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Jets CB Qwan’tez Stiggers went from washing trucks to becoming the most unique pick of NFL Draft

June 3rd, 2024

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Three days before the 2024 NFL Draft, Qwan’tez Stiggers stood ready at Blue Beacon Truck Wash, soap gun in hand.

The cornerback knew, at this point, that his draft stock was encouraging.

Why would scouts from 29 teams travel to his independent pro day if they weren’t interested in hiring him?

Why would 13 NFL teams allot one of their 30 pre-draft visit spots to a player whose talent didn’t allure them?

One NFL cornerbacks coach even flew from Florham Park, New Jersey, to Stiggers’ hometown of Atlanta, to coach Stiggers on footwork and efficient transitions in and out of breaks — all in a private workout.

Stiggers knew his NFL future was promising. That didn’t mean he wanted to sit around and wait for it.

So for about four-and-a-half hours on April 22, per his Blue Beacon employment file, Stiggers worked his final shift at one of the several jobs he worked to help support his family during the prior four years across which most of his draft classmates played college football.

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Stiggers maneuvered the low-pressure soap gun alongside his higher-pressure wash and rinse guns, washing roughly seven large trucks an hour, per franchise general manager Travis Bryan. Sometimes, he used a paint brush for spots. No truck could advance to the rinse without supervisor signoff.

“Nothing is automated,” Bryan told Yahoo Sports by phone Thursday. “It’s all hands-on.”

Stiggers’ highly atypical journey to the NFL was the same. He did not follow the playbook. And nothing arrived to him automatically.

Stiggers’ Hollywood-made story has been told in some corners and remains unwritten in others. He traveled a path of arena-league 7-on-7 football and Canadian football to the 176th pick of the 2024 draft, becoming just the fifth NFL player overall to be drafted without playing college football since 1970, NFL data scientist Tom Bliss confirmed to Yahoo Sports.

For those counting at home: 99.965% of 14,155 NFL draftees have played college football. Stiggers is among the 0.035%.

He joins 1991 first-round defensive tackle Eric Swann as the only Americans to nab draft spots without the college game.

“It was a great story, but I got two words: ‘Now what?’” Stiggers told Yahoo Sports from Jets headquarters after a recent practice. “Now what you gonna do with the opportunity that they gave you?”

Stiggers wants to emphasize not only how he defied odds, but also the ball-hawking and lockdown coverage that he and the Jets believe await. He’s eager to learn and to soak up the knowledge that NFL success demands. Stiggers has his eye on the literal and proverbial balls ahead.

“Everybody who passed me up,” he says, “gonna pay.”

A football anomaly arose last December.

The NFL’s window to sign Canadian Football League players opened, and Canada’s Most Outstanding Rookie was raising antennas. Despite arriving from a fan-controlled arena league without prior knowledge of Canadian rules, Stiggers had intercepted five passes, deflected 12 and notched 53 defensive tackles (plus three on special teams) for the Toronto Argonauts.

NFL talent evaluators saw the statistical standout and asked: Who is this guy with ball skills you can’t teach? Could they sign him ASAP?

The Baltimore Ravens, Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and New York Giants expressed interest in December, Stiggers’ agent, Fred Lyles, told Yahoo Sports. But before a free-agent contract materialized, the NFL alerted teams: The player personnel handbook stipulates that a player who enters or attends college is draft-eligible four NFL seasons later even if they didn’t play college ball. Stiggers met that criteria, barely. Eric Galko, the East-West Shrine Bowl director of football operations and player personnel, extended the game’s lone invite to a non-college football player.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - MAY 28: Qwan'tez Stiggers #27 of the Kingpins reacts during the second half against the Bored Ape FC during Fan Controlled Football Season v2.0 - Week Seven on May 28, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Casey Sykes/Fan Controlled Football/Getty Images)
Before he was an NFL draft pick, Qwan’tez Stiggers played for the Kingpins in the Fan Controlled Football league, a version of 7-on-7 indoor football. (Photo by Casey Sykes/Fan Controlled Football/Getty Images) (Casey Sykes/Fan Controlled Football via Getty Images)

College scouts arrived at the Shrine Bowl surprised by the light blue Toronto helmet they didn’t recognize. These scouts accustomed to digging deep for on- and off-field background before conducting all-star game interviews met Stiggers and asked him … well, everything. They had not watched his tape. They had not studied his background. They didn’t fully understand why he was here, and not still on their pro counterparts’ docket.

Stiggers told this new audience how a month into his 2020 enrollment at Division II Lane College (Tenn.), his father died from a car accident-induced coma and Lane canceled its football season due to COVID-19.

Stiggers’ top motivation for attending Lane was gone. His family was grieving. And his mental health was on shaky ground. He left, depressed.

“I sat in the dark for a little minute, and then I told myself: ‘You made that bed, now you got to lay in it,’” he said.

DoorDash deliveries, car repairs, car sales and warehouse work followed.

An AFC scout was blown away as Stiggers unspooled his testimony in a Shrine Bowl interview.

“If you’re at Lane College, pretty much a throwaway [prospect] in our eyes, in a lot of people’s eyes,” the scout told Yahoo Sports. “To not even step foot on the field at Lane College, you’re going the wrong way and you’re going the wrong way fast.”

But that scout and dozens more executives watching Stiggers in drills that week saw him hold his own alongside college standouts. The stage wasn’t too imposing for a tenacious, scrappy cornerback at whom life had thrown higher stakes. Stiggers didn’t flash top-end speed that week, but smooth hips and timing on the ball helped him make plays in practices and deflect a pass during the game in February.

