Clayton Thorson Jersey

When Chad Thorson strolls into a Steak ’n Shake in Indianapolis, he turns heads.

It happens at the Potbelly on Washington Street too. The cashiers swear Thorson is Peyton Manning. So you can imagine the reaction when Thorson appears within 50 miles of Lucas Oil Stadium.

And how’s this for a juicy topping? Clayton Thorson and his brothers will play along, asking their dad just loud enough: “Hey, when’s Uncle Eli coming to town?”

During one visit a waiter remarked: “Mr. Thorson, it wasn’t until you gave me your credit card that I knew it wasn’t Peyton Manning.”

So Chad Thorson, Clayton’s father, is not the five-time NFL MVP and ace pitchman. But Manning is a family friend. His agent, Tom Condon, is also the agent for Clayton Thorson, the former Northwestern quarterback.

And speaking of connections: Before the 1990 draft, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper heralded Chad Thorson, linebacker from Wheaton College, as a sleeper.

Want your mind blown? Kiper remembers doing it. Vividly.

“He was a tackling machine, a phenomenal player, a 3-4 inside linebacker,” Kiper said. “I had him 6-2 and about 239, 240 (pounds). What hurt him was that he ran a 5.05 (40-yard dash) at the combine, but he was a dominant performer at a lower level of competition. All over the field.”

There were 12 rounds that year. More than 330 players were drafted. Thorson was not selected. It was 29 years ago.

READ MORE: Which local prospects will hear their names called in the 2019 NFL draft? »

And now Kiper is grading Clayton Thorson, taller and trimmer than his dad at 6-foot-4 and 222 pounds. Kiper projects him to go in the fourth round Saturday.

“Before you know it,” Kiper joked, “I’m going to be scouting Clayton Thorson’s kids.”

Chad Thorson recalls the Chargers and Giants saying they would draft him in 1990, but neither did. It was the first year juniors were eligible for the NFL draft, and the linebacker group was so strong, seven went in the top 18. (The Giants snagged a future Pro Bowl kicker, Matt Stover, with their final selection.)

Thorson recalls being the first Division III player to participate in the Senior Bowl and thought he would be a mid-round pick, so it stung. But the Giants signed him right after the draft, and he celebrated at his family’s home in Columbus, Ohio, with fiancee Shauna.

He reported to training camp in New Jersey. His coaches were Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick (defensive coordinator) and Al Groh (linebackers). Romeo Crennel coached the defensive line, and Charlie Weis helped with special teams.

“To see that expertise,” Thorson said, “you can understand why they won the Super Bowl.”

Thorson recalls a bit of razzing — “Where is Wheaton College?” — but no hazing. The Gulf War broke out in August 1990, and Thorson says they talked politics; he was a political science major at Wheaton.

“Pepper Johnson went to Ohio State; he was someone I looked up to,” Thorson said. “Carl Banks became a close friend. LT is arguably the greatest defensive player in NFL history. He held out that training camp but was there the next one. They were happy and willing to show me how to shed blockers. They said: ‘Hey, let’s get the second- and third-team guys better.’ It was the epitome of team.

“And they used to tell us: ‘Don’t watch film of LT. What he’s doing, you can’t do.’ ”

That professionalism permeated the organization. Before the Giants’ final preseason game, players were brought by bus from the team hotel to the stadium.

“If they were going to cut you,” Thorson said, “they’d grab you before you turned left into the locker room.”

After Thorson made it in safely, he thought: Oh, my goodness. Then Parcells found him and told him the team had tried to trade running back Joe Morris to open a roster spot.

Thorson long-snapped and played linebacker for the Birmingham Fire of the World League of American Football. The Eagles signed him and kept him for six weeks. The Giants picked him off waivers, and he spent 1991 on injured reserve. After the Colts released him in 1992, he moved to Wheaton and got a job in financial services, selling bonds.

He’s now an executive at Performance Trust Capital Partners. He and Shauna have five children: Hunter, Luke, Clayton, Molly and Ben. Three are married, including Clayton, 23, with another wedding scheduled for June.

When it comes to settling down, this family runs the two-minute drill.

Thorson started 53 games for Northwestern, beginning his senior season less than eight months after ACL reconstruction surgery on his right knee. He threw for 10,731 yards, but his 58.4 completion percentage was middling.

Asked what he believes Thorson must do to have a good NFL career, Kiper said: “Getting healthy. Getting back to where he was. He was limited (last season), playing at less than 100 percent. I give him a lot of credit for playing and being an inspiration and leading them to a lot of victories. He certainly has an NFL arm. He’s a smart kid, a tough kid. Once he gets back to 100 percent, I think Clayton Thorson has a chance to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.”

Thorson will watch the draft with family members in Wheaton, breaking for the occasional game of touch football. (He’s the automatic QB.) On Saturday he’ll throw with former NFL quarterback Kent Graham, his longtime personal coach.

His father remains Clayton’s role model. They view football the same way — a huge part of Clayton’s life, but not his life.

Shareef Miller Jersey

As far as inspirational inner city-to-the-NFL stories go, Shareef Miller’s meets all the typical criteria.

