The calling card of the Bowling Green Falcons for the past two seasons has been superior defense. Chris Jones parlayed his role in the 2012 edition into a spot in the 2013 National Football League Draft and ultimately into a starting position for the AFC East champion New England Patriots. Will Jerry "Boo Boo" Gates be the next member of the BGSU defense to find a home in the NFL?
Gates was one of the premier players on a defense that progressed from 10th in the MAC against the pass (and 11th in scoring defense) in 2010 to one of the best units in the country. By 2011, the Falcons had already improved to 4th in the league in pass defense and 7th in scoring defense. The 2012 team led the MAC in every major defensive category and allowed a puny 190.1 yards per game through the air and only 6.0 yards per pass.
You might think that it would be difficult to repeat the 2012 performance, much less actually improve on it. However, that's precisely what Gates and his mates did. The Falcons once again led the MAC in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense. Against the pass, they actually dropped to second behind Western Michigan, but that's deceiving. They faced 115 more attempts during the season than WMU and allowed 20 fewer yards per game than in 2012. On a per-pass basis, BGSU allowed a puny 5.7 yards per attempt and easily led the league in that category.
Gates was also a leader on a Bowling Green special teams unit that often excelled, particularly on kickoff returns. He earned second-team All-MAC honors as a kick returner in 2011, as BGSU ranked third in the league in kickoff return yards. The team jumped to the top of the MAC in that area in 2013, and Gates was the team leader with over 30 yards per return.
The best way to describe Gates is to call him a ball-hawk and a play-maker. During his four years at Bowling Green, it seemed as if he was in the area anytime a big play was made. His career ended with 226 tackles, including nine tackles for loss. He also pulled down seven interceptions, forced five fumbles and broke up eight passes. More importantly, he scored seven touchdowns, at least one of which occurred during each of his four seasons.
As a senior, Gates produced across the board. He was third among BGSU defenders with 71 tackles. He doubled his previous career total with 4.5 tackles for loss. Against the pass, he intercepted two passes and returned them for 116 yards. He broke up three more and defensed a total of five. Gates forced two fumbles and recovered three. On the kickoff team, he returned 10 balls for 306 yards, including a 94-yard touchdown in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl against the Pittsburgh Panthers.
For his work as a senior, Gates was named first-team All-MAC as a safety. It was the second consecutive year that Gates earned that honor and the third straight year that he had earned a spot on an All-MAC team.
Despite the accolades and accomplishments, the National Football League did not extend an invitation to Gates for the 2014 NFL Combine. This meant that, outside of private workouts, BGSU's Pro Day would be the best chance for Gates to impress NFL scouts.
According to NFL.com, there were representatives from 22 of the 32 NFL teams on hand for Bowling Green's Pro Day, and Gates was one of 14 players to participate. In the analysis provided by NFL.com writer Gil Brandt, Gates was one of two players to stand out. He had very positive 40-yard dash times of 4.55 and 4.56. His vertical jump of 35 inches and 27 reps in the strength test were also very good showings. Brandt states that Gates projects as a seventh-round draft selection or a priority undrafted free agent.
Gates, who is listed as 5'11" and 203 by NFL.com and who ranked 22nd in our list of the Top 68 MAC players in 2013, has the added advantage of proven skill in the area of special teams. Skill position players drafted in the later rounds are often drafted as much for what they can contribute on special teams as for what they can produce at their natural positions, and if teams believe that Gates can make important contributions on kickoff or punt coverage teams, he will have a distinct leg up on other players at his position. It doesn't make him a draft lock by any means, but that ability certainly increases his potential value.
We're hopeful that Gates will have his named called sometime during the third day of the NFL Draft, but there's little doubt that he'll end up on an NFL roster, regardless of how it ultimately happens. And when it does happen, the NFL will have a player with a nickname everyone can love.