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Panthers Head Coach Matt Rhule sees prospect opt-outs ‘like transferring’

It was only 13 months ago that Jamie Newman and Sage Surratt were one of the nation’s most lethal quarterback-wide receiver duos. After leading Wake Forest to an 8-5 season and six points away from a victory at the Pinstripe Bowl, the duo were both seen as potential top-40 picks and had evaluators drooling over their potential at the next level. 

Now, they are one of the many prospects that have congregated in Mobile, Alabama to revive their once lofty draft stock at the Senior Bowl after opting-out of the 2020 season.

Surratt and Newman are two of the many prospects to opt-out of the recent college football season. Many in the media expected deferring an entire season to be a negative in the eyes of coaches and scouts, but according to Panthers Head Coach Matt Rhule, that may be a misconception.

“I think opting out is just like transferring for me, it’s just like any other personal decision, I just always want to know why,” Rhule explained after the first day of Senior Bowl practices. “COVID has affected everyone so differently, that I’m not here to judge anyone on their reaction to it. So all these big decisions these guys have made in their lives, we want to ask them about you and understand their decision making.”

Most of the prospects in Mobile would admit that their season was hampered, if not completely destroyed by the pandemic. 

Multiple FCS prospects who did not play a single-snap, not by choice, but because their seasons were delayed to the spring, are at the event. Bryan Mills, a defensive back from North Carolina Central, is one of many prospects in Mobile who hasn’t taken a snap since 2019. 

“I can’t imagine how rusty they are, I’m really proud of those guys for coming here and playing,” Rhule, who is coaching the American team said. “I think it’s a smart decision, but it’s hard to go a full year and a half without having played… I think one of the unique things I’m seeing is that a lot of these guys didn’t even have an offseason training from last year to this past season, so this will be a unique draft and you have to piece a lot of things together… It was really smart by those guys to play in this game.”

“I think the one thing I told the guys 100 times, ‘don’t have anxiety about coming out, like you haven’t played in a while,’” Rhule said. “Even if your guy played the college season what if he only played four games this year, but just try to make it football. Go back to doing what you love and you’ll get better as the week goes on.”

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