After spending several hours this week on NFL Draft conference calls, I think I have a better feel now for how the draft might play out for the draft-eligible Gators. This, of course, is nowhere close to an exact science, but what the heck, let’s give it a shot:
Joe Haden – He’s the consensus No. 1 cornerback in the draft and should be among the top-15 picks. He hurt himself (briefly) with his relatively slow 40 time at the NFL Combine, but more than made up for it by running in the 4.4s at UF’s Pro Day. Most of the analysts say he’s pretty much a can’t-miss prospect, and will be the first Gator taken.
Maurkice Pouncey – Boy, did this guy make the right move by deciding to leave early. His stock is soaring. Gil Brandt said he may be the best center prospect to come along in the last 10 years. When he first announced he was coming out, Pouncey was judged by many to be a late first or early second-round pick. Now, some analysts have him going as high as 16th or so in the first round. One team that seems to really like him is the Steelers. Pouncey will be the second Gator to go.
Tim Tebow – There has been a recent buzz that Tebow will go in the first round. The popular theory is that the Minnesota Vikings, who worked him out last week, will take him with the 30th pick. The ideal scenario is he would learn from Brett Favre for a year (or two, maybe), which would give him time to develop into the quarterback the NFL is looking for. There still are plenty of Tebow doubters out there, but more and more scouts and analysts are starting to move into the Tebow camp, predicting he has the chance to be a future starting quarterback in the league. He’s going to be a tough player for some teams to pass up as we get deep into the first round. I think there’s a chance the Vikings do take him. If he doesn’t go late in the first round, I’m betting he’ll quickly be scooped up early in the second round on Friday.
Brandon Spikes – Some projected him as a first-round pick last year, but I’m not so sure that would have happened. With his relatively slow 40 time, Spikes has pretty much slotted himself into the second round, which isn’t a bad thing at all. Despite the 5.0 40 time, teams love this guy when they watch his tape. He’s a baller who plays with great instincts from that middle linebacker spot. He’ll go in the second round and will be a starter for somebody fairly early (maybe even as a rookie).
Carlos Dunlap – Man, this guy’s stock has plummeted recently. It’s not just the DUI arrest the week of the SEC title game that concerns NFL teams, it’s the fact that he has a questionable work ethic and obviously takes plays off (if you watch the tape). No doubt, Dunlap is a physical freak and has a tremendous upside, but he will come with some risk. Some analysts are saying he could slip all the way to the third round. I say he goes late in the second. If he gets with a staff that really pushes him, and he’s willing to be pushed, Dunlap has the chance to develop into a big-time NFL defensive end. A lot of it is up to him.
Aaron Hernandez – He’s a great pass-catching tight end who could flourish in the right offense (and in the right role). But he’s undersized at 6-3, 255 pounds and that’s probably dropped him some in the draft. In terms of size and blocking ability, he doesn’t fit the NFL mold. But he’s a great athlete with great hands and he can make things happen after the catch. Analysts keep talking about his off-the-field issues, but I’m not sure (at least not totally) what they’re talking about. Anyway, Hernandez looks like a late second or early third-round pick to me.
Major Wright – Some thought he was nuts when he made the decision to come out early. Not so fast, my friends. He really got noticed with his 4.4 40 time at Pro Day, and teams watching tape have been very impressed with what he brings at free safety (and possibly strong safety at the next level). The Dolphins apparently love this guy, and he seems a perfect fit with his hometown team. This is the kind of player that teams can build a strong draft around with those middle-round selections. I think Wright has a chance to move into the late second round. If not, I think he’ll go somewhere in the third round.
Riley Cooper – There was a little bit of a buzz about Cooper at the Senior Bowl, but that seems to have died down some over the past month. Still, he’s an intriguing prospect and has a chance to make it as a wide receiver in the NFL. He’s big, fast, physical and has very good hands. He’s like Wright — one of those middle-round guys who can make a draft. I see Cooper going late in the third round or early in the fourth.
Jermaine Cunningham – He’s the anti-Dunlap in that he has a great work ethic and a relentless motor. He also is a versatile guy who could play defensive end or outside linebacker at the next level. He’s definitely going to get drafted, maybe in the fourth or fifth round.
David Nelson – His surprisingly quick 40 time (4.5) at Pro Day has helped his stock rise. He has the size and hands to be a productive receiver at the next level. There’s a good chance now that he’s going to get drafted, maybe in the fifth round or later.
Brandon James – He has a chance to make a team as a kick returner and situational back or receiver. His size, however, may mean he ends up having to go the free-agent route. Other possibly/likely free-agent guys arecornerback Markihe Anderson, linebacker Dustin Doe, linebacker Ryan Stamper and cornerback Wondy Pierre-Louis.