Back when he had first started playing cornerback at Nebraska in 2011, Stanley Jean-Baptiste admitted he’d been keeping a list for years.
On it were the names of a few lionized wide receivers. One of them was A.J. Green, a first-round pick out of Georgia for Cincinnati in 2011 who’s been invited to three Pro Bowls by now.
Another was Justin Blackmon, a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner at Oklahoma State who was taken in the first round of the 2012 draft by Jacksonville and had caught 93 passes for 1,280 yards and six touchdowns for the Jaguars until he was suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy midway through last season.
And a third name will be of particular interest to fans of the Saints, who chose the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Jean-Baptiste in the second round of the 2014 draft on Friday.
How about Julio Jones, the 2011 first-round pick out of Alabama who’s been to one Pro Bowl and has caught 174 balls for 2,737 yards and 20 touchdowns?
Jean-Baptiste kept such names handy because he was committed to eclipsing them sooner or later, he told the Omaha World-Herald newspaper, which noted the detail in a story published in October 2011.
“They’re getting everything they wanted, everything they worked for,” Jean-Baptiste was quoted as saying. “They’re getting their names out there. And I’ve been just watching it.”
After being selected by New Orleans, Jean-Baptiste alluded to the unconventional route he had taken to the NFL while speaking to the local media via conference call.
Jean-Baptiste, from Miami, said he didn’t have the necessary test scores to immediately play in the NCAA. So his post-high school career began as a receiver at North Carolina Tech Preparatory Christian Academy, which purports to let college football hopefuls who pay tuition work on their academic qualifications while playing a strange array of opponents: preps, junior colleges, club squads, and junior varsity teams made up of lower-division NCAA as well as NAIA programs.
Jean-Baptiste told the Omaha World-Herald that North Carolina Tech assured him he didn’t have to go to class as long as he played for the institution. But all he heard was silence on the college-scholarships front as he caught 36 passes for 580 yards, and he figured “something was wrong” with what had been promised to him (North Carolina Tech would later be investigated by the NCAA in 2009).
So Jean-Baptiste’s high school coach suggested he check out Fort Scott Community College in Kansas. A linebacker named Lavonte David was excelling out there, Jean-Baptiste was told, the Omaha World-Herald story said.
Jean-Baptiste headed to Fort Scott in 2009. He red-shirted, and David led Fort Scott to the Junior College National Championship Game. For the record, Fort Scott dropped the game to a Blinn College team spearheaded by a quarterback named Cam Newton, who some four years later would help the Carolina Panthers capture an NFC South title.
Nonetheless, a Nebraska recruiter who went to Fort Scott for work spotted Jean-Baptiste and swayed him to transfer to Lincoln. The Omaha World-Herald said Jean-Baptiste was guaranteed an immediate roster spot.
Jean-Baptiste became a Cornhusker alongside a familiar face from Fort Scott: David, who’s now getting ready for a third season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Jean-Baptiste was a redshirt, scout-team receiver in 2010 before coach Bo Pelini successfully asked him to move to cornerback. His career in Lincoln culminated with a 2013 campaign in which he topped the Cornhuskers with 12 pass break-ups and tied for the team lead with four interceptions, earning him Second-Team All-Big 10 honors.
On Friday, Jean-Baptiste attributed much of his success with Nebraska to having played wideout. He developed ball skills that served him well when he hopped on defense and found he could quickly read formations and opposing receivers’ tendencies.
After standing out at the scouting combine and Senior Bowl as well as visiting the Saints in April, Jean-Baptiste must now ready himself to navigate a rookie campaign that has the potential to be dramatic for him.
The Saints are scheduled to meet Julio Jones and Lavonte David each twice. And they’re set to cross paths with A.J. Green once as Jean-Baptiste’s chance to surge past the names on his list gets ever nearer.
“I was just waiting for a team to select me,” the 24-year-old Jean-Baptiste said Friday. “And I’m glad it was the Saints.”
Correction: This post misidentified the name of the Omaha World-Herald newspaper and has been corrected.