NCF Nation: NFL draft

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Church was not a once-a-week affair for Janice Stockton. For a single mother raising three children along the Bible Belt’s southern boundary, time spent in church is counted in days rather than hours.

Stockton was strict, too. There would be no sleeping from her children, even during bible studies and choir practices that often dragged deep into the evenings. Midweek services were not all that rare either.

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan art
Courtesy of Janice StocktonTimmy Jernigan drew this when he was 7. Fourteen years later he's on the verge of fulfilling his NFL dream.
Naps were banned, but there was never an embargo placed on dreaming.

So, Timmy Jernigan Jr. dreamed, and sitting in a church pew during one late-night service, Jernigan transferred his dream to paper, offering Stockton, his mother, a glimpse into the vision that would guide the former Florida State defensive tackle for the next 15 years, all the way to NFL draft, where one team will call Jernigan's name.

“So many things happen in life, a lot of people let go of their dream,” Stockton said.

The latest hurdle came days before the draft when reports surfaced that Jernigan produced a diluted urine sample at the NFL combine. But Stockton and Jernigan drew upon the picture once again to keep moving toward Jernigan's ultimate NFL goal.

“I saved that drawing he gave me because, he was told he better not go to asleep in church at 7 years old, and looking at him at 21, that dream is coming to fruition," Stockton said. "He never doubted he would do anything but play in the NFL.”

Drawing his dream

Tim Jernigan Sr. passed more on to his son than simply a namesake. Tim Sr. bestowed upon his son a natural gift to play defensive tackle, and those around Jernigan’s hometown of Lake City, Fla., regularly seek to find comparisons between father and son. At 2 years old, just as Jernigan learned to string together a few cumbersome footsteps in a row without tumbling, he was entrusted with his dad’s patented swim move, and Jernigan found so much success with it “when I watch my film I got a bad habit of going to it.”

Worth more than the frame and pass-rushing arsenal was the veneration for the defensive line Jernigan inherited from his father, in particular a reverence for former Giants great Michael Strahan.

“My dad put me on Michael Strahan, one of my dad’s favorite players,” Jernigan said. “Strahan was one guy I looked up to and wanted to be just like.”

Jernigan Sr. even called his family in the north to send down a Strahan jersey for his son.

“I used to call him Strahan,” Jernigan Sr. said. “He played hard, he got to the football, was relentless and Timmy just fit the bill of him. He was a complete player.”

So as Jernigan sat in church that night -- “I still paid attention to the sermon,” he contends -- he dreamed of a future, not just a style of play, which would one day draw parallels to Strahan, a Super Bowl champion and first-ballot Hall of Famer. He asked his mother for a piece of loose leaf paper and two pens -- one red, one blue. He began with a helmet, alternating colors enough times to catch the eye of the Oregon Ducks. As he traced the burly shoulders and matched the red socks with the blue cleats, the picture began resembling a second-grader’s rendering of Strahan.

He added the No. 92 to the front of the jersey, however Jernigan ended his seminal sketch with his name instead of Strahan’s. This was Jernigan’s dream, which will become a reality in the coming days.

“It’s crazy. Words can’t explain it. It’s just a blessing having all that hard work pay off,” Jernigan said. “It brings back all those memories and those late nights, the extra jump ropes and extra weight room liftings and those summertime days at FSU. To see everything pay off is a beautiful feeling.”

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsFSU DT Timmy Jernigan had 11 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last season.
A reminder from mom

While the hope of playing in the NFL never waned, Jernigan’s memory of the picture did. He gave it to his mother more than a decade ago and had not seen the picture since that night in church. Stockton held onto it, though, preserving it in a scrapbook documenting Jernigan’s rise from high school all-star to college All-American.

“I saved that picture because it’s important my children follow their dreams,” Stockton said. “… You’re not allowed to say ‘can’t’ in my house. It’s a curse word. You hold on to dreams and watch it come to life.”

Days before Jernigan’s pro day on Mar. 18, Stockton flipped through the pages of her book and came across the drawing. She texted her son that she still has what is now famously known as “the picture” within Jernigan’s circle. Jernigan was bewildered initially. “What picture?” he answered.

When Stockton sent the image, Jernigan flashed back to that night in church and said that moment more than a decade ago was as fresh in his mind as the day he drew it.

“It spooked me when she showed it to me,” Jernigan said. “I remember the exact thoughts drawing that picture, remember like it was yesterday. She knew I had been chasing that dream my whole life.”

It marked the last time Jernigan would bury the picture in his memory. It now serves as the background on his phone, a daily reminder of how far he has come but also of a journey that is still in its infancy.

“The team that drafts him is going to get a great player, and all parents might say that, but this kid has never been really pushed to have to go really hard,” Jernigan Sr. said. “They’ve seen the kid play, but there’s a whole different gear he can go.”
Unless you've been living in a world without ESPN, the Internet or sports talk radio, you're well aware that the NFL draft begins Thursday night.

What will the weekend hold for Big Ten products? Who will be the top pick from the league? Which players should be garnering more buzz? Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett try to answer those questions and more in this blog debate:

Brian Bennett: Adam, another NFL draft is nearly upon us. What better way to spend 96 hours of a spring weekend than listening to analysts describe a player's upside? At least we won't have to read any more 2013 mock drafts after Thursday afternoon.

But let's get down to Big Ten business. According to our colleagues with the good hair -- Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay -- the league very well might not produce a first-round pick for the first time since the AFL-NFL merger. Last year, the first Big Ten player taken was all the way down at No. 23. What's going on here? Is there that big of a talent shortage in the conference, or is this just a blip? And do you think any Big Ten players hear their names called on Thursday night?

