Draft Previews -SLC Tribune

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Nov 16, 2005
not here

Maryland tight end freaking teams out

Unnatural: Vernon Davis is projected to be picked in the top 10 with tantalizing athleticism

By Andrew Aragon
The Salt Lake Tribune

Maryland tight end Vernon Davis could go anywhere between sixth and 10th in the first round of the upcoming NFL draft.

This Series
First in a series analyzing the NFL draft, by position. Today's look is at the pass-catchers. The draft will be held April 29-30 in New York.

If you need proof that the pool of available receivers for the NFL draft is fairly weak, consider this: the top pass-catching prospect is a tight end.
Maryland tight end Vernon Davis, described by some as an "athletic freak," is projected to be taken in the top 10 of next Saturday's draft. Davis could go as early as sixth, to the 49ers, to give former Ute Alex Smith a new weapon to work with on offense. Other teams, however, may move up to snag him. Most likely, the latest he would possibly go is 10th to Arizona.
So what makes a player "an athletic freak?" Let's explore.
l At the scouting combine Davis ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash. Remember, he's 6-foot-3, 255 pounds.
l Davis has a 42-inch vertical jump, which puts him on par with elite NFL receivers. He also had 33 bench press repetitions of 225 pounds at the combine.
l He averaged 16.5 yards per catch during his career and made occasional appearances as a kick-returner. It appears as if one more player is ready to wear the title of "new breed of tight end."
"I feel good about being labeled the new breed of tight end," Davis said. "That's what it is, when you've got a guy who can do more than catch the ball. To get extra yardage after catching the ball, and make guys miss, that pretty much speaks for itself."
Davis leads a deep group of tight ends. As many as 12 could be selected in the first three rounds, surpassing the total of nine that were picked in the entire draft last year.
Following Davis is UCLA's Marcedes Lewis, Georgia's Leonard Pope and Notre Dame's Anthony Fasano as top-flight prospects.
While it appears to be a banner year for tight ends, this may be the worst group of available receivers in several years. Just two years ago, five of the top 15 picks were receivers. It's highly unlikely that more than two will be selected in the first round this year.
The top three receivers - Florida's Chad Jackson,

Ohio State's Santonio Holmes and Miami's Sinorice Moss - should be selected in the draft's first 50 picks. Jackson, Holmes and Moss each run the 40 in the 4.3 range. Moss isn't expected to go in the first round because of his size (5-8, 185).
There's a significant dropoff after the top three receivers. Teams in need of outside pass-catching help, such as Philadelphia and San Francisco, aren't likely to receive it this year.

Top 5 Receivers
1. Vernon Davis TE 6-3/255 Maryland
Will be shocking if he falls out of the top 10
2. Chad Jackson WR 6-0/215 Florida
Many former Gators have flopped in the NFL
3. Santonio Holmes WR 5-10/190 Ohio State
Could be the first receiver selected
4. Sinorice Moss WR 5-8/185 Miami
May produce like older brother, Santana Moss, of Redskins
5. Marcedes Lewis TE 6-6/260 UCLA
Also played basketball for the Bruins for a season

Local connection: Todd Watkins, BYU
Watkins has the speed and leaping ability to be an NFL receiver. However, his route-running and desire to go over the middle are still in question. He'll likely be picked on the draft's second day, in the fourth or fifth round.

Dark horse: Brandon Williams, Wisconsin

The comparisons to former Ute Steve Smith are obvious: He's small, but fearless and willing to go over the middle. He may have to first make a name for himself on special teams, but could develop into a star receiver in a couple of years.
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Nov 16, 2005
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NFL Draft Preview ~ Linebackers: Ohio State's Hawk best of quality group

'A playmaker': Buckeyes' All-American cited for pass-rushing, run-stuffing, coverage skills

By Andrew Aragon
The Salt Lake Tribune

Ohio State's A.J. Hawk, right, could be the first top-five linebacker since LaVar Arrington in the 1999 draft. (Charles Rex Arbogast/The Associated Press)

This Series
Second in a series analyzing the NFL draft, by position. Today's look is at the pass-catchers. The draft will be held April 29-30 in New York.

