Through every step of the pre-draft process, Matt Milano did his best to avoid distractions.
He kept social media to a minimum. No Twitter, no Instagram, no Facebook, if he could help it.
He kept his phone close by, knowing everyone from coaches to friends and family would want to check in.
But the process of proving himself to NFL observers and carving out a spot at the next level is a long one, and he didn’t want to miss a step.
But about a week ago, things started to hit him.
He had a workout in Foxborough with the New England Patriots.
He had played at Gillette Stadium before — not even a year ago, when Boston College beat UMass — but it would’ve been natural to be star-struck.
“They’re Super Bowl champs,” he said. “So just being in that facility with all those guys around was kind of special.”
But he never lost sight of the reason the Patriots brought him in.
Whatever they asked of him, he made sure he was prepared and sharp. He spent four years helicoptering around the field as a playmaking linebacker for a Boston College defense that was annually one of the best in the country, but the Patriots envisioned him playing a role as a special teamer. They watched film and hit the field for some drills.
“I was looking at it as going in for a job interview,” Milano said. “So I was keeping my cool and doing my thing. I just know that everything I do, I give it my all no matter who I’m dealing with. Every time I’m talking to somebody or working out for somebody, I just go 100 percent and give it my best.”
The reputation Milano built for himself in an Eagles uniform precedes him. He played in all but one game in four years. His motor and aggressiveness were unquestioned. He was effective in the pass rush and in coverage. He was as respected around the Atlantic Coast Conference, where he was named All-ACC honorable mention last season, as he was in the Eagles locker room, where he was named team MVP.
Even though one knock on him was his size (6 feet 1 inch, 220 pounds), he boosted his stock at the NFL Combine last month, when he posted a 35-inch vertical, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.67 seconds, benched 225 pounds 24 times, and put up a 126-inch broad jump.
Now, with the draft less than a week away, the question is where he’ll land. Projections have him falling to the later rounds, possibly the fifth or sixth, but no matter where he’s taken, Milano trusts the process.
“It’s been a good journey,” Milano said. “I had two different defensive coordinators [at BC], and I think I got put in the right positions for both of them. I think it gave me a balance of rushing the passer, playing in coverage, and also just playing at a true linebacker position. So I’ve been hearing it’s been good for me so far, so we’ll see.”
To BC coach Steve Addazio, Milano has no reason to worry.
“He’s a guy that can play the run and the pass as a walk-out backer, which is hard to find,” said Addazio. “He’s got the proven ability in our conference to play man coverage. I think the guy’s going to be a great special teams player. I just think that he’s going to be highly productive. I see him having a great future.’’
Since 2014, nine players have been drafted out of BC. Defensive back Justin Simmons became the highest player selected in that span when he was taken by the Broncos in the third round last year.
Addazio said he gave Milano the same advice he gave to Simmons.
“Guys like Matt make teams,” he said. “Don’t get hung up [on] what round, free agent. It’s irrelevant. Just get to the team, make the team. Those guys will make teams, so don’t ride that emotional roller coaster. Get where you’re going to get, handle your business, and go make the team. Those kind of guys make it because they’re just really good football players.”
As the draft nears, Milano said he wouldn’t have any problem keeping his emotions in check. No matter where he ends up, there’s still work ahead of him.
“It’s kind of surreal now, coming up on the draft days, I’m just taking it all as I go, not really overlooking any of the process. Just going day-by-day and playing it out as it goes.
“Wherever I end up, I end up,” he said. “I’m not too worried about where I end up or how I get there as long as by the time they make the cuts for the team, I’m on the team.”
Top linebacker prospects
A speedy, explosive linebacker with great instincts and the ability to lay big hits, but his stock may drop after testing positive for a diluted urine sample at the Combine and getting in a heated argument with a hospital worker.
Was a DE at Missouri, racking up 16 sacks and 30.5 tackles for loss the past two seasons, but is better suited as a 3-4 rush linebacker in the NFL. One red flag is he had surgery on both shoulders in college.
Undersized for an edge rusher, Reddick still has great speed and instincts to get to the QB, recording 10.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss last year. Will be either a 3-4 edge rusher or inside linebacker in the NFL.
Has great combination of size, speed, and instincts to excel as a three-down linebacker in the NFL. Also impressed scouts at the Combine with a 35-inch vertical jump, 81-inch wingspan, and 10-5 broad jump.
Didn't have a great 2016 season, but Davis is still a solid all-around prospect, with great speed, instincts, leadership skills, and blitz ability. Leg injuries that forced him out of three games could hurt his stock.
|Raekwon McMillan||ILB||Ohio State||6-2||240||4.61||2-3|
Doesn't have great pass coverage skills, but should be drafted on the second day as a run-stuffing inside linebacker. Racked up 221 tackles the last two years and has good size and instincts.
A terrific athlete who had the best vertical jump of any linebacker at the Combine (37.5 inches), Bowser had 8.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss last year, but his best fit is likely as an outside linebacker.
One of those "high motor" prospects who can chase down ballcarriers and has excellent upper-body strength to shed blockers. Was a productive strong-side linebacker in 2016 and projects as the same in the NFL.
Would probably be ranked higher if not for a torn ACL suffered at the end of the 2016 season. Has great size and power, and projects as a starting middle linebacker in the NFL.
Explosive edge rusher had nine sacks and 20 tackles for loss in his one year as a starter. Has a few off-field concerns, but is an intriguing prospect who can easily add some muscle to his lanky frame.
Best of the rest: ILB Alex Anzalone*, Florida (6-3, 240, 4.63, 3-4); ILB Duke Riley, LSU (6-0, 232, 4.58, 3-4); OLB Demarcus Walker, Florida State (6-4, 280, 4.83, 3-4); OLB Dawuane Smoot, Illinois (6-2, 255, 4.77, 3-4); ILB Elijah Lee*, Kansas State (6-2, 229, 4.70, 4-5); ILB Ben Boulware, Clemson (6-0, 238, 4.85, 4-5); ILB Anthony Walker*, Northwestern (6-1, 238, 4.65, 4-5); OLB Carl Lawson*, Auburn (6-2, 261, 4.67, 4-5).
* — underclassman