[+] EnlargeKawann Short
AP Photo/Michael ConroyKawann Short's versatility could make him too attractive for NFL teams to pass up in the draft's first round.
Adam Rittenberg: I think we can match them follicle for follicle, don't you? The Big Ten's draft downturn has been a trend for a number of years. First, the league was falling out of the top 10 consistently. Then, it started to only see selections in the final 10-12 picks. Now it might fall out of the first round entirely. So, yes, there is a talent shortage at the very highest levels and especially at certain positions. The three we've written about most often are quarterback (last first round pick: Kerry Collins), cornerback and wide receiver. I still think the Big Ten produces a wealth of great linemen on both sides of the ball, as well as its share of quality running backs. But the running back position isn't valued nearly as high in the first round as cornerback and quarterback.

I thought the Big Ten still would have a first-round pick even after Michigan LT Taylor Lewan announced he would return in 2012. But now I'm not so sure. Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins and Purdue DT Kawann Short both could hear their names called, but it's far from a guarantee.

What do you think this year's draft says about the state of the Big Ten?

Brian Bennett: I think you hit on several of the reasons, and I'd add in the population and demographic shifts as another. Of course, if Lewan came out as expected, he'd probably be a top-15 pick. And if the NFL were to do last year's draft over, I'm pretty sure Russell Wilson would go in the first round, right?

Still, the downturn in top-level NFL talent, at least from a draft perspective, has to trouble the conference and offers a possible explanation as to why the Big Ten has struggled on the big stage of late. I believe that the way Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke are recruiting will mean more elite players will be entering the pros in the near future, but we shall see.

Let's talk about this year's prospects. Who do you think will be the first Big Ten player selected this weekend? And which Big Ten product do you think should be the first one taken?

Adam Rittenberg: As much as I'd love to see Wisconsin RB Montee Ball work his way into the first round, I think the first pick will be either Short or Hankins. Both are potentially great NFL defensive linemen, but I think Short has a little more versatility to his game and can be an effective pass-rusher in addition to his run-stuffing duties. Short wasn't healthy for a chunk of last season, which led to some erratic play, but he has the ability to dominate inside. So does Hankins, but he's more of a space-eater than a difference-maker on the pass rush. I think Short should be the first Big Ten player taken, and I think he will be.

You mention Wilson, who was arguably the biggest steal of the 2012 draft. Which Big Ten player will fill that role this year? Who are the value picks out there from the league?

Brian Bennett: Wilson slipped in last year's draft because of concerns over his height. And I think there may be a similar thing going on with Ohio State's John Simon. He's viewed as a tweener because he's only 6-foot-1, but there's no questioning Simon's motor, heart or leadership. As long as he can stay healthy, he'll be a productive player for a long time in the NFL.

Penn State's Jordan Hill is another guy who's shorter than the prototype for a defensive lineman but who also makes up for it with his performance and drive. I also believe Nebraska's Rex Burkhead is being undervalued, though running backs aren't the commodities they once were at the next level. A knee injury hurt Burkhead's stock, but he showed at the combine what kind of athlete he is. And I think Michigan State cornerback Johnny Adams, who was looked at as a first-round draft pick not that long ago, could be had at a good price this weekend.

Which players do you think are being undervalued? And what do you see as the draft fate for Michigan's Denard Robinson?

[+] EnlargeBurkhead
Andrew Weber/US PresswireRex Burkhead showed during pre-draft workouts that he's recovered from a 2012 knee injury.
Adam Rittenberg: You bring up some really interesting names, BB, especially Burkhead, who, if healthy and in the right system, could be a very valuable NFL player. Simon is another guy who needs to be in the right system and must overcome measurables that aren't ideal for the NFL at defensive end or outside linebacker. I wouldn't forget the group of Illinois defensive linemen -- Michael Buchanan, Akeem Spence and Glenn Foster, who wowed the scouts during pro day in Champaign. It's easy to dismiss them because they played on a terrible team, but all three have been on the NFL radar for some time -- especially Spence and Buchanan -- and have the talent to succeed at the pro level.

Ohio State tackle Reid Fragel is another guy who could be a great value, although his stock seems to be rising quickly. He started his career as a tight end but really thrived last year at the tackle spot.

Robinson will be one of the weekend's top story lines. He's clearly a work in progress as a receiver, but you can't teach that speed and explosiveness. Robinson is a risk-reward guy, but I'd be surprised if he's still on the board midway through the third round.

The Big Ten sends a fairly small contingent of underclassmen to this year's draft. How do you think those players pan out?

Brian Bennett: Michigan State has three of 'em in Le'Veon Bell, Dion Sims and William Gholston. I think there's a chance that some team reaches for Bell in the first round, and he's got the body to be a very good NFL running back for a long time. Sims also presents an intriguing option for teams, especially with the increased use of tight ends in the pro passing game. Despite Gholston's impressive physical traits, he didn't test that well in Indianapolis and had a questionable motor in college. Teams could shy away from him.

You mentioned Spence from Illinois, a guy whose stock seemed to climb as he showed some great strength in workouts. Hankins will be a second-rounder at worst. Then there's Wisconsin center Travis Frederick, who posted a slow sprint time at the combine. But how many times do centers need to sprint? I still think he'll be a good player, and one who shouldn't fall past the second round.

This is getting to be as long as the draft itself, so we should probably start wrapping things up. Any final thoughts on the Big Ten's outlook this weekend?

