Jacob Roberts: Path To The NFL Draft

By Simon Carroll

Peyton Manning once said that “pressure is something you feel when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing”. And we can all relate to the sentiment, in various walks of life. But between the sidelines of a football field, the game never gets too big for those with the self-confidence that comes from perfecting their craft.

In every role and at every level he’s played at, Jacob Roberts has shown that he more than knows what he’s doing. The ultra-productive Wake Forest linebacker sits down with Simon Carroll to talk about his path to the NFL Draft:

Shining In Charlotte

Cast your minds back to childhood, when you were out on the field playing any sport that you came across. Remember that one kid who was just simply better than everyone else? Bigger, stronger, quicker – every park had one. Well, in Charlotte, North Carolina, that kid was Jacob Roberts. And led to the football field by his mother Michele, it’s a passion he’s been pursuing ever since:

“I’ve been playing football since I was six years old. My mom actually introduced it to me! And I took to it straight away – growing up I was always faster than the other kids, scoring loads of touchdowns. It wasn’t long before they moved me from flag to tackle football to play with the older kids – and I dominated that too!”

Despite showing a proficiency for the game from an early age, Roberts attended a high school that isn’t just known for football in the state, but in the nation. Just making the team at Mallard Creek proved difficult – helping to forge a resilience in Jacob that he would carry throughout his future career:

“I went to very competitive, nationally ranked football schools, with like 200 kids trying to get on the team each year. I tried getting in early, and was knocked back a couple of times; cut in my 7th grade year but made the team in 8th grade. Then I headed to Mallard Creek and was cut in 9th grade, but bounced back again. I made the team as a tight end in 10th grade – any position where I could get involved, I would do. And I played a lot of special teams; I loved to run down the field on kickoff and hit people! I made three tackles in the playoffs that year, and opened some eyes – they learned I could hit! The coaches wanted to move me to linebacker the next season – where we went to state and I won defensive MVP. That was it then, LB was my forever position – my final year at Mallard Creek, I was all-conference and went to the major senior all-star game in the state.”

Roberts’ coaches weren’t the only ones who liked what they saw. Finding a permanent home at his new position, Jacob began to realize just what he could achieve on a football field:

“I knew football could be good for me ever since that state championship game my junior year. I showed up big in that playoff run, and got some interest. So I did everything I could to give me a shot at a scholarship. I’ve always had self confidence, and succeeded at every level I’ve played at, but the award just confirmed in my mind I was good enough. At that point, I just poured everything into it.”

'They Treated Me Like Family'

Despite the devotion to getting better and his dominance on the field, the recruiting process was far from the offer-laden fairytales you see on social media nowadays. Much like being cut in 7th and 9th grade, Jacob Roberts persevered, and embraced the opportunity when it came his way:

“I was under-recruited coming out of high school, with just two offers. I got my first offer after my junior year, which at least meant I knew I could go to college for free and play football – and I never let the lack of interest faze me or put me down. I’ve always been a believer that I’m the best player any time I step out on the field, so I was confident it would work itself out. And to be honest, when I went to visit North Carolina A&T on a homecoming visit, I didn’t need another offer. They just treated me like family, welcomed me with open arms. I had a great relationship with the coaching staff, and they were genuine too; told me the truth throughout the process. And an hour away from home too, as a seventeen year old – it was far enough away but not too far away. It all worked out.”

‘It all worked out’ is something of an understatement from Roberts, who made an instant impact with the Aggies. Playing as a true freshman and racking up 62 tackles and 5 stats, he made the step up to college ball seem simple – a mantra Jacob has seemed to embrace throughout his career. And yet, after such a hot start, disaster struck not just Roberts but every student athlete in the nation as the world grappled with the pandemic:

“I did pretty good at A&T! That first year I was a freshman All-American, made All-Conference. As a team we were successful, winning the conference and the HBCU National Championship. You’re looking forward to getting back to it with your teammates, the guys you go to war with every week, and then COVID hit. It was tough – we had to be separated from each other, work out in different groups and pods, tested every seven days, stay in dorms etc. We couldn’t do this, couldn’t do that – even meal times were regimented. Being isolated and not playing football – a lot of us had been playing this sport each year for as long as we could remember, so it was definitely different. But things happen, and I didn’t complain. You just gotta remain disciplined and make the best of it.”

If there’s one constant throughout the interview, it’s Roberts’ linear approach to life. Never getting too high with success or low with adversity, he’s a man that clearly likes to keep things simple. And even as the coaches at North Carolina A&T kept challenging him with a more diverse set of responsibilities, he just took it in his stride. It’s just football, right?

