Likely wasn’t selected in the 2017 NFL Draft, and was in Jets minicamp shortly afterward. Fellow cornerback Alvin Hill, who went to the Browns on draft day, was the first Maryland player to sign with an NFL team.
Likely’s whole draft process was thrown off after he suffered a season-ending ACL tear halfway through his senior season. He didn’t get to cap off his Maryland career the way he deserved, but Likely’s impact was immense. During times when Maryland has one of the worst offenses in the country, a Will Likely punt return was often the team’s best chance to score.
Likely is listed as a cornerback, but the most important contribution he’ll make right away is probably as a kick returner. That’s what helped him rise to prominence at Maryland, and it’s his ticket as a professional. He finished his Maryland career with eight return touchdowns, and set the Big Ten record with 233 punt return yards in the 2015 opener against Richmond — a record that had stood since 1939.
He’ll still be trying to play defensive back in the NFL and that’s where his pro projection is murky. Likely’s height — he only stands at 5’7 — is his biggest roadblock there. That’s nothing new for Likely, who faced the same concerns as a recruit coming out of Belle Glade, Florida. For what it’s worth, NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein likes him as a slot corner. He’d be able to use his speed there, and his height wouldn’t be as much of an issue on the inside.
His second-biggest roadblock will be convincing NFL folks he’s healed enough after that ACL tear. Likely didn’t participate in the NFL Combine, but performed well at Maryland’s pro day. Speaking to reporters there, he gave the best advertisement possible.
“If you’re looking for a playmaker, looking for a person that’s going to compete every single play and just give it all they’ve got, every time they step on the field,” Likely said in March, “then you’re looking at the right person.”