Big East draft bargains

April, 28, 2011
4/28/11
4:00
PM ET
Adam Rittenberg did this over at the Big Ten blog, and I thought it was an idea worth stealing.

We know the Big East isn't going to dominate the first couple of rounds of the NFL draft, but there are several good players from the league who can help teams. I'm no Mel Kiper Jr. -- one look at my hairdo tells you that -- and I realize the NFL is in many ways a different game than the college level.

Still, I've watched Big East players up close for the past few years and can tell when somebody can play. Here's one guy from each Big East team that I think could be a bargain in the NFL draft as a mid-round selection or even a free-agent pickup:

Cincinnati

Jason Kelce, C, 6-2, 280

Why him: Kelce arrived at Cincinnati as a walk-on linebacker, then started for two years at left guard before taking over the center duties as a senior. That tells you he's a hard worker willing to do whatever it takes to help a team and get on the field, and he was a part of two Big East championship teams. If nothing else, he could add depth to an offensive line with his versatility.

Connecticut

Scott Lutrus, LB, 6-2, 241

Why him: Lutrus is a student of the game and a better athlete than he gets credit for, as evidenced by his strong NFL combine numbers. He's got pretty good size, too, and is a solid tackler. There is some health risk here because he had shoulder/stinger problems his last two seasons at UConn. But as a late pick or free-agent signee, he is worth a gamble.

Louisville

Cameron Graham, TE, 6-3, 244

Why him: Graham might not stand out in any one area. He's not a speed merchant nor a physically imposing player. But he gets the most out of his ability and developed into a really reliable pass-catcher for Louisville as a senior. He could make a solid No. 2 or No. 3 tight end for some team in the right system.

Pittsburgh

Jason Pinkston, OT, 6-3, 317

Why him: Pinkston was a three-year starter for the Panthers and as steady a player as there was in the Big East. He earned all-league honors his last two seasons and performed well against some of the best pass-rushers the conference had to offer. He might not be big or athletic enough to play left tackle at the next level as he did in college, but he'll find a home somewhere on an NFL line.

Rutgers

Joe Lefeged, S, 5-11, 210

Why him: This isn't the strongest Scarlet Knights draft class of recent years, and Lefeged is likely the only Rutgers player who will get drafted. He tailed off after a hot start last season, but seemed to be affected by the Eric LeGrand injury as much as any of his teammates. What I like about Lefeged is that he's also a really good and very willing special-teams performer, so an NFL team will get that extra value from him.

South Florida

Mistral Raymond, DB, 6-1, 191

Why him: Is Raymond talented enough to play in the NFL? I don't know. I do know that he's a hard worker who rose from walk-on to team leader for the Bulls, and he's lanky and versatile enough to play either corner or safety. He'll probably be an undrafted free agent, but he's a guy I would want on my practice squad at the very least.

Syracuse

Rob Long, P, 6-2, 190

Why him: Anyone strong-willed enough to battle through a brain tumor with the positive attitude Long maintained is someone I'd want on my side. And don't forget he was one of the league's best punters throughout his career and also handled kickoffs and holding duties. Not many punters get drafted, but I'd offer him a contract if I were a GM looking to upgrade my special teams.

West Virginia

Chris Neild, DT, 6-1, 319

Why him: Mountaineers fans don't need to be reminded why Neild is such a valuable player. Let's hope that an NFL team sees it. In the right system, Neild would be an excellent contributor.

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