Lovett, Carlson Sign Free Agent Contracts
BY JAY GREENBERG
The Tigers’ seniors with professional football aspirations were shutout in the 2019 NFL draft. But phones began ringing even before it ended. John Lovett has signed with the Kansas City Chiefs; Stephen Carlson with the Cleveland Browns and Charlie Volker is deciding between multiple rookie camp invites.
Jesper Horsted’s hopes of being selected effectively ended when he suffered a hamstring pull during Princeton’s Pro Day, but multiple clubs have expressed interest in working him out after he heals. Judging from the traffic on the Princeton campus this year to see him, the likelihood of Horsted’s signing remains high.
“The hamstring was going to factor into things,” said Princeton coach Bob Surace. “But I thought at minimum he would be one of the first guys signed after the draft.
“I told scouts he was our best NFL prospect since I’ve been here and we have had three (Mike Catapano, Caraun Reid, Seth DeValve) make it, plus a fourth (Chad Kanoff) budding (on Arizona’s practice squad). The range suggested in talks (with NFL evaluators) about Jesper was third-to-seventh-round to maybe a UFA contract. Not one scout told me Jesper would be only a rookie mini-camp invitee.
“So I’m guessing nobody wants to sign him without seeing that he is healthy. But I know there still is interest.”
Lovett’s conversation with Chiefs Coach Andy Reid on Saturday indicated the Chiefs’ think of him first as an H back, but he will know more after attending the team’s minicamp next weekend. “I’m going to go in there and work as hard as possible, as I did at Princeton, and take advantage of whatever opportunities present themselves,” said Lovett.
There was plenty of video for the Chiefs to study of him catching passes during the 2016 season, when he was used as a jack-of-all trades to help Kanoff get the Tigers into the red zone, from where Lovett became a touchdown machine. With more teams using the Wildcat formation in short yardage and goalline situations, plus Reid’s reputation as an innovator, the Chiefs figured to be one of the teams most intrigued by a Swiss Army Knife who can both dodge and run over people, plus throw an accurate pass.
“There were four or five different coaches, GMs or personnel guys who spoke to John; the interest [as a UFA] was as high for him as anybody,” said Surace.
‘If he hadn’t broken his wrist, he would have been able to fully workout. His numbers would have been off the charts. Life isn’t fair but John is recovering. For him to do his Pro Day with one hand and do his thing; teams value that toughness and accountability. In Kansas City, I think he has found a home.”
The Chiefs took only two offensive players in this draft-a kicker and a lineman-but have supplemented that with multiple free agent receiver signings.
Cleveland projects Carlson, who caught 16 touchdowns passes worth 1632 yards during his career in a spectacular tandem with Horsted, as an H back-tight end, too. The position looks crowded there by incumbent starter David Njoku, DeValve and Demetrious Harris. But everybody’s roster appears jammed when you are a UDFA.
“Every team is going to come in with four or five tight ends and keep three or four,” said Surace. “If Stephen needs more time to learn to block, they will put him on the practice squad. If it turns out they like somebody better, then four pre-season games will have put his video out for 31 teams.
“I think Stephen is going to flourish. We used him in a role where he blocked a lot and he was very successful at it. I would ask, ‘Do you see him outside or as H back?’ The few that divulged saw him more as an H back.
“I just let the players know what I have heard from the scouts. They make their own decisions.”
Carlson’s was to start pounding the pasta. He is up 20 pounds from his last game at Princeton and the Browns were apparently impressed with his appetite for contact.
“There were some other teams that showed a little interest, but this was my best deal and an easy decision,” said Carlson. “That’s mostly for reasons of opportunity and then Seth is in Cleveland, too, kind of paving the way. He has been helping me out a lot the last couple of months.”
DeValve ’16, a Brown tight end for three years after being taken in the fourth round, also was used as a wideout and H back by the Tigers.
Despite an obvious uptick in the athleticism on Ivy football fields, not a player from any of the eight schools was drafted.
“At the end of the day, it’s hard to make the NFL,” said Surace. “It takes a perfect marriage–drafted or not drafted is often a reflection of timing and fit.
“If the Cardinals hadn’t chosen Josh Rosen (in the first round in 2018) Chad probably would have been drafted by them in the middle rounds. He wasn’t, but made their team anyway.”
In doing so, Kanoff probably opened more eyes to the Princeton brand. Catapano’s work ethic earned him five years in the NFL with the Chiefs and Jets, despite the fact that he was a little small to last on the defensive line and not fast enough to thrive as a linebacker. Those teams found uses for him regardless. For whatever it was worth in evaluating Lovett, Reid had a good previous experience with a Princeton player, as have the Browns with DeValve.
“The Browns know first hand that Seth is A plus, first class,” said Surace. “I think he is the only draft pick from that year still on the team and they took something like 13 guys. He’s been hurt and they’ve still kept him.
“I know what NFL teams are getting from Princeton. The Chiefs are going to see John Lovett as a guy who figures it out and are really going to be happy with him.
“Most scouts are great. Others still think that if he chose the Ivy League, a player must be soft. Every one of our guys probably has exceeded expectations.”