He's been called the "safest pick" in the 2006 NFL draft by Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage, and he may be the most complete player available. Ohio State's A.J. Hawk is likely to become the first linebacker selected in the top five of the NFL draft since LaVar Arrington was taken second in 1999. And just like Arrington, Hawk is expected to make an immediate impact.
As a three-year starter with the Buckeyes, Hawk showed that he can rush the passer, he's solid against the run, and he has the ability to drop into pass coverage. Hawk led the Buckeyes in tackles for three straight seasons and was named an All-American following his junior and senior seasons. He has the instincts, athleticism and smarts to excel on the pro level.
"This guy's a playmaker," said Browns coach Romeo Crennel. "He runs all over the place, and he runs to the ball. He's got some size, some speed, some production. I like all of those things."
Hawk could go as early as second, to the Saints, but New Orleans could trade down a couple of spots and still get him. Most projections have Hawk going fifth to Green Bay, which would bring a lot of joy to Packers fans.
Hawk leads a deep group of linebackers, which includes two of his teammates - Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel. Carpenter will likely be picked in the late first round or early second round. Schlegel is expected to be selected on the draft's second day.
At least four, and as many seven linebackers are projected to be picked in the first round. That number is remarkable, considering that just nine linebackers have gone in the first round in the last five years.
"I think there are a lot of great linebackers," Carolina Panthers coach John Fox said. "It's one of the better linebacker groups I've seen at the top. And it's pretty deep."
Following Hawk are players such as Florida State's Ernie Sims and Iowa's Chad Greenway. Sims is a big hitter who boosted his stock in impressive pre-draft workouts. He plays with a mean streak, but teams have character questions about him. He was arrested last year and received a misdemeanor domestic violence charge after an argument with his girlfriend. Sims' mistake hasn't seemed to alter his draft status. He should be picked in the middle of the first round.
"I really believe that Ernie Sims is the most explosive, through-the-hips athlete in this draft," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "I think Sims has the most upside of any linebacker in the draft."
Greenway came from a tiny town in South Dakota and had to look long and hard to find a Division I school to give him a scholarship.
Once the Hawkeyes gave him a chance, they weren't disappointed. Greenway was a three-year starter and had 18 pass breakups during his senior season.

Top 5 linebackers

1. A.J. HAWK 6-1/250 Ohio State
Might be the draft's best overall player

2. ERNIE SIMS 5-11/230 Florida State
Has some character questions

3. CHAD GREENWAY 6-2/240 Iowa
Played nine-man football in high school

4. BOBBY CARPENTER 6-2/255 Ohio State
Overshadowed by Hawk, could be a pro star

5. DEMECO RYANS 6-1/235 Alabama
Earned several academic achievements

Local connection: Paul Walkenhorst, Brigham Young; Spencer Toone, Utah; John Chick, Utah State

It's unlikely that any of the state's linebackers will be selected in the draft. But these three could each receive at least a free-agent tryout when teams are filling out their offseason rosters.

Dark horse: Tim McGariagle, Northwestern
McGariagle always seemed to find a way to the ballcarrier when he played for the Wildcats, as he finished his career with 545 tackles. Last season, he made 25 tackles in a game against Wisconsin, and he had 21 tackles against Michigan. McGariagle is projected to go in the fifth or sixth round and could develop into a quality pro.


Nov 16, 2005
not here

NFL Draft: Ferguson transforms to top tier
NFL Draft Preview ~ Offensive Linemen

By Andrew Aragon
The Salt Lake Tribune

Virginia's D'Brickashaw Ferguson is the top prospect among offensive linemen in this year's NFL draft and a top-tier pick. (Associated Press file photo)

This Series
Third in a series analyzing the NFL draft. Today's look is at offensive linemen. The draft will be held Saturday and Sunday in New York.

