A wild pre-draft year for Antonio Callaway will reach its conclusion next week. There are still plenty of questions surrounding the über-athletic ex-Gators receiver, but ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. offered some encouraging thoughts Wednesday.
Kiper, perhaps the most influential NFL draft analyst of the past few decades, indicated that Callaway will almost certainly be drafted, and that the disgraced wide receiver might hear his name called as soon as the second round.
“It’s a hard call,” Kiper said. “Antonio Callaway, on talent, is a first-round draft choice. He entered the year as one of the elite 15 best players at any position, possibly, that were draft eligible. So, the off-field concerns are what’s going to be impacting him. We saw what’s happened with some players over the years that get pushed down, and once the light goes on, they mature and they put that in the past and they move on. They can evolve and develop.”
Callaway ran afoul of authorities twice at Florida (suspension after being cleared of a sexual-assault allegation in 2015; no-contest plea to possession of drug paraphernalia in 2016) before getting kicked out of the program in 2017 for credit-card fraud.
When SEC Country spoke with him at the NFL scouting combine, a remorseful Callaway blamed himself for the Gators’ 4-7 record and Jim McElwain’s firing.
“I’m a great kid,” he said. “I’ve learned from my past. I’m moving on. It’s a bigger picture.”
Kiper said Callaway — who recorded more than 2,000 all-purpose yards between 2015 and 2016 — should find a home near the middle of the draft.
“Some people thought second- or third-round over the last month or two,” Kiper said. “It’s hard, because it’s individual teams that have to make that call. That’s what they’re all assessing now. I’d say the second round’s a little high for me. When you get into the fourth, fifth-round area, that’s when you start thinking about Antonio Callaway. That’s what I would do.”
The NFL tends to give second chances to troubled players, so long as they have outstanding athletic potential. And their aren’t too many players with more on-field potential than Callaway.
“If you’re gonna talk talent,” Kiper reiterated, “he’s a first-round pick.”