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He earned respect, one NFC executive calling the Shrine Bowl week the “stamp of approval” confirming Stiggers was NFL-caliber.

“He’s football smart on that field and he sees the game well and he reacts quickly and he plays with instincts,” the AFC scout said. “To be where he was, sitting in that chair across from me, given the circumstances — pretty impressive. You deal the same circumstances to 10 different people and I don’t know if two of them make it to where he did.”

Stiggers didn’t receive a scouting combine invite to Indianapolis, but he and Lyles knew it was crucial to show teams his measurables. They asked Georgia State and Georgia Tech, both local to Stiggers in Atlanta, if he could join their pro day. Each said no.

So they scheduled their own showcase at B.E.S.T. Academy in Atlanta, where Stiggers had built a zero-star high school career as a hybrid receiver/defensive back initially listed at 5-foot-6 and 155 pounds. Eight years, 6 inches and 42 pounds later, Stiggers cycled through two 40-yard dash heats, the vertical jump, the broad jump, agility drills and position drills before a group of NFL defensive coaches and evaluators.

Scouts recorded varied 40 times, as is typical with pro days, but the official heat times reported to the league were 4.45 and 4.53, a person with knowledge of the records confirmed to Yahoo Sports. Stiggers’ speed was officially in the average range for combine-invited cornerbacks. With his ball skills, that was more than enough.

Lyles had told Stiggers months earlier that he would go in the third to fifth round. The Jets selected him with the final pick of the fifth.

“Qwan’tez is very young and raw in a sense, but at the same time, I feel he hasn’t developed any bad habits [like] grabbing,” Jets senior regional scout Johnathon Stigall told Yahoo Sports. “The level of talent and the speed of the game will be somewhat of an adjustment for him. But the underlying talent of being able to play the ball — that’s hard to teach.

“The confidence he has and the ability to do it will translate.”

Not just a ‘feel-good story’

As the Jets wrapped their second full-squad offseason practice May 21, two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Sauce Gardner held Stiggers back.

Stiggers had flashed at some points in practice, including with poise in coverage to help force an incompletion on an outside fade release from Aaron Rodgers to speedy receiver Xavier Gipson during 11-on-11 work.

But Stiggers had also gotten out of position on the play and needed to punch the pocket to compensate. Gardner suspected Stiggers had confused his Cover 3 responsibilities with man responsibilities.

“What I learned is that in Toronto, they just gave you a call and that’s what you ran,” Stiggers said. “But here, you get a call and you get checks within the call.”

Gardner shared tips for how to keep eyes on the quarterback and receivers alike, helping Stiggers account for how much more quickly receivers will close in the NFL than they did in the CFL. Learning patience at the line of scrimmage and how to identify the likely threats is standard in the rookie acclimation process. Stiggers arrived at the Jets with good quickness, cornerbacks coach Tony Oden said, but will now work on smoothing his movements and especially his transitions.

Some of Stiggers’ CFL instincts won’t translate. Oden noticed when evaluating film that all CFL defenders did not run to each ball, perhaps because CFL fields are roughly 12 yards wider and 10 yards longer than NFL fields, thus decreasing the likelihood some defenders could cross the field in time on plays. The Jets will expect Stiggers to pursue the ball each play. Stiggers will also adjust from players running toward him before the snap to movement permitted only after the snap.

“I feel like CFL kind of helped me because CFL is all commotion,” he said, “but now it’s just slow commotion.”

Overwhelmingly, scouts and coaches alike view Stiggers not as a transformation project but as a developmental project. The Jets like that Stiggers played multiple positions in the CFL and transitioned with ease, also communicating calls proactively rather than waiting to receive tips. He has breadth of experience — but not the depth nor time on task that college players tend to bring. This is not a player who needs retraining but simply training, defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said.

“A big glob of clay, but it’s kind of a high-grade clay [that’s] not resistant to molding,” Oden said. “I don’t think the world is ready for what he can be.”

Lyles, who represented cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Chris Harris Jr. on their journeys from undrafted to Pro Bowlers, agrees. He cautions that “a lot of people might have thought it was a feel-good story, but he can play.” The physical skills that wowed two football leagues and NFL talent evaluators in the pre-draft process will complement nicely the work ethic that Stiggers honed at Blue Beacon Truck Wash.

And in case Stiggers needed more motivation than his defensive coordinator saying he could “be a contributor right away,” Stiggers is also staking his grooming habits on the ultimate prize.

“We gonna get a Super Bowl this year,” Stiggers told Yahoo Sports. “I made a promise to myself: I’m not getting a haircut till I win the Super Bowl.

“If I got to be a caveman, I’ll be a caveman.”

What he won’t be, at least for now: a truck washer.

Stiggers visited Blue Beacon once more after the draft, a celebration with his colleagues of the journey they’d shared with him each step of the way. Stiggers was at Blue Beacon when his mother told him she’d signed him up for the Fan Controlled Football league and he was at Blue Beacon when Argos assistant general manager Vince Magri sent an Instagram message about a CFL contract. Between 30 visits, Stiggers returned to Blue Beacon.

But he says Bryan told him after the draft: “S***, you’re never coming back here.’”

Bryan says the two joke often; he’d rehire Stiggers if the timing one day makes sense. But for now, the message is clear: Go chase your NFL dream. Blue Beacon closed his employment file.

“They sent my separation notice in the mail, so I was a little bit hurt about that,” Stiggers said. “It kind of hurt my heart because I’ve been washing trucks forever.”

But he’s already settling into New Jersey, quickly feeling both at home and like he has something to prove.

“I’m here,” Stiggers said. “I love it here. The opportunity.”

This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo! Sports – News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy Games »
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