To many Americans, the Fourth of July signifies a time for celebration of our freedom, independence and human rights. For others; those deployed overseas; it’s likely just another day at work.
It’s important to always give thanks to those who serve or have served, because they make so many things possible for many others. Our military members are the people who make it possible for those other citizens to choose their line of work and build their lives through other professions, such as writing about the NFL Draft. More importantly than sports media, they allow our teachers to educate our youth, our social workers to improve lives and so, so much more.
The three service academies that play Division 1 football rarely put football players into the NFL, as those student-athletes are committed to their service for the four years following their education. However, sometimes the academies will make exceptions for the type of service that NFL prospects will be committed to, allowing them to balance life as a pro football player and military member.
Despite only being able to commit part of their schedule to athletics due to the command of cadet life, the three players I’ve detailed below have positioned themselves to be scouted by NFL teams. There is no better time to get a look at potential pro prospects from Army, Navy and Air Force than on Independence Day.
Army: Elijah Riley, Defensive Back
Elijah Riley is the crown jewel of NFL prospects from the service academies, as the senior defense back has put together quite a resume. Starting as a freshman back in 2016, Riley posted 3 interceptions. Injuries limited him as a sophomore, but he broke out in a big way last year. With 10 pass breakups, 55 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss, Riley showed impressive versatility.
The 6’0 and 205 pounder has terrific size for the position, and does well with his press-man technique. Riley, a 2018 All-Independent first-teamer, was once a two-time high school captain and Suffolk County (NY) player of the year. With his versatility and man coverage skills, he could be a chess piece defensive back in the NFL.
Before moving on, I feel obligated to mention Army quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr., who rushed for 17 touchdowns last season while throwing for over 1,000 yards. His pro projection doesn’t involve playing quarterback, but he has the athleticism for a potential position switch, not unlike former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds. Speaking of the Naval Academy...
Navy: Jackson Pittman, Defensive Line
Typically at the service academies, the lineman on either side are undersized due to the academy standards on stamina. But not for Jackson Pittman.
Pittman dwarfs his fellow defensive lineman, carrying 300 pounds well on his 6’3 frame. Pittman produced 24 solo tackles last season from his nose tackle position, and looked especially impressive against Notre Dame’s typically dominant offensive line.
Pittman is the veteran on the Midshipmen defense, having started 39 of their last 40 games. The former two-time all-state selection in Tennessee comes equipped with a violent and effective push-pull move, and his size and mobility will garner NFL attention.
If you’re looking for a particularly impressive game, check out Jackson Pittman’s performance against SMU last season, as he racked up a whopping 7 solo tackles and 1 tackle for loss. Make sure to also keep your eye on Navy’s 6’2 and 243 pound outside linebacker Nizaire Cromartie, who was just voted as team captain.
Air Force: Jeremy Fejedelem, Defensive Back
The younger brother of Cincinnati Bengals defensive back Clayton Fejedelem, the younger Jeremy has proven himself to be a pro prospect. From his free safety position last season, he produced over 100 tackles and 3 interceptions. The 5’10 and 185 pound cornerback convert fits naturally as a player on the backend who flies to the football, showing nice acceleration and range while being more than adept in coverage.
Fejedelem was once a first-team all state selection in Illinois, and clearly has the requisite NFL athleticism upon entering his senior season.