University of Maine wide receiver Earnest Edwards (top) holds onto the ball for a touchdown while being dragged down by Sacred Heart's Denzel Williams during an August 2019 game in Orono. Edwards is hoping to be selected in the NFL Draft that begins Thursday night. Credit: Courtesy of Peter Buehner

Two University of Maine football players expect to have a chance to be chosen during this year’s National Football League draft, which will be conducted virtually.

Black Bears coach Nick Charlton believes kickoff returner and wide receiver Earnest Edwards and cornerback Manny Patterson both could be selected.

The draft was scheduled to begin Thursday night and is expected to run through Saturday.

Edwards was named to six All-America teams as a kickoff returner last season and was the Colonial Athletic Association Special Teams Player of the Year and an all-conference first-team wide receiver.

Patterson was a first-team All-CAA choice despite missing the last three games after suffering a season-ending knee injury. He was hurt Nov. 2 in a 47-31 win over Albany, he but underwent surgery and is recovering.

“Manny is very ahead of schedule [in his recovery],” Charlton said.

UMaine’s second-year coach expects both could be drafted, or at least be offered free-agent deals, as has often been the case for Black Bear players.

“Pat Ricard got the call the next day [after the draft],” Charlton said of the former UMaine All-American who was an All-Pro fullback for the Baltimore Ravens last season.

Speedster Edwards is coming off an outstanding senior year in which he led the Football Championship Subdivision by averaging 28.5 yards per kickoff return with two touchdowns. He also caught 49 passes for 1,097 yards, completed five of six passes for 61 yards and four TDs, ran the ball 12 times for 146 yards and returned a punt 28 yards.

“Personally, I think it’s a no-brainer. Earnest can play professional football in one shape or form,” Charlton said. “He has the ability to do so many things and the more you can do, the more value you have.”

Edwards’ 169.36 all-purpose yards per game ranked third in the country and his 1,863 total yards were sixth. Edwards netted 99.7 receiving yards per contest to rank 11th and he averaged 22.39 yards per reception.

He set the UMaine career record for receiving yards (2,641), kick return yards (2,311), kickoff return touchdowns (6) and kickoff returns (90). His 143 career receptions place him 11th.

“Whatever team gets him is a very lucky one,” Charlton said.

Edwards posted a time of 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Rochester Pro Day. Only 10 players ran faster at the NFL Scouting Combine in March in Indianapolis.

The 5-foot-10 Edwards has gained 20 pounds working out and is up to 190 pounds to help him make the transition to the next level.

UMaine’s annual pro day, like many others, was cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Patterson’s marketability may be affected by his health status. The 5-10, 180-pound was involved in 29 tackles and had five pass breakups in nine games.

The preseason All-American concluded his career with 113 tackles, 54 pass breakups and three interceptions in 44 games.

“He was a unanimous [conference] first-team selection and he missed three games. That tells you how much respect he has earned,” Charlton said of Patterson. “He has legitimate cover skills and, once he’s healthy, he’s a very solid player.”

Charlton said both players also could contribute on special teams.

UMaine also received inquiries from NFL teams about three-time All-CAA defensive end Kayon Whitaker and All-CAA third-team wide receiver Jaquan Blair, he added.

Whitaker led the team and was fourth in the CAA in tackles for a loss (20) and sacks (9), and he topped UMaine with three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries (tied). His 65 tackles ranked third.

Blair made a team-high 65 receptions for 839 yards in 2019. He posted eight TD receptions, three fewer than team leader Edwards.

UMaine had two players in the NFL this past season in Ricard and second-year offensive lineman Jamil Demby of the Los Angeles Rams.

Ricard, a third-year pro, was a punishing blocker who helped the Ravens lead the NFL in rushing average (206 ypg). He also caught eight passes for 47 yards and a touchdown. A rare two-way NFL player, he also was involved in nine tackles on defense.

Jamil Demby, a sixth-round pick, appeared in six games for the Rams last season.