“Once COVID had cleared up, we were back out on the field and everything felt right again. My second year on the field I was a sophomore All-American and All-Conference again. More of the same in my third season for the Aggies – I just kept working at it, getting better, and doing my thing on the field. And look at my stats – I can do everything! Sacks, tackles, interceptions, I got it. I like to think of myself as a swiss army knife – blitz, coverage you name it. I play linebacker, but you can just label me ‘playmaker’. I’m as versatile as they come.”

Stepping Up, Showing Out

After a one-year pause, Jacob Roberts returned to the football field and literally dominated. He’s not exaggerating when he calls himself a playmaker – by the end of his third season in Greensboro Roberts had racked up 218 total tackles, 29.5 TFLs, 9.5 sacks and five interceptions. Not only that, but he’d also earned his degree too, proving he was balling out on and off the field. Establishing himself as one of the best players in both NCA&T and Big South Conference history, he decided it was time to test himself further:

“After that 2022 season, I had graduated, and I was already considering hitting the transfer portal. I wanted to go and play at a higher level, prove that I can play against some of the best players in the country in one of the best conferences in the country. Then, they fired my coach at A&T, and that kind of cemented my decision. So I jumped in the portal, and the next day my phone was blowing up! I had a lot of interest, but Wake Forest was always the school for me – it’s where I wanted to go coming out of high school, so when they DM’d me on Twitter I did everything I could to set that official visit up. I went down there that weekend and I committed on the spot. I didn’t even look anywhere else – Wake was where I wanted to be. I started school the very next week.”

New scenery, same result. Traveling just thirty minutes west to Winston-Salem, Roberts wasted no time getting acclimated to his new surroundings. Crediting his new coaches for laying out the perfect road map, Jacob’s confidence in his own ability never faltered in the slightest:

“The coaches – everything they told me during the process was exactly what it was once I got there. They didn’t sugar-coat anything, and I just came in ready to work. And within myself, I knew I was capable at this level. I’m a football player – it’s that simple. The opportunity to prove myself came later for me than it did for others, but once it came I was always going to take advantage of it. It was a real smooth transition – and I know people think there’s a big difference, but I didn’t find that. The speed, the standard, it was very similar. Football is football – sure, the linemen were bigger, but I didn’t let that faze me. I just went about my business like I had before – and the stats speak for themselves. I worked hard, competed, and showed I was up to the ACC standard.”

In one season – his first and last season of FBS football – Roberts compiled 83 tackles, 10 TFL’s, six sacks and two forced fumbles. Through the first five weeks of the season he resided in the top three of every category on defense you can think of. Oh, and he also earned a Masters degree in Liberal Arts.

Jacob Roberts wasn’t just ACC standard. He was operating at a level usually reserved for Sundays.

Wake Culture

Now, spoiler alert here; after speaking to Luke Masterson and Ja’Sir Taylor in previous years, I have something of an affinity for Wake Forest. The smallest Power 5 program in the USA have been competing at an unfamiliar level under Head Coach Dave Clawson, culminating in two fantastic seasons operating the slow mesh offense with Sam Hartman at the helm. Not bad for a basketball school!

2023 wasn’t quite as successful as the campaigns that preceded it. Nonetheless, Jacob Roberts and his teammates are able to look back on the season with pride:

“Yeah, it wasn’t the season that we wanted, which was disappointing, but mentally, me and my guys, we know our season wasn’t defined by wins and losses. Our attitude, our mindset isn’t based on our record. If we know we put everything we had into that week and into that game, and we fell short, there was nothing else we could do about it. Obviously we went out there and tried our best – and one thing you could guarantee was you’d get 100% out of us. You’d look to the guys on your left and right, and you knew they’d be giving everything – the whole season. Obviously the record didn’t show that, and you do feel bad for the coaches, the fans and the families watching. But it never affected the chemistry or the locker room. We could carry our heads high.”

Roberts is happy to indulge me and talk about Wake a little. After all, it was the place he longed to represent since his high school days. You can tell his time there holds a special place in his heart – and a lot of that is down to the coaching staff and establishing what it means to be a Demon Deacon:

“I was only there at Wake for one year, but I picked up the culture very fast. It’s ran like a real business over there – we do things the right way. And at the same time, they take care of us. The coaches, they know we’ve got school, and the hours we’re putting in to the film room, and risking our bodies and putting everything on the line each Saturday. They definitely appreciate us for that, and have our backs because of it. I think that has really helped cultivate the family atmosphere at Winston-Salem – you feel it when you walk back in the building. What Coach Clawson and his staff have built there; I’m proud and privileged to have been a part of it.”

