Syracuse's Marcus Sales is ready to voyage to the NFL and reward whichever team takes a leap of faith in him this April. After all, Sales has all the physical tools and track record needed to imply that he is destined for a quality role in the big leagues.
Listed at 6'0'' and 192 pounds, Sales offers a skill set with long arms and long running strides. As a senior last season, Sales recorded 64 receptions for 882 yards and eight touchdowns. In fact, after the first three games of the 2012 NCAA season, Sales had caught 25 passes for 350 yards and four scores.
In the Pinstripe Bowl that followed the 2010 NCAA season, Sales recorded five receptions 172 yards and three touchdowns against Kansas State, playing in Yankee Stadium on a national stage.
However, Sales isn't being regarded as a "can't-miss" prospect, and chances are that few football fans would recognize Sales' name going across the television screen on draft day.
Why is that, you might ask?
In 2011, Sales was arrested for drug possession and suspended from the Orange that season. When I asked Sales about the situation, he claimed he was, "in the wrong place at the wrong time."
And in Sales' defense, his charges were dropped, and he returned to the Orange as a starting wide receiver in 2012. Unfortunately, the "red-flag" adjective has stayed with Sales and continues to haunt him as he transitions into the NFL.
Though Sales continues to fly under the radar, he does have a package that NFL teams desire. In college, Sales caught footballs from potential first-round pick Ryan Nassib and had current Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone teaching him the ins and outs of pro-style football.
When asked how influential Nassib and Marrone were to his development, Sales responded with, "Ryan's a great quarterback and we had great communication throughout this past year. Playing under a guy from the NFL is also good because some of the things we did were from (an) NFL perspective and I definitely think I will be able to transition easier."
Sales sees himself as a Brandon Lloyd type of player. "Brandon Lloyd is a guy that can be a game changer and isn't really fast but runs great routes," Sales said. "I feel like my best attribute is making plays and getting open."
Don't let Sales' words fool you, he isn't exactly a slow player. At Syracuse's Pro Day, in which 29 NFL teams sent representatives, Sales ran a 4.56 40-yard dash, showing what Sales describes as "deceptive" speed.
The long arms and long strides Sales possess enable him to make relatively tough catches, and that deceptive speed allows Sales to gain additional yardage after the catch.
While there is no denying that Sales can make plays, his main struggle continues to be made up for the lost opportunities that Senior Bowl and Combine snubs presented.
But don't doubt Sales and the fact that he is continuing to work and grind day after day to make an impact in the NFL.
Fellow 'Cuse receiver Alec Lemon was invited to both the Senior Bowl and the Combine and has been working with Sales for the same purpose.
"Me and Alec both work everyday at SU. We both push each other and encourage each other but there's definitely competition between us. At the end of the day, we are great friends and just want to see each other succeed at the next level."
There is nothing to be done about the lack of pre-draft opportunities that came Sales' way. Rather than caving in, Sales is even more determined to spend numerous hours every day to increase his speed, his pass-catching abilities and foot-work with Lemon.
Sales has the football skills that are needed to thrive at the next level. He has strong hands that he uses to snatch passes, he lowers down and charges forward after the catch and he is as good of a blocker as any receiver is in the draft.
For those scouts and fans who view Sales as a question mark or see his bumpy past as a red flag, look no further than former Orange receiver Mike Williams.
Williams was suspended from Syracuse for the entire 2008 season and quit the team in 2009, fearing suspension from the team was looming after violating a team policy.
In the 2010 NFL Draft, Williams got what he needed—one NFL team to give him a shot. Williams has since rewarded the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with 193 receptions for 2,731 yards and 23 touchdowns in only three seasons.
Though the situations Sales and Williams were in are a tad different, Sales still has used Williams' situation as motivation. Says Sales, "He came into the NFL knowing some people would judge him but he got one team to like him and that's all it takes. I'm just hoping I can impress one team."
And all Sales needs is that one shot. One bump in the road during his NCAA tenure should not define Sales, but it inevitably makes his road to the NFL that much harder.
So as the days toward the draft continue to diminish, Sales is simply working harder toward his dream. All that he can do at this point is go out and train and Sales is working his hardest to get into shape and preparing to pounce on his opportunity.
The skill set is definitely there. He had a fantastic senior season, especially considering the fact that Lemon is headed to the NFL as well, yet he continues to fly under the radar.
"I'm ready for the next level when the time comes," Sales said.
Well the clock is ticking and the 2013 NFL Draft is on the horizon. Regardless of Sales being drafted or not, he will have an opportunity this summer to show an NFL team why he belongs at the next level.
And hopefully Buffalo is where he belongs in the NFL.
The Bills struck gold with undrafted free agents Donald Jones and David Nelson and maximized their potential. Sales is already familiar with Marrone and can potentially have Nassib back as quarterback.
The Bills have longed for wide receiver help and Sales has a lot to offer, especially for a late round pick. He can turn any play into a touchdown and would provide excitement on the offense.
The Bills need a player to relive pressure off of Stevie Johnson and like Jones and Nelson did, Sales can significantly contribute in the passing game.
The Bills always play with a chip on their shoulder and Sales certainly fits the mold. He has a lot of value and will be there late in the draft or after the draft, allowing the Bills to nail the early rounds with needed talent.
So while Sales continues to go unnoticed and goes on without the draft-day buzz, he continues to grind toward his goal behind the scenes. And when that time does come from Sales, he will be more than prepared to prove all of his doubters wrong and if he were to go to Buffalo, his production would be maximized and he can help make the passing as lethal as it was in the early 1990s.