The day before the first round of the draft, Lincoln Riley gave Parnell Motley a resounding vote of confidence.
“I’m proud of him, man. I am,” said Riley of his lockdown cornerback. “I think he’s somebody that there’s a lot of attention around right now. I think he’s gonna end up in a great opportunity.”
Nevertheless, after all seven rounds had come and passed, Motley’s name - and Nick Basquine’s and Lee Morris’s - hadn’t been called. In fact, not a single Sooner came off the board after the Cowboys snagged Neville Gallimore in the third round.
But Motley didn't have to wait long for a professional contract. Minutes after the draft concluded, he inked a free-agent deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are in desperate need of cover corners.
Although the Bucs completed a wholesale transformation of their offense by acquiring Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, their secondary remains in shambles. Tampa allowed the third-most passing yards across the entire NFL last season, and their defense in totality has been a consistent bottom-feeder for the better part of a decade. In an effort to break the defensive malaise, they re-signed defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and spent a second-round selection on Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield Jr. But the unit is still far from shipshape, so if Motley has a strong camp, he could absolutely see the field for Tampa in 2020.
Basquine and Morris, meanwhile, share similar prospects as it pertains to their future in the NFL. Regardless of their eventual destinations, they'll both likely end up on the fringe of a 53-man roster, which is where their abilities on special teams become a huge factor. When final roster cuts roll around, sometimes that's the razor's edge between an NFL dream and unemployment.
"In that league, with roster spots as limited as they are... a guy like Lee, [special teams] could certainly be his way in," Riley remarked Wednesday.
Basquine is much in the same boat. Though he and Morris are both adept pass-catchers, they'll have to make their mark with versatility, diligence, and devotion. Fortunately, that's second nature at this point for the two former walk-ons.
"It's nothing new to me.... seems like when my back's against the wall, I always step up, make an impression where I need to," Basquine said at the Sooners' pro day.
As for their landing spots, Basquine and Morris' history with two certain Sooner legends could ultimately be their big break. Basquine is a contemporary of Baker Mayfield - he arrived at Oklahoma in 2014, the year Mayfield transferred from Texas Tech. In 2016, Mayfield was on the other end of Basquine's first touchdown catch as a Sooner.
Meanwhile, Morris was a high school teammate of Kyler Murray in Allen, TX, and the two later reunited in Norman as collegians. Throughout Murray's 2018 Heisman campaign, Morris emerged as one of his go-to targets in the passing game, and reeled in eight touchdowns on the year.
All things considered, the least surprising outcome would be for Basquine to sign with Cleveland and Morris to head to Arizona. But as pedigreed disciples of a Lincoln Riley offense, the two are sure to garner interest from plenty of NFL franchises looking for a diamond in the rough.
In a sense, it's just a repeat of the walk-on process for Basquine and Morris. They've already been in this situation, they've earned their keep, and they've shattered expectations.
Who's to say they can't do it again?
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