Virginia tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson takes it personally when his quarterback gets his uniform dirty. Not that it happened very often when Ferguson played for the Cavaliers.
"I'm a beast. I see myself as a bodyguard," Ferguson said. "I'm personally responsible for the health and welfare of my quarterback, and I'll do anything in my means to protect them."
Fair enough.
But Ferguson, the top offensive line prospect in the 2006 NFL draft, brings more to the field than a nasty attitude. He has a large wingspan to help him
neutralize the NFL's top outside pass rushers. His athleticism is off the charts for an offensive tackle, and some believe that it will lead him to revolutionize his position the same way tight ends Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates have changed theirs.
Ferguson, at 6-foot-6, is still growing into his body. He's gained more than 60 pounds in the last two years, which helped transform him from a project to a top pick. Ferguson, who started 49 of 51 games at Virginia and was named an All-American after his senior season, is expected to go second to the Saints or fourth to the Jets.
"He's a sure bet," said Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher, who coached Ferguson at the Senior Bowl. "There's no doubt."
The only other sure bet on the offensive line appears to be USC offensive lineman Winston Justice is projected to go in the first round of the NFL draft.

USC's Winston Justice. Following a couple of forgettable off-field incidents in 2003, Justice rebounded in a big way in 2005.
''I think it was important to show people that I have good character and to come back to school and to prove that I could be a good student and a good citizen for a whole year,'' Justice said of the 2005 season. ''I think that I accomplished that.''
Justice had a lot of damage to undo. He was arrested on the charge of and pleaded no contest to soliciting a prostitute in 2003. He was suspended for the entire 2004 season after he pulled a toy gun on a fellow USC student, which he says was a prank that he and a group of friends pulled on the wrong person.
After a strong junior season, Justice declared for the draft. His stock has risen since the Trojans lost to Texas in the Rose Bowl because he has impressed in interviews, and he had a dynamite on-campus workout. He bench pressed 225 pounds 38 times and recorded a 39-inch vertical jump at USC's pro day.
Ferguson and Justice are the only two offensive linemen expected to be drafted in the first round. The bulk of the available offensive linemen are projected to be picked in the second, third and fourth rounds.

Top 5 O-Linemen
1. D'Brickashaw Ferguson 6-6/310 Virginia
School's first two-time All-ACC pick in 14 years
2. Winston Justice 6-6/320 USC
Physical, but scouts wonder about his maturity
3. Nick Mangold 6-3/300 Ohio St.
Considered by many as the best available center
4. Eric Winston 6-6/310 Miami
Seems to be fully recovered from a 2004 knee injury
5. Marcus McNeil 6-7/330 Auburn
Went 43 consecutive games without allowing a sack

Local connection: Paul McQuistan, Weber State
McQuistan put together a stellar senior season and grabbed the attention of pro scouts. McQuistan is projected in several mock drafts as a second-day selection, but Mel Kiper Jr. has him going to the Chargers as a mid-third round pick.

Dark horse: Guy Whimper, East Carolina

Prior to starting on the Pirates' offensive line in 2005, Whimper showed off his versatility by playing defensive end, linebacker and tight end for East Carolina in previous seasons. He's still new to the offensive line, but some scouts believe he can develop into a solid pro. He'll likely be picked in the middle rounds.


Nov 16, 2005
not here

NFL Draft Preview: D-linemen always in high demand

Surprise at No. 1? Reports have Texans taking N.C. State's Mario Williams ahead of Reggie Bush

By Andrew Aragon
The Salt Lake Tribune

This Series
Fourth in a series analyzing the NFL draft. Today's look is at the defensive linemen. The draft will be held Saturday and Sunday in New York.