Adam Rittenberg: The big story lines for me, other than whether the Big Ten has a player drafted in the first round, are where running backs like Ball, Bell and Burkhead land, the Denard Watch, how the underclassmen fare and where the potential sleepers we outlined above end up. This won't be a transformative draft for the Big Ten because it lacks elite prospects at the positions we mentioned earlier, especially cornerback and quarterback. But there are always a few surprises along the way. As a Chicago Bears fan, I'm always interested to see if a Big Ten player ends up at Halas Hall.

What Big Ten story lines intrigue you heading into the draft?

Brian Bennett: You mentioned most of the big ones. I'll also be interested to see if any team takes a chance on Penn State's Michael Mauti and whether Iowa's James Vandenberg gets drafted after a disappointing senior year. I predict the Big Ten keeps its first-round streak alive -- barely -- and that Robinson stays in Michigan when the Detroit Lions draft him in the fourth round.

And then we can all put the 2013 NFL draft to bed -- and start studying those 2014 mock drafts.
The NFL draft begins a week from today, with the first round taking center stage next Thursday night. But will the Big Ten have any players celebrating before Friday's second round?

Prospects for that are starting to look slim, at least according to our ESPN.com draft experts.

Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest Big Board , which ranks the top 25 overall players in the draft, does not contain a single Big Ten product. His Grade A draft , in which he presents the best pick for every team, has Wisconsin's Montee Ball as the first league player taken, at No. 37 overall. Todd McShay's most recent mock draft likewise does not include any Big Ten players in the first round.

How rare would this be? The Big Ten has produced at least one first-round draft pick in every year since the NFL-AFL merger. The league had four first-round picks last year, though the first one didn't arrive until No. 23 (Iowa's Riley Reiff).

Of course, predicting the draft -- especially the back end of the first round -- is no exact science, and it only takes one team to like a Big Ten player enough to ensure that the league's first-round streak survives. Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins, Purdue's Kawann Short, Wisconsin's Ball and Travis Frederick and Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell all have a chance at cracking the first 32 overall picks.

McShay has a list of draft talent tiers at each position, which gives you an idea of where the Big Ten draft entrants stand. The list includes seven tiers and 109 total players. Here's where the Big Ten checked in on McShay's scale:

Tier 5 -- Value picks early in Round 2 should they fall out of Round 1.

No. 32 overall: Kawann Short, DT, Purdue

Tier 6 -- Worthy of mid-to-late-second-round consideration.

No. 56: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
No. 64: Travis Frederick, C, Wisconsin

Tier 7 -- Solid third-round prospects.

No 68: Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
No. 77: Akeem Spence, DT, Illinois
No. 84: Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State
No. 94: William Gholston, DE, Michigan State
No. 96: Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois
No. 98: John Simon, DE, Ohio State
No. 106: Hugh Thornton, OT, Illinois

We'll see if the experts are right, and had Michigan's Taylor Lewan not surprised everybody by returning to school, there would be no doubt about the Big Ten's first-round status. Still, next Thursday night is shaping up as potentially a quiet one for the league.

Injustice of NFL draft restriction

February, 13, 2013
2/13/13
2:10
PM ET
The NFL draft restricting who can enter is self-serving, hypocritical and borderline socialistic, writes ESPN's Tim Keown.
You have to give the NFL credit: It has the absolute best business deal. It's so good, in fact, that even the most devious monopolist would have a hard time finding an industry that compares. The NFL's monopoly includes an antitrust exemption, which has gone a long way toward creating $9 billion in annual revenue, and the most convenient and cost-effective farm system in sports: college football.

The best part about that farm system? It doesn't cost the NFL anything.

But wait, there's more: The NFL gets to collude with the NCAA on player eligibility, which means the two entities can force players to spend three years in college no matter how detrimental it might be to the professional and personal well-being of those players.

The system is self-serving, hypocritical and borderline socialistic. College programs use it to create continuity and remain relevant. The NFL uses it to ensure the prepackaging of stars at the amateur level and provide a steady flow of recognizable talent to a sport with an attrition rate that's just slightly better than what you'd find at your local drive-thru window. In other words, it's backslaps all around for everyone but the guys doing the labor.

For the rest of Keown's article, click here.
The NFL draft begins Thursday night. You probably weren't aware of that, because the draft, like most things associated with the National Football League, gets very little media coverage. Ahem.

Luckily, Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett are stepping into this void to talk about the draft, and specifically the Big Ten prospects hoping to hear their name called over the long weekend.

Brian Bennett: Adam, we usually leave draft talk to people with better hair than us, like Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay. But let's give it a shot. You know the NFL is a different game when Iowa's Riley Reiff is widely expected to be the top player taken from the Big Ten. Reiff is an excellent player and terrific pro prospect, no doubt. But if you would have asked league fans to pick a most valuable player from the conference this season, Reiff probably wouldn't have cracked the Top 10.

Speaking of the Top 10, the Big Ten hasn't had a player selected in that range for the past three years and is likely to make it four this year. What, if anything, does that say about the talent the league has been producing? And is Reiff the first guy you would take from the conference if you had an NFL team? (I'll resist from making wisecracks about your Big Ten fantasy team management last year).

Adam Rittenberg: Hey now, Year 2 will be different, my friend. The Shorties are coming for you. The Big Ten's Top 10 drought is certainly noteworthy, and I think it stems in part from the league producing fewer elite pro-caliber quarterbacks and cornerbacks in recent years. It does surprise me that the Big Ten hasn't had a defensive lineman in the top 10 recently, as the league has been very strong at both line spots. I think that will change in 2013. As for Reiff, he was about as under-the-radar as an elite player could get during his time at Iowa. He certainly performed well, but you didn't hear much about him, even compared to previous Hawkeyes standout linemen like Bryan Bulaga. Reiff is a masher, though, and while some say he's not the most dominant tackle, he should be able to help an NFL team this coming season.

