Next up in our "Undrafted" series is former FCS All-American Lorenzo Jerome. The St. Francis alum graduated with school records and a number of individual accolades. But the San Francisco 49ers undersized, 5-10 safety found the pre-draft process to be an uphill climb.
And yet, the small school product is showing that he's more than capable of being a force in an NFL secondary.
"I'm a ball-hawk safety," Jerome said. "I've got good instincts to make plays on the ball and read the quarterback. I'm a playmaker. That's what I've been doing my whole life."
Jerome owns the program record with 18 interceptions during his career at St. Francis. A standout senior campaign was encored by MVP honors at the NFLPA Game and two more interceptions at the Reese's Senior Bowl.
Still, Jerome's agent warned that he may go undrafted due to his size and small-school pedigree. A 4.7-second 40 time at the NFL Combine didn't help. But St. Francis' head coach Chris Villarrial, an 11-year NFL veteran in his own right, assured Jerome that his opportunity would come regardless.
The safety had to remind himself of that while he sat patiently at his draft party near St. Francis' campus in Loretto, Pa.
"I was just waiting, waiting and waiting," Jerome said. "Mike Mayock gave me a shout out, but I guess that wasn't enough."
Jerome's name never flashed across the TV screen. But just as Villarrial promised, teams came calling. San Francisco's lack of depth at safety made the 49ers an appealing option.
He started to garner some buzz during OTAs. His knack for finding the football has carried into training camp where he already has a pair of interceptions. Jerome has been a primary beneficiary of a trio of injuries at safety. Jimmie Ward remains on PUP with a hamstring injury. Eric Reid missed a few days with an ankle injury. Jaquiski Tartt finally made it back to the field on Wednesday after missing a week with a rib injury.
View the top images from the 10th practice of 2017 training camp presented by SAP.
Those ailments have opened the door for Jerome to get reps with the first-team defense. Despite having spent most of his college days at strong safety and nickel corner, Jerome has found a home at free safety in San Francisco. The center fielder-type role in Robert Saleh's defense fits his ball-hawking style of play.
"I looked at the roster (before I signed) and knew I'd have a chance to compete for a starting job," Jerome said. "Right now I feel like I'm competing for a starting job, so I've got to continue what I'm doing."
It's evident that the rookie has plenty of confidence in his abilities and has fun on the practice field. That belief in himself has been reciprocated by the coaching staff as well. Jerome says he's gotten positive reviews thus far and looks forward to carrying his strong play into Friday's preseason opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Plays don't matter until you can make them in a game, so make sure to keep an eye on No. 49 on Friday. I've got a feeling he'll be hard to miss.