NFL general managers don't come out and say that they try and build championship teams through their defensive lines. They just draft that way.
In the last 10 drafts, a total of 19 defensive linemen have been selected among the top 10 picks. That's more than the glamour positions of quarterback (12) and running back (10).
In fact, defensive linemen (11) only trail quarterbacks (15) as No. 1 overall picks since 1967.
"You never have enough of them,'' Carolina Panthers coach John Fox said. "You never stop looking for them.''
One player Fox would like to have, but has no shot at getting, is North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams. In three seasons with the Wolfpack, Williams racked up 25 1/2 sacks and 55 1/2 tackles for loss. He runs a 4.66 40-yard dash and once recorded six sacks in a game.
Williams is the top defensive line prospect in this year's draft.
He was known more for his pass-rushing skills and ability to disrupt running plays in opponents' backfields in college. Williams, however, appears strong enough to hold up against NFL running games.
"You've got to be able to do a little bit of it all," Williams said. "You have to rush the quarterback. You have to be able to stop the run. I think I'm pretty even on both aspects of the game."
Williams has been compared to Carolina's Julius Peppers, and some have gone as far in their assessments of him to say that he may one day measure up to the late Reggie White.
Williams has been in contract negotiations with the Texans, owners of the first pick in Saturday's draft. But Houston officials are the only ones who know if they have true interest in Williams or if they're just trying to bring former USC running back Reggie Bush's price down.
Former Highland High star Haloti Ngata is in competition with Florida State's Brodrick Bunkley to determine which will be the first defensive tackle taken in the draft. Various mock drafts are split fairly evenly on which player will go first. Ngata is the better run-stopper, while Bunkley is the superior pass rusher.
Bunkley wowed scouts at the combine when he bench-pressed 225 pounds 44 times. Teams that figure to be the most interested in the two tackles are the Bills, Browns and Ravens.
There isn't much depth at the tackle position, but there are several undersized ends who may thrive in the NFL as outside pass rushers. Leading that group is Florida State's Kamerion Wimbley and North Carolina State's Manny Lawson.

Top 5 linemen
1. Mario Williams 6-7/295 N.C. State
Will he surpass Reggie Bush to No. 1?
2. Haloti Ngata 6-4/340 Oregon
Widely regarded as the draft's top run-stuffer
3. Brodrick Bunkley 6-2/305 Florida St.
Recorded 66 tackles and nine sacks last season
4. Kamerion Wimbley 6-3/250 Florida St.
Recovered from knee injury, impressed at combine
5. Manny Lawson 6-5/240 N.C. State
Speed, size could force move to outside linebacker

Local connection: Steve Fifita, Utah
He doesn't have the sparkling 40 time or the height that pro scouts love. But Fifita's motor and ability to disrupt running plays will at least earn him a tryout with a team.

Dark horse: Elvis Dumervil, Louisville
Scouts aren't enamored with his size and speed. But they can't argue with his ability to get to the quarterback. Dumervil led the nation with 20 sacks last year and finished his career with 32.


Nov 16, 2005
not here
Read what Aragon has to say about Cromartie!!!


NFL Draft: Cornerbacks wanted? Plenty available
NFL Draft Preview ~ Defensive Backs

By Andrew Aragon
The Salt Lake Tribune

This Series
Fifth in a series analyzing the NFL draft. Today's look is at defensive backs. The draft will be held Saturday and Sunday in New York.

