Positive attitude works for NFL hopeful Judon of Grand Valley

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Indianapolis — Bruce Arians and the Cardinals have had success finding small-school talent in recent years, and the coach said his team asks one question during the evaluation process.

“Do they dominate?” Arians said at the combine last week. “They need to dominate at that level. They can’t just be a good player at that level. They have to dominate the competition.”

Former Grand Valley State defensive end Matt Judon fits that description. In 2015, the West Bloomfield High graduate led Division II with 20 sacks and had an impressive 23.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.

CBS Sports projects Judon as a sixth- or seventh-round pick, but he proved he had NFL-level athleticism during the combine. His 4.73-second 40-yard dash ranked fifth among defensive linemen, his 30 reps on the 225-pound bench press tied for fifth at the position and his 35-inch vertical jump tied for fourth.

And Judon had a quick answer for why his talent will translate to the NFL.

“Why not?” he said.

Judon didn’t know it, but that confident response fit the rest of Arians’ description of what he wants in a small-school player. Among the players the Cardinals found in recent years were wide receiver John Brown from Pittsburg State, a third-rounder in 2014 who had 1,003 receiving yards last season, and running back David Johnson, a third-rounder in 2015 from Northern Iowa who had 1,038 yards from scrimmage and 13 total touchdowns as a rookie.

“They have to have a swagger about them to be able to come into a locker room of SEC guys and other guys with a chip on their shoulder,” Arians said. “You want that chip on their shoulder because that’s usually the thing that gets them through. They’re trying to prove it every single day. Some of them keep it five or six years, and that’s how they make it.”

The 6-foot-3, 275-pound Judon said he went to Grand Valley State because it was the biggest school that recruited him. However, he wasn’t too upset Michigan and Michigan State didn’t come after him. He always wanted to go to LSU because he has family from Baton Rouge, La.

Still, Judon didn’t have any explanation for why the Division I teams didn’t recruit him.

“I wasn’t giving out scholarships, so you’ve got to ask them,” he said.

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Even though Judon didn’t talk about a specific chip on his shoulder, it’s clear that’s the vibe he was trying to give coaches and scouts during interviews at the combine.

“I hope they can see the hunger and the will in my eyes,” said Judon, who added that his medical evaluations went well after being two years removed from a torn ACL.

And as serious as Judon seems at times, he made a joke about that hunger. Once he gets his first check in the NFL, he plans to go to Taco Bell.

“I like Taco Bell,” he said. “Obviously, I’ll have way more money than I know what to do with, but while I’m pondering what I’m going to do with my money, I’ll be eating a chalupa or something.”

Even though he’s from a smaller school, Judon’s climb to the NFL will be hardly unprecedented. Four former Lakers are currently in the NFL — cornerback Brandon Carr with the Cowboys, wide receiver Charles Johnson with the Vikings, offensive lineman Tim Lelito with the Saints and linebacker Dan Skuta with the Jaguars. Judon said he and Lelito interact on Snapchat regularly, and he’s in a group text message with Johnson.

And despite how much he dominated in Division II, Judon understands his transition to the NFL won’t be easy, and he said he’s eager and ready to learn.

“It’s a process,” he said. “I’m not going to be the best player on the field anymore or on the team. And I know there’s a pecking order, and I’ve got to kind of pay my dues as well as want to be hungry and want to win.”