By Stone Freeman
KINGSTON, R.I. - Aaron Parker etched his name throughout the Rhode Island record book during his four seasons with the Rams, using once-in-a-generation production to attract the attention of teams throughout the NFL.
His junior and senior seasons in Keaney Blue were two of the best individual years for a player
in program history. Parker's junior year included the eighth most receiving yards in a season (955), the 10th most receptions in a year (61) and the seventh most touchdowns in a single season (10).
Parker aged elegantly into his senior campaign. He finished the season with 81 catches, 1,224 receiving yards, and nine touchdown grabs completing of the most dominate careers in program history. His 216 career receptions and 3,460 receiving yards both rank second in URI history and he's third in touchdown catches with 30. He's also seen plenty of special team reps, finishing his career with the program's ninth most all-purpose yards with 3,615.
There are points in Parker's game that just simply don't go unnoticed. His control, toughness and football intangibles are his strongest attributes heading into next week's draft.
"Later-round prospect that wins with good size and fantastic ball skills," is how NFL.com NFL draft analyst Lance Zierlein described Parker. "His body control, timing and hand strength translate on any level of football."
Heads started to turn surrounding Parker all season long with an unprecedented amount of scouts from football's highest levels visiting Kingston through the summer and fall. But it was Parker's three-cone drill that shined at February's combine. He ran the drill in 6.94 seconds, which was tied for second best among wide receiver prospects in Indianapolis. Baylor University wide receiver Denzel Mims ran the best at 6.66 seconds. Parker was tied with Oregon's Juwan Johnson.
Parker also showed an innate ability to perform at his best when facing the highest level of competition. During his tenure at Rhode Island, the Rams had five matchups with Bowl-level programs. Parker was a man among boys on the field in each of those meetings. To most, these were opportunities for a lower-level program to receive a payday. To Parker it was a chance to showcase his nect-level talent.
It started his freshman season in 2016. The Rams opened the year at Kansas. Playing in his first career collegiate game, Parker finished with two catches for 37 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown catch for Rhode Island's only points of the game.
As Parker grew so did performance in such games. Over the course of his next three years, Parker and the Rams had four more meetings with FBS foes: Central Michigan, Connecticut, Ohio University and Virginia Tech. In those games, he averaged six catches and more than 88 yards per game while hauling in four touchdown catches.
His best two came in his Parker's junior and senior seasons. In 2018, he had seven catches, 128 yards and a touchdown at UConn. Then to begin his senior season in 2019, Parker exploded for nine catches, a game-high 144 yards and a touchdown against the Ohio Bobcats.
Parker was overlooked coming out of Gwynn Park High School in Brandywine, Md. With just one Division I football scholarship offer, Parker came to URI. Safe to say, he has played his way onto the NFL radar. Earlier this week, famed ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper listed both Parker and his cousin and Rhody teammate Isaiah Coulter among the top six wide receiver sleepers in the draft. Kiper called Parker a "Late-round pick or priority free agent who can play."
Whether drafted or an undrafted free agent pick-up, Parker is a steal for an NFL organization. Parker told WPRI's Yianni Kourakis that he has spoken with several teams, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans and the New England Patriots.
Over the past four seasons Parker has proved doubters wrong every Saturday afternoon at Meade Stadium and around FCS football. Whether at wide-out or on special teams, Parker could make an impact on an NFL roster.
The NFL Draft will be held Thursday, April 23 through Saturday, April 25.