In the pass-happy, no-contact-downfield world of the NFL, there's no longer such a thing as a shut-down corner.
But teams will continue to search for them.
Since the no-contact-after-5-yards rule became an emphasis following the 2003 playoffs, in which receivers were legally mugged in certain games, the number of cornerbacks selected in the NFL draft has risen dramatically.
An average of 30 cornerbacks were selected in the last two drafts, up from 23 taken in the 2003 draft.
And with three-receiver sets becoming more prominent, there's an added
premium on cornerbacks.
''Fortunately, this draft in particular is deep in those [cornerbacks],'' said Tim Ruskell, the Seahawks' team president.
Interestingly, the top two cover corners in this year's draft are converted safeties.
Texas' Michael Huff, who stopped USC's LenDale White on a crucial fourth down in the Rose Bowl, starred at safety. His speed, however, will tempt his pro team to move him to the outside. Huff ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine.
"I just love being on the field," Huff said. "Wherever a team needs me. I'll play corner, safety, linebacker, wherever, as long as I'm on the field."
Virginia Tech's Jimmy Williams is another former safety whose pro position will be corner. But Williams is different from Huff in that he has two years of experience on the outside. Williams made 60 tackles and five interceptions during his junior season. Opponents shied away from him last year and his numbers dropped to 44 tackles and one interception.
At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Williams is big enough to match up with the league's tallest receivers. He says he's ready for the challenge.
"I feel like I'm the best defensive back in the country," Williams said. "No matter where they play me at, I know I can do a great job and I know I can come in and play right away."
Some scouts believe that this is the best group of cornerbacks in more than 20 years - that's good news for teams such as the Chiefs, Chargers and Lions. It's certainly the fastest, as six cornerbacks ran the 40 in less than 4.4 seconds at the combine.
Compared to the corners, the safeties are a rather average group. Just three safeties are projected to go in the first round, and two of them could be moved to corner by the teams that draft them.

Top 5 defensive backs

1. Michael Huff 6-0/205 Texas
Started in 50 games for the Longhorns

2. Jimmy Williams 6-2/215 Virginia Tech
Built like a safety, runs like a corner

3. Johnathan Joseph 511/185 South Carolina
May be the fastest player available

4. Tye Hill 5-10/185 Clemson
ACC's 60- and 100-meter champ in 2004

5. Donte Whitner 5-10/205 Ohio State
Another safety who may end up at corner

Local connection: Nathan Soelberg, Brigham Young
It's extremely unlikely that any defensive backs from the state will be drafted, although that will certainly change next year, when Utah's Eric Weddle is available. Soelberg, a track star at BYU, is the highest-rated available defensive back in the state, but there's almost no chance he'll get drafted.

Dark horse: Antonio Cromartie, Florida State

Some things don't seem to add up. Cromartie didn't play a down last season, but he still projects as a first-round pick. Cromartie, who blew out his knee in a non-contact drill last summer, earned All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors in 2004, even though he only started in one game. The numbers that stick out in scouts' minds are these: 6-2/208, 4.39. That's how big he is and how fast he runs the 40.


Nov 16, 2005
not here

NFL Draft: Can't-miss QBs often do

No guarantees: Young, Leinart, Cutler all come highly touted, but they likely won't all succeed

By Andrew Aragon
The Salt Lake Tribune

This Series
Sixth in a series analyzing the NFL draft. Today's is a look at the position that is creating the most buzz in this year's draft: quarterback. The draft will be held Saturday and Sunday in New York.

Every NFL draft is filled with can't-miss quarterbacks.
Inevitably, most of them miss.
In 1998, plenty of hype surrounded Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf entering the draft. The following year, a group that was supposed to rival the legendary Class of 1983 featured such wash-out first-round picks as Tim Couch, Akili Smith and Cade McNown.

Three quarterbacks - USC's Matt Leinart, Texas' Vince Young and Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler - are sure to be picked in the first round of Saturday's draft. One of them should turn out like Manning. One like Leaf.
The problem for NFL teams is that there's no way of telling at this point which will be which.
In 1998, scouts were split on who would make a better pro: Manning or Leaf? The Colts, with the first pick, selected Manning, and he's gone on to throw 244 touchdown passes in eight seasons and win an MVP award. The Chargers, picking second, took Leaf and were terribly disappointed not only with his immaturity, but also with the 13 touchdown passes and 33 interceptions in 21 starts.
"Ryan Leaf had everything you looked for in a pro quarterback, everything," said Jim Mora Sr., Manning's first coach in Indianapolis. "Why he was such a bust still baffles me. Goes to prove what an inexact science drafting can be, despite all the work involved, especially when you're dealing with what you consider the elite. Ryan Leaf proved there are no slam dunks."
Teams in need of a quarterback are hoping there's no Leaf or Couch among this year's class.
"In this particular case this year, I can't see that happening," said Titans coach Jeff Fisher. "There's no way one of these guys is not going to be a great quarterback. They are all going to be real good."
Fisher's team, which picks third, likely will have the first choice of the three quarterbacks, unless someone moves ahead of the Titans in a trade. The Texans pick first and are expected to choose between USC running back Reggie Bush and North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams. The Saints, at No. 2, invested a ton of money in Drew Brees during the offseason and would be foolish to commit more salary cap dollars to another quarterback. They would like to trade out of the spot.
If the Saints stay put, Tennessee will have first crack at guessing the Manning from the Leaf.