With Roberts reminiscing, I ask him what his proudest moment was in his college career:

“Graduating with both a bachelors at A&T and a masters at Wake, is something I’m extremely proud of. It doesn’t get better than that! Football gave me the opportunity to get an education – and I didn’t forget that. But mostly, whether it’s on the field or in the classroom, I’m mostly proud of never giving up. As a kid, most of us are told our dreams and ambitions are unrealistic. ‘You won’t be able to go to university’ or ‘you won’t be able to play at this level’ or ‘you won’t go anywhere’ – just to prove those people wrong, it makes me proud. I never quit – just kept putting in the work day in, day out, to be where I am right now.”

Turning Heads

With college ball firmly in the past, Jacob Roberts now turns his attention to the next stage of his career – taking on the NFL. Training with Per4orm Fitness down in Davie, Florida, he’s already been able to showcase his talents to pro scouts, starring at one of draft season’s all-star games in the Sunshine State:

“Oh it’s the usual – trying to get better, faster, stronger, smarter – everything! Last weekend, I had the opportunity to play in the Tropical Bowl in Orlando – was over there for a few days. We had practices, met some scouts and a couple of teams, then obviously had a game at the end of it. And it went pretty good – I ended up getting a sack and five tackles in the game. I made the best of the opportunity like I always do – it was definitely a successful business trip!”

Two things here, that perfectly emulate Roberts and his relaxed attitude to success. Firstly, those defensive stats had him as the second most productive defensive prospect that weekend in Orlando – all in a day’s work for him perhaps. And then when I ask him which were the ‘couple of teams’ he talked to, he spent five minutes naming more than half of the franchises in the NFL. The Wake linebacker is firmly on the radar – and perhaps his experience playing different roles on different defenses has a lot to do with it:

“Coming from A&T and then playing at Wake, I played in two very different defenses. For me, to have film that shows me operating at a high level in a 4-2-5, a 3-4, and a 4-3, it’s invaluable. Every scheme I’ve played in, I’ve performed – and it gives me confidence I’d do the same with any other scheme out there. I think how quickly I picked up my role at Wake shows how quick a learner I am. I can play a variety of roles on defense, and that puts me at an advantage. Special teams too; I led the nation in blocked kicks in 2021, and have played on all the units you can think of. Line me up anywhere – just let me go hit and execute.”

Pro Day Preparations

All this hard work and showing out for Jacob Roberts is with one target on the horizon; the Wake Forest pro day on March 27th. In typical fashion, Roberts isn’t making the moment larger than it is. There’s no talk of ‘biggest job interview of your life’ or any similar dramatic narrative. Instead, he’s just focused on showing what he’s evidently capable of:

“I don’t want anything too flashy – I just want them to see that I’m about my business. I get the job done, and I have the athletic and physical tools to do that in the NFL. I can move well, change direction, drop into coverage, have good hands – all the things the tape will back up. Like I’ve said – I’m a football player. I know I’m built for this game; they need to know that if they give me an opportunity, they won’t regret it.”

It doesn’t appear like much rattles Roberts. And now that the NFL Draft is one big media circus with plenty of opinions – some from those qualified and some not – there’s plenty for prospects to be annoyed about. When I ask Jacob what it is about his game that people sleep on, he almost finds questions about his quickness amusing – but he’s happy to prove any doubters wrong:

“I don’t know why, but people underestimate my speed. Which is convenient, because my pro day will allow me to show everyone that I can move! I’m sneaky fast, and I’m looking forward to wowing some people, hearing those murmurs when they read the stopwatch. Sometimes perception doesn’t equal reality – yeah I’m big, but I’m quick too. I’m keeping my forty target to myself – tune in on March 27th, watch me fly.”

Confidence is a delicate thing for most people; painstaking to build but quick to be shattered. In that regard, as in many others, Jacob Roberts is more robust than most. It’s built on a quiet knowledge of his own ability, and both ignoring the hype when praised and remaining resolute when doubted. When he says ‘it’s just football’, he refers to simplifying the game, and not how important it is. If anything, it’s everything to Roberts – and he’s looking forward to sharing his biggest moment with those who have helped him get to this stage:

“Me and my family, we’re a tight unit. Me, my mom and dad, grandma and my brothers, we’ll all be together, the draft on in the background, probably playing some cards to keep relaxed. Nothing too big! It’s probably not going to be easy to appreciate it at the time, but that weekend is the end of a big journey that me and my family have been on. The ups and downs, tough times, and finally to achieve something you’ve dreamed of since you were a little kid, it’ll mean the world. So it’s important to try and enjoy the moment. That’s still a way off yet – there’s plenty of work to be done between now and then. But when that time comes, I’m going to savor it. After that, it’s a case of going there and doing what I do – run, hit, tackle, and being that playmaker.”

Mock Draft





A huge thank you to Jacob for taking the time to talk to us. Everyone at The Touchdown wishes him well in his future career.