Despite growing up in Capitol Heights, about a 10-minute drive from the Washington Redskins’ FedEx Field in Landover in Prince George’s County, Manasseh Bailey avidly followed the New York Giants. And as a wide receiver, he admired Victor Cruz and then Odell Beckham Jr.
But on April 25, the Morgan State wideout, who has been clocked at 4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash, traded his allegiance to another NFC East team after he agreed to a rookie free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.
“It definitely was easy for me to switch because I’m locked in and I’m a team player,” he said with a laugh. “So I’m all for the Eagles. … It feels kind of weird. You’re growing up, and you always wanted to play for that team. But now there’s the business aspect of it, and you’re just going to take what you can get.”
Being coveted by several NFL teams, including the Ravens, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Los Angeles Chargers and Rams, helped alleviate a twinge of pain after the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Bailey watched three days of the NFL draft with his father, mother, two brothers, one sister and other relatives.
“Going through adversity and with the odds against me, I was just sad not to be able to hear my name being called on the television,” he said. “I was heartbroken. … Coming from the neighborhood I’m coming from, not a lot of people get a chance to be drafted or to even be in the opportunity where I’m at. And going to a [Historically Black College and University], not a lot of kids get picked from HBCUs. Just things like that have been against me, and I’ve been a guy that a lot of people have overlooked.”
It’s hard to ignore what Bailey, 22, did as a senior last fall for the Bears. He amassed 996 receiving yards, which trailed only Morgan State wide receiver Clarence Holzendorf’s single-season record of 1,702 yards in 1993, and ranked third in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. He also ranked third in the league in touchdown catches (10), fourth in receptions (54) and sixth in overall touchdowns (11) en route to being named to the All-MEAC’s third team.
Tyrone Wheatley, who left his position as the running backs coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars to lead the Bears for the 2019 season, said that Bailey did not rest on his inclusion to the All-MEAC’s second team as a junior in 2018.
“He bought into saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to do my job,’” Wheatley said. “He wasn’t just going to say, ‘I’m a great player.’ He took it from the standpoint of, ‘I’m going to work hard and I’m going to show you that my hard work has paid off.’ I think that was a huge difference for him.”
After catching just one pass for four yards in a season-opening 46-3 loss at Bowling Green on Aug. 29, Bailey exploded for four receptions for 172 yards and one touchdown in a 63-12 setback at James Madison on Sept. 14 and six catches for 121 yards and two scores in a 52-21 loss at Army West Point on Sept. 21. Adding three more 100-yard receiving performances to close out his senior year was especially gratifying.
“Coming into your last season, you want to put up stats,” he said. “You just want to come out and ball out, and I think I did that. I put my best foot forward, and I attacked, and I just feel awesome about the way it all came out.”
Bailey was also a fixture on special teams, lining up on return and coverage units. He blocked two punts, one of which he recovered for a safety in a 24-12 loss against Florida A&M on Oct. 26.
The ability to play special teams could be a significant factor in Bailey’s bid to make the Eagles’ active roster, Morgan State wide receivers coach Derrick Alexander said.
“It’ll be difficult just because of the veterans those guys do have, but there’s always room for a fifth or sixth receiver that can play special teams that a lot of teams look for,” said Alexander, a 1994 first-round pick who played for four NFL franchises, including the Ravens in 1996 and 1997. “His special teams ability will give him an opportunity to make the team — whether it’s the Eagles or some other team.”
Alexander said that he frequently had to take Bailey off the field to give him some rest.
“He played every special team and wide receiver [down]. That’s a lot of snaps for a guy,” he said. “So sometimes I had to actually pull him out to get him a break. Sometimes you would forget how many reps he was getting, and when he’s having success, it’s hard to take a guy like him off the field. But every once in a while, I had to force myself to get him a break.”
And now Bailey will get a chance to work alongside Jackson.
“I’ve been watching DeSean Jackson since I was a kid,” Bailey said. “I’m going to listen to all the coaching points from him. He’s an older guy. So I’m going to cling to him, and I’m going to get all the advice that I can. It’s going to be a great experience.”
Besides Jackson, the Eagles already have veterans Alshon Jeffery, Marquise Goodwin (a trade acquisition from the San Francisco 49ers) and Greg Ward. They also drafted two rookies in TCU’s Jalen Reagor (a first-round choice) and Southern Mississippi’s Quez Watkins (sixth round).
But Wheatley said that he does not think Bailey will be intimidated by the crowded wide receivers room.
“He is hungry,” Wheatley said. “Here is something that the young man has dreamed about for most of his college football life, and now it’s upon him. So how do I think he will attack it? Full steam ahead.”
Bailey said the daunting odds remind him of when he was ignored by many Football Bowl Subdivision programs as he toiled away at Suitland High School.
“I’ve got to look at everything as if it’s against me,” he said. “So when I get out there, I know that I’m a guy that’s going to be overlooked. Just facing the adversity and everything that I’ve been through, I have to prove myself. That’s the main thing.”
Undrafted rookies from Morgan State
Wide receiver Manasseh Bailey became the first Bears player to sign with an NFL team as an undrafted rookie since guard Karim Barton also joined the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014. Here is a list provided by Morgan State of the players who were signed as rookie free agents since 1983.