I'd want to start my team with a potential difference-maker on the defensive line. The Big Ten has plenty of options, but Illinois' Whitney Mercilus is a natural pass-rusher who can put up big numbers. Have Merci? Yes, please. What's your view of the Big Ten's defensive line crop entering the draft?

BB: We both agreed that the defensive line, especially on the interior, is where the league's true strength lay in 2011. I'm a bit surprised that some mock drafts don't have Michigan State's Jerel Worthy, who has the chance to be a major presence on defense, in the first round and that Penn State's Devon Still, who was wildly productive last season, is being projected as a second-rounder at best. I'd rather take one of those guys than roll the dice on Memphis' Dontari Poe, a combine wonder who did next to nothing in college. And though Michigan's Mike Martin is a little short by NFL standards, I have little doubt he'll be a productive pro.

[+] EnlargeIowa's Riley Reiff
Jeffrey G. Pittenger/US PRESSWIREIowa's Riley Reiff could be the first Big Ten player selected in the NFL draft.
I'm also interested in seeing how the centers get drafted. Wisconsin's Peter Konz, Michigan's David Molk and Ohio State's Michael Brewster were arguably the top three centers in the nation last year. Molk, of course, publicly said he's the best of the three, and he did win the Rimington Trophy. Konz likely will go first, but I will be fascinated to see who ends up having the best career.

You mentioned quarterbacks. What do you think about Michigan State's Kirk Cousins and Wisconsin's Russell Wilson as potential NFL players? And will Dan Persa get a shot somewhere?

AR: Cousins should be the first Big Ten quarterback off the board, and many projections have him going in the second round. He clearly improved his stock during the predraft process. While everyone raves about the character of both Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin -- and for good reasons -- Cousins, as we both know, certainly fits into the same category as those two. He's not the fastest or most athletic guy, but he's extremely smart and played in a pro-style system at Michigan State. He could end up being a solid pro quarterback.

The issue for both Wilson and Persa is size, Persa more so than Wilson. While Wilson boasts tremendous arm strength and athleticism, his height scares teams. He does a tremendous job of extending plays and can make all of the throws, but he'll have to prove himself as a consistent pocket passer in a league where everyone is really big and really fast. Looks like a midround selection. Whether or not Persa gets drafted at all will be interesting. The guy obviously has a ton of heart and tremendous leadership skills, but he's small and suffered a major injury at Northwestern. I think Todd McShay summed up the sentiment about Persa when he told the Chicago Tribune, "I want to like Persa, but as an NFL prospect, he is limited." Persa will find his way onto a roster, but he'll have a lot to prove.

We've read a lot of draft evaluations in recent weeks. Which Big Ten player could be a real steal for a team this weekend?

BB: The guy whom I think is really undervalued is Iowa's Marvin McNutt. I've seen him going as late as the fifth or sixth round, which seems (Mc)nuts to me. Sure, it's a deep draft for receivers, and McNutt might not have blazing speed. But we saw him make some absolutely spectacular catches last season, and he closed his career as the Hawkeyes' all-time leader in receiving touchdowns. He has good size and produced 1,300 receiving yards in what was clearly not a gimmicky, pass-happy offense. If I were a GM and he was sitting there in Round 4 or later, I'd happily grab him.

Two other guys I think can be big bargains for teams are Nebraska's Lavonte David and Ohio State's Mike Adams. Both are being projected as second-rounders for different reasons (David because of size, Adams for off-the-field issues in college), but I think both will have long and stellar careers. They'll bring first-round value without the price.

Who do you see as underrated, or possibly overrated, from the Big Ten in this draft?

AR: I would have put Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler in the underrated category, but it seems like teams have caught on to how good he can be. He'll likely be a late first-round pick. Same with Konz and maybe Adams. It baffles me why Devon Still isn't projected higher in the draft. Two others I'd put in the underrated category are Michigan's Martin and Iowa's Mike Daniels. You don't have to be Vince Wilfork to be an effective NFL defensive tackle. Both Martin and Daniels are smaller defensive tackles, but they're both extremely strong physical and play with sound fundamentals. Both men have been tutored by excellent defensive coaches, and the teams that select them will be inheriting very hard workers.

Two of the more intriguing Big Ten prospects are Ohio State receiver DeVier Posey and Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick. Posey, who I chatted with briefly last week in Columbus, played only three games last fall because of suspensions stemming from NCAA violations. He's clearly a gifted guy, but it'll be interesting to see how much the off-field issues and lack of playing time impact his draft position. Crick entered 2011 as an All-America candidate but missed most of the season with injury. He definitely can help an NFL team, but like with Posey, there are question marks.

OK, time to wrap up this draft discussion. What do you think the major story line regarding the Big Ten will be coming out of this weekend's festivities?

BB: I'll go out on a limb and say Reiff is not the first Big Ten player drafted, as someone reaches for Mercilus, Worthy or Konz first. And I think the other big stories will be with the quarterbacks, as Cousins is drafted in the second round and Wilson is picked higher than people expect. What are your predictions?

AR: I wouldn't mind if that someone landing Reiff or Mercilus is my Chicago Bears, but that's another debate. Worthy's selection will be fascinating, as his stock has been pretty volatile throughout the process. I think both Martin and Daniels go earlier than expect, while Wilson has to wait a while. It'll be fascinating to see where Molk ends up. No matter where he's selected, he'll feel overlooked. As a short guy myself, I'm definitely rooting for the vertically challenged (Molk, Wilson, Persa, Martin, Daniels etc.). Another story line: Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, whose draft stock already had dropped before his arrest over the weekend.