He’s from a rough neighborhood, was raised in a single-parent household and suffered unfathomable loss at the hands

of violence. As inspirational as his story is, it’s not all that uncommon in the NFL. He’s not even the only player

in the Eagles’ locker room with a similar backstory.

This difference is that Miller is from here. He’s ours.

And now, after getting drafted by the Eagles — a moment he said was “surreal” — he feels an obligation to not just

produce on the football field, but to also be an inspiration to kids who grew up where he grew up and who face the

same struggles daily that he was able to overcome.

“That’s really going to help my community,” Miller said on Saturday. “It’s really going to change a lot of

things. It’s going to give these kids someone to look up to. That’s what it’s all about. I’m happy I’ve been put

in this situation so I can shed light on the younger kids coming up in this generation.”

Miller, whom the Eagles drafted with the last pick in the fourth round on Friday, grew up in the Frankford section of

the city. He went to Frankford High before transferring to George Washington High, a decision orchestrated by his

mother that he said “changed his life.”

But just before he went to Penn State, Miller’s older brother, Mikal, was shot and killed in 2015. The loss of his

role model hit Miller hard. Hard enough that he even considered not going to Penn State. But his mother, Tekeya Cook,

has been his rock. According to Miller, she kept him level-headed and pointed in the right direction.

Mom is such a rock that during their celebration on Saturday — Miller and his family rented a loft in northeast

Philly to watch the draft — she told her son that it’s now time to get to work.

Miller will be on the field at the NovaCare Complex soon enough for rookie minicamp and then OTAs, but his work as a

role model is already well underway. First, kids from his old neighborhood saw him go to a Division I school, but now

they’re going to see him play in the NFL about 15 minutes away from their homes.

Miller isn’t taking his role as an inspiration and mentor to local kids lightly.

It can be tough for a professional athlete to play in their home city. There’s extra pressure and there’s a natural

trap of falling in with the wrong people. A few years ago, when I profiled Brandon Graham, he told me one of the

biggest realizations in his life was that when he went back to Detroit, he just couldn’t hang out with the same

people like he used to. It’s tough, but he had to cut some destructive people out of his life.

That might not be easy for Miller, who is just 22. But that process already started when he transferred high schools

many years ago. He said he has a small group of people in his support system, people who want the best for him.

Miller doesn’t think playing in his hometown will be a distraction. If anything, he sees it as a huge positive.

There are a bunch of kids who are growing up just like him who will likely agree.

Miles Sanders Jersey

Imagine being the head football coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions, having a generational type of talent like Saquon Barkley, and knowing you have the former number-one running back recruit in the country, Miles Sanders. That’s exactly the situation James Franklin was in two seasons ago. Following the most recent NFL Draft, where the Eagles took two Nittany Lions with their five picks (they’d sign two more after the draft’s conclusion), PSU’s head coach, James Franklin spoke with Fran Duffy and Amy Franklin of Eagles Draft Central.

Two Pennsylvania guys, who were former teammates, now play on opposite sides, and hopefully, we’ll see some great duels over the next few seasons with Sanders donning the midnight green.

‘You’re going to love them (both Sanders and defensive end Shareef Miller). They’re great players, but they’re better people and you’re going to really enjoy getting to know these guys over the next couple of years’ Franklin said on Saturday.

Sanders didn’t earn a starting spot in the Nittany Lions offense until this past season when he was a junior. Once he was given his opportunity, he responded with 220 rushing attempts, 1,274 yards, and nine touchdowns.

These days, the NFL doesn’t seem as excited as they once were to go with running backs early unless they’re certain they’re once in a generation types of tailbacks. Sanders may not be seen as that, which is why he slipped to Round 2, but by joining a nice stable with Philadelphia, and by having Duce Staley to guide him, we may be looking at one of those ‘steals’ a la Alvin Kamara.

Philly’s style of play seems to be suited for Sanders’ skill set. Might he flourish in Year 4 of the Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz era? We say he’s got an awesome shot to do so.

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside Jersey

Senior wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside and senior inside linebacker Bobby Okereke were picked on Friday’s day two of the 2019 NFL Draft, joining a long and heralded list of Stanford players in the NFL. Arcega-Whiteside was drafted in the second round by the Philadelphia Eagles, where he will join fellow former Cardinal Zach Ertz in an already stacked pass-catching corps. Picked in the third round, Okereke will head to Indianapolis to play alongside 2018 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Darius Leonard.

An All-Pac-12 Second Team honoree and 2018 semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award given to college football’s top wide receiver, Arcega-Whiteside was one of the Pac-12’s most highly decorated players entering this year’s draft. However, most scouts projected him to go no earlier than the third round.

“I just have to take the mentality of being a fan watching and having my phone real tight to me, whether it’s the first or sixth round,” he said before the draft. “Any team that drafts me I’m going to be excited to play for. It’s an exciting time, but you also have to stay calm and not get your hopes up … I know the team that drafts me is the team I want to go to because they want me.”

