’m just trying to show these other guys the ropes and trying to be a leader.”
We talked about the NFL and his future and I asked him about his natural position going forward.
“I can play outside because I’m a good enough route runner but I’m primarily a slot receiver.”
Llanos looks more quick than fast and his mark will be made via his quick feet and short area quickness. I asked him about his long speed and what he thought his 40-yard dash time would be. He said he hadn’t been timed since 2010 and he felt he was faster now than he was three years ago. He did mention that he thought he would run in the low 4.5’s or better.
It is obvious that Llanos is putting in the hard work and towards the end of the conversation I wanted to go full circle and get back to his work ethic. He is a very focused, driven young man who wants to be successful on the football field. We talked a little more about his hard work.
“I’ve been working extremely hard. You know, it’s not just this off season. It’s been every offseason since I’ve been here, even when I knew I wasn’t playing. That’s just the mindset that I have. Anytime I got some free time I’m going out, running routs, trying to find somebody to throw, somebody to record. I mean, that’s just always my mindset that I have. I’ve been working really, really hard and I’m just ready for a big year.”
It is fully incumbent upon Llanos to have the kind of year he is hoping for in order to get into a situation where he can show his talent to the NFL. He certainly has the drive and an interesting set of skills that includes very impressive footwork, both quick and precise. He also flashes soft hands and catches the ball away from his body which will help at the next level.
With a productive year in 2013 as a senior, it is possible to see Llanos at one of the college football all-star games played in early 2014. It will be rewarding for anyone who knows him, because he certainly has put in the work.