Should be a fun weekend.
Well, maybe the Big East didn't have a whole bunch of players go in the first two rounds of the recent NFL Draft. (Just two, actually.)

Then again, that's not too surprising if you're the type to study recruiting rankings. The Big East doesn't bring in a lot of five-star prospects, and naturally those are the types of players who end up as first-round draft picks. Right?

Well, there's a very interesting study on the Iowa blog, Black Heart Gold Pants, called "The best (and worst) college programs and conferences at developing recruits into NFL players." It takes recruiting ratings from 2002-08 and matches it with NFL draft numbers from 2004-present to determine which programs and conferences got the most out of its talent. The numbers are cross-checked with the BCS average number of draft picks that correspond to two-, three-, four- and five-star recruits. That looks like so:
  • 4.9 percent of two-star recruits are drafted; average pick is No. 143 (fifth round)
  • 8.1 percent of three-star recruits are drafted; average pick is No. 124 (late fourth round)
  • 16.7 percent of four-star recruits are drafted; average pick is No. 107 (early fourth round)
  • 38 percent of five-star recruits are drafted; average pick is No. 81 (third round)

All of that is used to come up with a development ratio based on how recruits were turned into draft picks. And according to the post, three Big East tams were among the top 10 schools in the country in maximizing their talent. They are: Cincinnati (No. 7), UConn (No. 9) and Pittsburgh (No. 10).

No huge surprises there. Cincinnati excelled during the time period of the study, thanks in large part to Brian Kelly's success in player development. UConn thrived at finding under-the-radar guys and developing them under Randy Edsall. And while Pitt recruits a higher-caliber prospect in general than the other two schools, the Panthers have historically had a high batting average in churning out NFL players.

The post also ranks the Big East as the third-best league in player development, behind the Big Ten and the Pac-12. The SEC and ACC turn out more draft picks, but they also have more highly-rated recruits coming into their schools.

This all goes to show what we who follow the Big East already know. Not only are some of the recruits who choose to play for league teams consistently underrated, but there is good coaching in the conference that can help those players get to the next level.
How did the Big East fare in the NFL draft compared to other BCS conferences? The breakdown looks like this:

1. SEC: 38
2. ACC: 35
3. Pac-10: 31
4. Big 12: 30
5. Big Ten: 29
6. Big East: 22

(Note: Nebraska and Colorado are still part of the Big 12 for these purposes).

But as we've noted here in the past, it's unfair to look at these total number type of stats when comparing an eight-team league like the Big East to 10- and 12-team conferences. So here's how those numbers look if you calculate draftees per league school:

1. SEC: 3.17
2. Pac-10: 3.1
3. ACC: 2.92
4. Big East: 2.75
5. Big Ten: 2.64
6. Big 12: 2.5

I think we can all agree this wasn't the strongest draft class the Big East has produced in recent years (and we can all agree to wonder what in the heck the ACC is doing with all that talent). Still, the league has nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to churning out draft picks relevant to its number of teams.
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Big East

NFL draft rewind

May, 2, 2011
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Here is a final tally of where non-AQ players landed in the NFL draft. Thirty-nine players from non-AQ FBS teams were drafted. TCU had the most players taken with five. Here are the other schools with multiple players selected:

Boise State: 3

Hawaii: 3

Idaho: 3

Nevada: 3

Fresno State: 2

San Diego State: 2

Temple: 2

UCF: 2

Note: Fresno State receiver Jamel Hamler and Southern Miss receiver DeAndre Brown did not get drafted after opting to leave school early.

Mr. Irrelevant went to Rice defensive end Cheta Ozougwu.

First round

No. 30, Temple DE Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets

ESPN.com says: Wilkerson is an unusual 3-4 DE because he is more than just a run stopper with his 9.5 sacks a year ago. He should start immediately in this front seven and fill a huge gap at DE, where they have struggled recently.

Second round
No. 35 TCU quarterback Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
ESPN.com says: Dalton is a guy the Bengals can build around, and he will fit in very well in Jay Gruden's West Coast offense.

No. 36 Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Nevada Wolf Pack
ESPN.com says: Kaepernick has a great upside, although like Alex Smith, he has to make a huge transition from an unorthodox college offense to a pro-style offense. The 49ers will run a West Coast style, but the huge question is do they talk Alex Smith into coming back to develop Kaepernick or cut ties and throw the rookie into the fire?

No. 44 Boise State receiver Titus Young, Detroit Lions
ESPN.com says: Young looks like the perfect guy to line up in the slot in the Lions' three-wide package, and his quickness and yards after the catch could give them added versatility.

No. 54 Temple safety Jaiquawn Jarrett, Philadelphia Eagles
ESPN.com says: Jarrett is not necessarily a game-changer but could be a solid SS, good in run support and decent in zone coverages.

Third round
No. 66 Nevada linebacker Dontay Moch, Cincinnati Bengals
ESPN.com says: Moch likely will line up at the SLB, and although the Bengals like their outside guys, he adds depth and versatility,

No. 69 FAU tight end Rob Housler, Arizona Cardinals
ESPN.com says: Housler will bring them an H-back type pass-catcher who should really upgrade them on third down and in the red zone.

No. 78 Boise State receiver Austin Pettis, St. Louis Rams
ESPN.com says: Pettis will give them a tall presence in the red zone and on third down and he can be the go-to guy in key situations.