What they're saying about the draft's top three quarterbacks

Matt Leinart, USC
"It's a tough position because it comes in all shapes and sizes, and when you start looking specifically for different measurables, I think the player's past performance is important. Has he been a consistent winner? Has he brought his team back from behind in games? Has he been a guy that has not turned the ball over a lot?"

Vince Young, Texas "

I have no fears about Young failing,² said Gil Brandt, the former Dallas Cowboys player personnel director and current draft analyst for nfl.com. ³He'll be an outstanding player in the NFL. If you want proof, just ask coaches if they want to play against him. The answer's no."

Jay Cutler Vanderbilt

"I feel Cutler will be the best of the three," said Tony Softli, the Carolina Panthers' college scouting director. "He has that cocky confidence, the fire burning in his belly. He has the stronger arm, he's fearless to make the big play and he has a whatever-it-takes type of attitude."

OMAR JACOBS Bowling Green


BRETT ELLIOTT Linfield College
Since leaving the Utes, Elliott put together two spectacular seasons at Division III Linfield in McMinnville, Ore. He played in 24 games and threw for 8,614 yards and 68 touchdown passes. He led the Wildcats to the Division III national championship.
Despite his numbers, Elliott wasn't invited to the scouting combine and has had few opportunities to work out for pro scouts. It's unlikely that he'll get drafted, but he'll at least earn a tryout with an NFL team.


1 Matt Leinart
Does he truly love playing football?

2 Vince Young
6-5/228 Texas
Could be a once-in-a-lifetime player

3 Jay Cutler
6-3/225 Vanderbilt
Will he thrive with actual weapons?

4 Brodie Croyle
6-3/204 Alabama
Tide hasn't had QB in NFL in 7 years

Kellen Clemens

Can you spot the next Ryan Leaf?

Think you're looking at three glory-bound quarterbacks? Look again.
Each is a certain first-round pick in this weekend's draft, but whether they follow the career path of Leaf or Peyton Manning remains to be seen.


WHY HE'LL BE MANNING: He's a winner. Since he became the USC's full-time starter at the beginning of his sophomore season, he compiled a 37-2 record and led USC to two national titles. Has the intangibles that NFL quarterbacks need. He's the kind of player a team will believe in.

WHY HE'LL BE LEAF: Does he truly love playing football? Is he more interested in being a celebrity? He doesn't have the arm strength of an elite quarterback and he isn't going to outrun anyone. Has a slow delivery.

Vince Young

WHY HE'LL BE MANNING: Did you see the Rose Bowl? Young displayed the athleticism and arm strength of Michael Vick, but he showed a better pocket presence and more accuracy than the Falcons' quarterback.

WHY HE'LL BE LEAF: NFL teams wonder if he'll stay healthy, and doubt he'll be able to effectively run the ball against faster and more complex defenses. He reportedly earned a low score on the Wonderlic test. His side-armed throwing motion is odd, and the ball comes out low for a quarterback who stands 6-foot-5.

Jay Cutler

WHY HE'LL BE MANNING: He's drawing comparisons to Brett Favre. Cutler has a rocket arm and he plays with the same reckless abandon as the Packers' QB. Scouts were impressed that he worked out at the combine. Cutler also has better-than-average mobility and he's good at reading coverages.

WHY HE'LL BE LEAF: He never experienced a winning season with the Commodores and never went to a bowl game. His mechanics aren't perfect, and he's a streaky passer. When he's off, he's really off.