The standout from South Carolina tied NFL Hall of Famer James Lofton’s school record of 14 touchdowns this past season, and his 1059 receiving yards ranked fifth-most in a single season in Stanford football history.

“I would say the two things I know for sure are that JJ Arcega-Whiteside can change field position and he can score touchdowns,” said Stanford head coach David Shaw. “You can look at his game and pick it apart, but those are two things that have been consistent on this level, in high school, and will be consistent on the next level.”

Standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing in at 225-pounds, Arcega-Whiteside is bigger than most of the receivers in his class and in the NFL as a whole. However, he put to rest any concerns scouts had about his speed and athleticism at Stanford’s Pro Timing Day when he ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash.

“I’m a complete receiver,” Arcega-Whiteside said shortly after the run. “I compare myself to Mike Thomas,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “He’s not the strongest, biggest, fastest guy on the field, but he plays football. He’s one of the best, if not the best, football players on the field. He’s smooth and a great route runner. Every time the ball is thrown his way, he catches it. That’s how I want to be.”

Though reports before the draft revealed that he had been invited for individual workouts with the San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans, Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens, Arcega-Whiteside will kick off his professional career with the Eagles. He fits right in with a receiver group that includes 6-foot-3 wideout Alshon Jeffery, three-time Pro Bowler DeSean Jackson and 2015 USC first-round pick Nelson Agholor.

“Even when he’s being held or grabbed or tugged or pulled, it does not matter,” said NFL scouting analyst Daniel Jeremiah about Arcega-Whiteside after he was picked. “He finds a way to get it done down the field. Look at the way that the Eagles have used Alshon Jeffery — the plays he makes above the rim — they got a younger version of Jeffery.”

Whiteside was the sixth receiver off the board in the draft, selected at the 57th overall pick.

Bobby Okereke shot up draft board over the past few weeks, showing off incredible athleticism at the NFL Combine and Stanford’s pro day with a 4.58-second 40-yard dash time good for seventh-best among linebackers at the combine and a position-leading 37 on the Wonderlic (the NFL’s pre-draft intelligence test administered to prospects coming out of college).

Standing at 6-foot-1 and weighing 239 pounds, the senior has prototypical size for the inside linebacker position and is coming off of a 2018 campaign at Stanford that saw him lead the team with 96 total tackles (7.5 for loss) en route to All-Pac-12 honorable mention honors.

“Undersized but instinctive and rangy, Okereke plays fast and is generally on the right track with his initial reads and response to play development,” said NFL scouting analyst Lance Zierlein.

“Really good senior bowl and really good combine,” tweeted draft analyst Matt Miller shortly after the pick was made. “He fits what NFL wants in a three-down linebacker. Has range to go sidelines and can cover.”

Selected at the 89th overall pick, Okereke joins an young, ascending defense with the Indianapolis Colts that ranked eleventh in yards per game allowed and eighth in rushing yards allowed. The group boasts the NFL’s 2018 tackles leader, First Team All-Pro and Defensive Rookie of the Year in former South Carolina linebacker Darius Leonard, picked in the second round of the 2018 draft by the Colts one year ago.

“I’ve compared him to Darius Leonard for the past six months, and now they’re teammates,” tweeted former Seattle Seahawks scout and current Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy shortly after the pick. “Both are long and fast. Leonard more instinctive and Okereke more physical.”

Both team captains in 2018, Arcega-Whiteside and Okereke will certainly be missed on the Stanford football team and by the Cardinal faithful next season. Their former teammates on campus are no doubt looking forward to cheering them on next season as they take the next steps in their football journeys.

“It’s something I dreamed of as a kid so you just have to live in the moment,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “You only do this once in your life and I’m going to enjoy it. It’s an exciting experience to be part of this process.”

Andre Dillard Jersey

The Eagles were aggressive in their pursuit of Washington State offensive tackle Andre Dillard on Thursday during the first round of the NFL Draft.

Dillard was the team’s top-graded offensive tackle and a Top 10 player on their draft board. Following the selection, the Eagles were effusive in their praise of Dillard’s athleticism and upside.

The Eagles’ front office isn’t the only group that’s very high on its new blindside blocker. Former Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas is also a member of Dillard’s fan club.

“He has really impressive technique,” Thomas said to BrownsWire’s Jeff Risdon on Thursday. “He really impressed me with his technique, his quickness, his flexibility and mobility as an offensive lineman. I think all those things are really important to be able to execute his technique properly.”

Thomas’ praise is noteworthy. He retired prior to last season after spending 11 years with the Cleveland Browns. During his career, Thomas was named a 10-time Pro Bowl selection and a seven-time first-team All-Pro.

Thomas was one of the best offensive linemen of his generation. Dillard will now look to follow in his footsteps at the left tackle position.

However, before Dillard can earn playing time, he will need to sit and watch another legend finish out his career. Former All-Pro Jason Peters is set for one more season with the Eagles after signing a new pact in the offseason.

Dillard is looking forward to learning from one of the best.

“It’s just a huge honor to be on the same team as a great veteran player like that,” Dillard said Thursday. “I’m looking forward to competing with him, getting better with him and learning a lot from him and everybody else there.”