No. 82 San Diego State receiver Vincent Brown, San Diego Chargers
ESPN.com says: While Brown might not be elite, Philip Rivers will like him because he'll run good routes and be a nice target. But he's not explosive.

No. 83 Troy receiver Jerrel Jernigan, New York Giants
ESPN.com says: Jernigan is not necessarily a big-play guy but he can work out of the slot, create yards after the catch and give them some return ability.

No. 85 UCF offensive lineman Jah Reid, Baltimore Ravens
ESPN.com says: With this pick, look for the Ravens to try to develop him as their RT and leave Oher on the left side.

No. 90 Utah State cornerback Curtis Marsh, Philadelphia Eagles
ESPN.com says: The No. 1 need for this team was CB and Marsh is a perfect fit in the style of defense they play.

No. 96 Hawaii running back Alex Green, Green Bay Packers
ESPN.com says: This is a great offense without a consistent run game and Green is a versatile back who can catch well and be another target for Aaron Rodgers.

Fourth round
No. 112 Hawaii receiver Greg Salas, St. Louis Rams
ESPN.com says: Much like their third-round pick Austin Pettis, Salas is a good route runner and he really works well in the middle of the field.

No. 121 Wyoming safety Chris Prosinski, Jacksonville Jaguars
ESPN.com says: The Jags could use two new guys and more depth and Prosinski is a step in the right direction.

No. 131 New Mexico State cornerback Davon House, Green Bay Packers
ESPN.com says: Although not a major need, House fits nicely into the Packers' defensive scheme as a press corner who will play a lot of man coverages.

Fifth round
No. 132 Hawaii receiver Kealoha Pilares, Carolina Panthers
No. 138 TCU offensive lineman Marcus Cannon, New England Patriots
No. 143 Buffalo cornerback Josh Thomas, Dallas Cowboys
No. 144 Idaho safety Shiloh Keo, Houston Texans
No. 147 Middle Tennessee cornerback Rod Issac, Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 153 TCU receiver Jeremy Kerley, New York Jets
No. 159 Marshall tight end Lee Smith, New England Patriots
No. 160 Idaho quarterback Nate Enderle, Chicago Bears
No. 162 Fresno State linebacker Chris Carter, Pittsburgh Steelers

Sixth round
No. 174 Tulsa fullback Charles Clay, Miami Dolphins
No. 176 East Carolina receiver Dwayne Harris, Dallas Cowboys
No. 178 SMU receiver Aldrick Robinson, Washington Redskins
No. 190 TCU safety Colin Jones, San Francisco 49ers

Seventh round
No. 204 Nevada tight end Virgil Green, Denver Broncos
No. 210 Fresno State offensive lineman Andrew Jackson, Atlanta Falcons
No. 211 UCF defensive end Bruce Miller, San Francisco 49ers
No. 213 Boise State cornerback Brandyn Thompson, Washington Redskins
No. 214 Arkansas State offensive lineman Derek Newton, Houston Texans
No. 219 TCU defensive back Malcolm Williams, New England Patriots
No. 222 FIU cornerback Anthony Gaitor, Tampa Bay Bucs
No. 238 Idaho tight end Daniel Hardy, Tampa Bay Bucs
No. 249 San Diego State receiver DeMarco Sampson, Arizona Cardinals
No. 254 Rice defensive end Cheta Ozougwu, Houston Texans

Final Pac-12 NFL draft tally

May, 1, 2011
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The Pac-12 provided 37 players to the NFL draft over the weekend, one fewer than the SEC, which led all conferences.

If the six combined picks from Colorado and Utah are taken away from the conference, the old Pac-10 provided NFL teams 3.1 draft picks per team, also just behind the SEC at 3.17.

Here's where the Pac-12 players went:

First round
No. 8 Jake Locker, QB, Washington: Tennessee
No. 9 Tyron Smith., OT, USC: Dallas
No. 17 Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: New England
No. 24 Cameron Jordan, DE, California: New Orleans
No. 27 Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: Baltimore

Second round
7. Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA: Tennessee
10. Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona: Houston
13. Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA: Denver
21. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State: Chicago
24. Shane Vereen, RB, California: New England

Third round
13. Jurrell Casey, DT, USC: Tennessee
20. Mason Foster, LB, Washington: Tampa Bay
25. Shareece Wright, CB, USC: San Diego
29. Christopher Conte, S, California: Chicago
33. Sione Fua, DT, Stanford: Carolina

Fourth round
5. Jordan Cameron, TE, USC: Cleveland
19. Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon: Philadelphia
21. Jalil Brown, CB, Colorado: Kansas City
27. Owen Marecic, FB, Stanford: Cleveland

Fifth round
8. Brandon Burton, CB, Utah: Minnesota
9. Gabe Miller, DE, Oregon State: Kansas City
14. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State: Atlanta
23. Richard Sherman, CB, Stanford: Seattle

Sixth round
2. Ryan Whalen, WR, Stanford: Cincinnati
14. Caleb Schlauderaff, OG, Utah: Green Bay
17. Ronald Johnson, WR, USC: San Francisco
19. David Carter, DT, UCLA: Arizona
22. Allen Bradford, RB, USC: Tampa Bay
24. Mike Mohamed, LB, California: Denver
32. Ricky Elmore, DE, Arizona: Green Bay
38. Zach Williams, C, Washington State: Carolina

Seventh round
12. D'Aundre Reed, DE, Arizona: Minnesota
24. Scotty McKnight, WR, Colorado: New York Jets
30. Lawrence Guy, DT, Arizona State: Green Bay
37. Stanley Havili, FB, USC: Philadelphia
38. David Ausberry, WR, USC: Oakland
39. Malcolm Smith, LB, USC: Seattle

By Pac-12 school:
Arizona (3)
Arizona State (1)
California (4)
Colorado (4)
Oregon (1)
Oregon State (3)
Stanford (4)
UCLA (3)
USC (9)
Utah (2)
Washington (2)
Washington State (1)

The final tally by automatic qualifying conferences:
SEC... 38
Pac-12... 37
Big Ten... 36
ACC... 35
Big East 22
Big 12...19

Nebraska was a big swing to the Big Ten from the Big 12 with seven picks. With Colorado and Nebraska, the Big 12 provided 30 selections.

