We often talk about how Pete Carroll and John Schneider (and their employees) are great about finding and signing undrafted free agents, but there’s another level even deeper beyond that: Tryout players. There are those guys who were priority free agents that receive contracts, but then others must scrape and claw even harder for continued opportunities. There are probably hundreds who have come through Seattle without a fragment of an announcement, but then some make their mark. The latest to make a headline, albeit a minor one, is wide receiver Speedy Noil, signed by the Seahawks over the weekend.
He used to make much bigger headlines.
Coming out of New Orleans in 2014, Noil committed Texas A&M in an announcement made on ESPN after playing in the Under Armour All-American Game.
Noil was the number seven recruit in the nation on the ESPN Top 300, putting him just three spots behind fellow Aggies signee Myles Garrett, who just went first overall to the Cleveland Browns in the draft. He was listed as the number one athlete, which basically made him the number one receiver over Malachi Dupre, another high school player in Louisiana. (Dupre ended up as a seventh round pick of the Green Bay Packers.) Some recruits that Noil was ranked ahead of include Deshaun Watson, Adoree’ Jackson, Marlon Humphrey, Jamal Adams, Dalvin Cook, Solomon Thomas, and Marshon Lattimore, among hundreds of others.
“Speedy,” whose given name is Devante, had an enviable highlight reel at Edna Karr High School:
His SB Nation scouting report described a player who could be, if nothing else, the most dangerous player on the field to have the ball in his hands. Even if he didn’t really have a position:
A big play waiting to happen who often spent time at quarterback as a junior, Noil projects as a slot wide receiver in college who has the potential to score from anywhere on the field. Physically, he's on the small size in terms of pure height and weight, but he has a sturdy frame that should be able to remain durable in college because he is hardly slight.
A member of Karr's nationally-elite 400m relay team and an excellent long and triple jumper, Noil is a superlative athlete who has the speed to cut all the back across the field and still make plays, a practice he may have to tone down a bit in college.
As a receiver, his speed off the ball makes him a dangerous threat, especially when projecting him in the slot where he will have a two-way go against opposing defensive backs, which will make it difficult to defend him in man coverage without a safety highly aware of his presence.
He appears to be most effective on post routes and deep comebacks in high school as a result of his speed. Because of his acceleration and feet, he also projects favorably in college as someone who can get open on double moves. A lack of experience at wide receiver means that Noil will need to spend some time working on the craft of route running at the next level.
When Noil has the ball in his hands and can find a crease, his first step explosiveness and top-end speed are elite -- even if in college there may be only be a few defensive players in the country who will be able to catch him from behind with an angle.
An elusive player with remarkable lateral quickness, Noil can also cut in the open field without losing much, if any, speed, a big part of the reason why 247Sports has him ranked as the top wide receiver in the country.
Despite not having a position, it was hard to not get excited about Noil because he scored from all parts of the field — QB, RB, or WR, Noil was a threat from anywhere.
Unfortunately, a potential worst case scenario came true at A&M, as it turned out that Noil was perhaps a special athlete but not a special receiver.
As a true freshman, Noil was very promising, catching 46 passes for 583 yards and five touchdowns. He also had a 23.9 yard average on kick returns, with 15 punt returns for 180 yards as well. But every part of his game faded away over the next two seasons.
As a sophomore, Noil had 21 catches for 226 yards and two touchdowns, which he followed up with 21 more catches for 325 yards and two scores as a junior. He returned just 16 kickoffs and two punts over that period of time, as well. He ended up not becoming the receiver that Christian Kirk has become, a four-star recruit in 2015 for the Aggies who has almost 2,000 yards through his first two seasons and looks to be a good bet for the first round next year. So why has Noil decided to declare for the draft without giving college football one more season to try and realize some of that potential? It probably had something to do with the fact that head coach Kevin Sumlin may have not wanted him back following several team violations, including a December arrest for marijuana possession.
As Sumlin put it following Noil being suspended for the Texas A&M bowl game:
Noil was suspended for the Aggies' 33-28 loss to Kansas State a week ago in the Texas Bowl in NRG Stadium, following his mid-December arrest on charges of marijuana possession. Two days prior to the Texas Bowl A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said he sent Noil home over the holidays to mull his future with the Aggies.
"I told him the focus is not going to be on you, you're not here at the bowl game," Sumlin said at the time. "That you need to go home and think about what you really want to do in life, and give us some time to think, too."
Noil was suspended two games in 2015 for undisclosed violations of team rules, and his recent bowl suspension marked his second suspension of this season, as well. He sat out the season opener against UCLA dating to last year's team rules violation.
"Just like we've talked about (before), it's one step forward and two steps back," Sumlin said last week. "The things he's done have not been malicious, it's (just) been on him. He's made mistakes, and he's come a long way as a person believe it or not, but he's still making a ton of mistakes."
Those mistakes definitely cost Noil a shot at being drafted, but he still competed at the combine because of his superior athleticism. He had a 43.5” vertical (first among all WRs) and an 11’1 broad (tied for 3rd) at the combine, and then a 4.45 40-yard dash at the Texas A&M pro day. It’s not elite speed, but his quickness on the field seems apparent. He’s a smaller receiver at 5’11, but certainly not wiry thin like Tavon Austin, as Noil weighed 199 lbs at the combine.
After going undrafted, Noil had a tryout with the Packers, the same team that drafted Dupre just barely before he too would have gone unclaimed. Noil gave rookie camp a go in Green Bay, but did not end up earning a spot on their 90-man roster. He then made the trip to Seattle to do the same with the Seahawks, and it appeared to work out.
Noil is not much of a receiver, but neither was Tanner McEvoy a year ago. Recall that McEvoy caught 10 passes during his career at Wisconsin, and he made the roster last season and ended up catching nine passes as a rookie. McEvoy is a superior athlete, a versatile football player, and the same could be said of Noil. He could also be released at any moment without warning.
Noil’s goals at this point would have to be along the lines of proving himself on special teams, however he can, and making himself invaluable there. It is unlikely that he will have an impact with the receiver group this year, but if he can establish himself on special teams, then Carroll knows he’s also stashing a special athlete on the roster who he could potentially use in certain game situations. Noil also needs to take significant stock of the decisions he made at A&M that had him fall out of favor with the coaches, as those decisions kept him off the field, out of the draft, and off many team’s draft boards. He’s only been “going pro” for like two weeks now and he’s already on his second team.
There’s something special and unique about Noil, but none of that made him an important player at the college level. If he focuses everything on football over the summer, maybe he can make those necessary changes at the pro level. Otherwise, this may be the last 1,500-word article you ever read on Speedy Noil.