This was the tally through three rounds:
SEC: 20
ACC: 19
Pac-12: 15
Big Ten: 13
Big 12: 9
Big East: 4
In the end, the Big East did have a first-round NFL Draft pick after all, as Pittsburgh receiver Jonathan Baldwin went No. 26 to Kansas City.

Makes perfect sense to me, as I always thought Baldwin was a first-round talent and arguably the most gifted athlete in the league last season. You just don't find 6-foot-5 receivers who can run and jump the way he can very often. The knock on Baldwin had been his maturity and consistency.

But the Chiefs needed another receiver to pair with Dwayne Bowe, and Baldwin will have a great chance to be that guy for quarterback Matt Cassel.

“I won’t be a problem,” Baldwin told the Kansas City Star on Thursday night. “I sat down with all the coaching staff and told them the kind of person I am. After they talked to me for about five minutes, they understood.”

“We are very comfortable making him a Kansas City Chief,” coach Todd Haley told the paper. “(Character) is something that’s always going to be important to us, and we obviously believe Jonathan Baldwin has Kansas City Chief character, or he wouldn’t be part of this team now.”

Who's next from the league? Mel Kiper says it will be another Pitt player, Jabaal Sheard, in this second-round mock.
Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson was the only non-AQ player drafted in the first round of the NFL draft, at No. 30 to the New York Jets. Wilkerson is the third first-round selection in Temple history and the first since 1987.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper cited this as one of the best picks of the round, and I agree. Wilkerson fits an area of need and as an added bonus, gets to stay close to home.

One of the big surprises at the end of the day: TCU quarterback Andy Dalton was still available after many projected him rising all the way to the first round. FSU quarterback Christian Ponder went ahead of Dalton, something that ended up shocking many draft experts.

Having said that, Kiper has Dalton as the top non-AQ player going in the second round tonight. Here are the rest of the non-AQ players he has going in the second round of his latest mock draft:
The third round also is Friday.
The big night is here for the best college football players in the country, and we can finally get our questions answered. Will Andy Dalton cap a meteoric rise over the past few months and become a first-round pick? How about Muhammad Wilkerson, the highest rated of the non-AQ players?

The first round of the NFL draft is Thursday night. For those who enjoyed my Cover It Live chats during the college football season with Emily Schaible, be sure to keep her company during her live chat Thursday. (Andrea not included). Emily would love to hear from you, but try not to take it personally if your comment never gets posted. She gets thousands a night!

Now let us take one final look at where Mel Kiper Jr. projects non-AQ players going in the first round. Insider

Wilkerson: No. 17, New England Patriots. Kiper says:
Wilkerson is a player who I don't think would escape the top-10 picks if he stuck around Temple for another year, but he simply dominated the competition in 2010 and is ready for this shot. He fits in well as a 3-4 defensive end and can really create havoc.

Dalton: No. 25, Seattle Seahawks. Kiper says:
There is talk that Seattle would be happy to move off this pick, but if not, Dalton is a guy who makes a lot of sense. A darling of the draft process, Dalton has impressed with his accuracy, smarts, better-than-expected arm strength and the suspicion that he might be as ready or more than any other QB in the draft to step in and manage an NFL offense.

Andy Dalton and the Jets?

April, 15, 2011
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There has been lots of speculation headed into the NFL draft about where TCU quarterback Andy Dalton and Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick could land.

Well, there is a bit of news concerning Dalton. Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com reports the Jets worked out Dalton on Friday. The move may seem curious, considering the Jets have Mark Sanchez. But as Cimini writes:
Dalton is a fast-rising prospect who could slip into the bottom of the first round, according to scouts. The Jets own the 30th overall pick. While it makes no sense for them to invest another first-round pick in a quarterback, the Jets' interest in Dalton could be a way to entice quarterback-needy teams below them to trade up, increasing the value of the Jets' position.

Dalton's stock has been rising thanks to good performances during Senior Bowl week and the combine. The Vikings, Patriots, Colts and Titans, Browns and Bears have all reportedly worked Dalton out, too.

In his latest mock draft, Mel Kiper has Dalton going early in the second round, at No. 35 to the Bengals.

As for Kaepernick, his stock also has been rising. He has had workouts with at least eight teams: Oakland, Tennessee, Miami, Denver, Kansas City, Cleveland, San Francisco and Philadelphia. Scouts seem to love his arm strength (he used to be a baseball player), and he did very well on the Wonderlic with a 37, one of the highest scores of all prospects.

Kiper has him going in the third round, at No. 76 overall to San Francisco.

Among the other non-AQ players featured in Kiper's mock draft from earlier this month:

First round

Temple defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson, No. 16 to the Chargers.

Second round

Nevada linebacker Dontay Moch, No. 45 to San Francisco.

UCF offensive tackle Jah Reid, No. 51to Tampa Bay.

Boise State receiver Titus Young, No. 58 to Baltimore.

Troy receiver Jerrel Jernigan, No. 59 to Atlanta.

Third round

Fresno State linebacker Chris Carter, No. 72, New Orleans

Hawaii running back Alex Green, No. 78, St. Louis

TCU offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, No. 82, San Diego

Hawaii receiver Greg Salas, No. 86, Kansas City

Boise State receiver Austin Pettis, No. 95, Pittsburgh

Kiper: Kaepernick a top 5 QB

February, 4, 2011
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Earlier this week, Mel Kiper updated his list of Top 5 players by position as we get closer to the NFL draft. He just so happened to update on national signing day, so forgive us for getting this to you a few days late.

One of the newest additions to the list: Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kiper now has him as the No. 5 quarterback available in the draft, following a good showing at the Senior Bowl last week. It is his first appearance in the top 5. Now, having said that, Kiper also throws in a caveat: "It's worth noting that Kaepernick is a tier below the top four. He's still very much a project at this point."

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireNevada QB Colin Kaepernick's raw ability could send him shooting up NFL draft boards.
Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert is atop the list now, with Cam Newton, Ryan Mallett and Jake Locker behind him. Still, it speaks to the potential Kaepernick has to be included in the top 5 -- and ahead of TCU quarterback Andy Dalton, who also had a good week in Mobile, Ala.

So who could be the top non-AQ player off the board? Temple defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson, listed as the No. 23 tackle available, is No. 23 on the Big Board. Kiper writes that Wilkerson is "scheme-flexible, disruptive, strong penetrator, could work in 3-4 or 4-3." He also rates as a first-round prospect in the breakdown of players in the ESPN NFL Player draft rankings, coming in at No. 15.

Nevada outside linebacker Dontay Moch rates as the No. 4 player available at his position, while Charles Clay of Tulsa is listed as the No. 2 fullback and Kevin Kowalski of Toledo is rated the No. 4 center.

All these non-AQ players, except for Kowalski, have been invited to attend the NFL combine later this month. Here are the other non-AQ players invited to the combine:

Matt Asiata, RB, Utah

Nick Bellore, LB, Central Michigan

DeAndre Brown, WR, Southern Miss

Vincent Brown, WR, San Diego State

Brandon Burton, CB, Utah

Marcus Cannon, OL, TCU

Chris Carter, DE, Fresno State

Ryan Colburn, QB, Fresno State

Andy Dalton, QB, TCU

Wayne Daniels, DE, TCU

Nathan Enderle, QB, Idaho

Alex Green, RB, Hawaii

Virgil Green, TE, Nevada

Jamel Hamler, WR, Fresno State

Daniel Hardy, TE, Idaho

Dwayne Harris, WR, East Carolina

Davon House, DB, New Mexico State

Rob Housler, TE, FAU

Andrew Jackson, OL, Fresno State

Jaiquawn Jarrett, DB, Temple

Lestar Jean, WR, FAU

Jerrel Jernigan, WR, Troy

Jeron Johnson, DB, Boise State

Elijah "Peanut" Joseph, LB, Temple

Shiloh Keo, DB, Idaho

Jeremy Kerley, WR, TCU

Curtis Marsh, DB, Utah State

Bruce Miller, DE, UCF

Jamar Newsome, WR, UCF

Derek Newton, OL, Arkansas State

Cheta Ozougwu, DL, Rice

Austin Pettis, WR, Boise State

Kealoha Pilares, WR, Hawaii

Jah Reid, OL, UCF

Aldrick Robinson, WR, SMU

Greg Salas, WR, Hawaii

DeMarco Sampson, WR, San Diego State

Caleb Schlauderaff, OL, Utah

Sealver Siliga, DT, Utah

Lee Smith, TE, Marshall

Willie Smith, OL, East Carolina

Vai Taua, RB, Nevada

Zane Taylor, C, Utah

Josh Thomas, DB, Buffalo

Brandyn Thompson, CB, Boise State

Isaiah Thompson, OL, Houston

Jeff Van Camp, QB, FAU

Ryan Winterswyk, DE, Boise State

Jimmy Young, WR, TCU

Titus Young, WR, Boise State

Non-AQ underclassmen in NFL draft

January, 19, 2011
1/19/11
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The NFL on Tuesday released its official list of underclassmen who have declared for the draft, and it is a doozy -- a record 56 players have decided to leave school early to turn pro.

There are always several head-scratchers every year. In 2010, for example, Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead went undrafted; SMU running back Shawnbrey McNeal went undrafted; and Central Michigan receiver Antonio Brown went in the sixth round to Pittsburgh (No. 331 overall).

This season is no different, especially among players in the non-AQ conferences. First: the official list of all the non-AQ players who have declared themselves for the NFL draft:
  • DeAndre Brown, WR, Southern Miss
  • Brandon Burton, CB, Utah
  • Jamel Hamler, WR, Fresno State
  • Sealver Siliga, DT, Utah
  • Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple

As I explained in a video last week, it seems Burton is the one most likely to go in the late first to second round. It also appears Siliga and Brown made questionable moves. Brown has had injury problems and character issues he is going to have to address, while Siliga was nowhere to be found on any pre-draft evaluation boards of top underclassmen. As for Hamler, his decision also raises some questions.

This past season he had 54 catches for 812 yards and six touchdowns. He does have good size at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, but it is safe to say his decision is a stunner. He is not listed as one of the elite receivers in the country and has hardly been mentioned as someone with top draft potential.

With any of these players, all you can do is wish them luck and hope they made the right decisions for their future.

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